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...and, at the end of this article, a wee humorous bit on why
English is such a problem to learn.

Most of the time there isn't any problem with how native language documents are translated into other languages and then published by factories that made the product.  Once in awhile even a factory goofs. One such goof is from the math-challenged idiot who translated the correct torques specified in Nm to incorrect values in Ftlbs.  It was then published in many BMW factory publications.

We order by part number or perhaps from a sketch or we describe where it goes/fits/etc. Almost all the time, this works quite well.

There are a few instances where languages have caused some real confusion (besides politics and personal relationships!).  There are situations where something is not described in YOUR language properly, only in German, in literature pertaining to our otorcycles.

Information on this page was from several sources.  Sources included past articles in BMW MOA ON magazine;  a posting by Joe 'Cuda' on 20 January 2001 to the Airheads LIST; some of my own input; and, from corrections supplied to me by Hans-Jürgen of Germany.  Further corrections were made on 3/29-30/2012 from additional input by Joe.

I did not take nor use 100% of everyone's suggestions, primarily due to COMMON USE in the USA; thus, any quibbling about things on this page can be blamed on ME!

In some instances on this page I have used ASCII code to show the way the German's might show these words in PRINT.  If they look totally weird, and maybe print something not like a German letter; computers vary in display, depending on how you have set certain preferences.  I have found this particularly happening more often with the dieresis marks (umlauts) which are the double dots (a pair of dots, located over a vowel).  The purpose is to soften the sound. An example of these are the following, which MAY NOT show up properly on YOUR computer:

ë    ö    Ö    ä    ÿ    Ü      
In the rest of this article you will find this:   ü

For a site for German, English, French, and Spanish translations, etc.:   That site explains things IN DEPTH.

For simpler explanations, use Google translations.

You may find that some spellings are slightly different.  An example:   ü   is shown as  ue.   

EXPLANATION:  Germans have different ways of showing spelling in print form. 
Another example would be flüße which is the same word for river as fluesse.  That funny looking "B", which is not a B at all, it is printed like  ß   is pronounced as if it was SSS.  

I can only hope YOUR computer displays these characters as I intended.

EI sounds like EYE
IE sounds like the ee in tree.  

AUF:   You may see this on your fuel tank petcocks.  It does not mean the position for fuel OFF.  It means ON!  The translation is also  "OPEN", or "offen".   An amazing number of people have, at one time or another, thought AUF meant OFF.  SAME for the choke.

In the older Clymers book on Airheads, early-on in the book, where it shows the basics of checking out the bike, & how to start the engine, etc., there is a sketch/photo of the clamshell type of air cleaner housing, with the 'choke' (enrichener) lever on it. Clymers PROBABLY (guessing here) mistakenly took AUF from some long-ago BMW diagram/sketch, and decided that AUF meant OFF....after all, they look like they should sound close to the same, when spoken.  They also might have taken the idea from markings. Thus, quite a few folks wondered why their Airheads were so hard to start, and after starting, why they ran so lousily. They were using the choke backwards. I well remember some instances of that in old inquiries, and I also remember someone asking "how" he could have attached his bike's cables and carburetor levers backwards! Clymers kept publishing the wrong information. Clymers (which sent copies and pre-publication copies to ME ...  for editing of Classic K bikes and Airheads ...  which I ended up refusing to do, for various reasons) finally re-wrote the entire section of the manual.

BMW GmbH:   Often translated by Americans as BMW Company.  It is not exactly so.  BMW stands for Bayerische Motorenwerke.  Better to translate that to mean Bavarian Motor Works.   GmbH stands for Gesellschaft mit beschränker Haftung....a company with limited liability....sort of the way LLC or Corporation is used.  

    Aktiengesellschaft....meaning that it is a company that issued shares of stock.

Bitte, Danke:   Please, thank you... bitte also means You Are Welcome.  Bitte comes from bitten,' to ask for'.  Joe explained about dankeshoooon (pronunciation) to mean Thank ya kindly, from schön, which means pretty.

Bremse:   brake

DIN:    Not a German word, and certainly not the same as the English word for loud confused noise; and, also not the numerical exposure index for photographic exposure (similar to ASA as used in the USA) ...but...DIN as used with our German motorcycles is an abbreviation (acronym) for German word(S).  Deutsches Institut fur Normung.  Same as Deutsche Industrie Normen.  It is the standards body's that developed Euro standards for things.   Sometimes DIN is almost slangly used as "Das ist Norm".

DUNKEL:  dark colored

ESEITE:   this side, or this end

Frühzündung:   Spark advanced.   F dot flywheel mark on pre-1981 bikes.   Z line clutch carrier mark on 1981+ bikes.   The mark is seen via spark triggered strobe light aimed at the timing port near the oil dipstick by raising the RPM slowly until the timing no longer continues to advance, this point is about 2000 RPM on the early STOCK ATU on  /5 models, and 3000 RPM on models after the /5 ATU changes. There are a number of mechanical advance versions, so if your /5 maximum occurs at 3000, don't be alarmed.   

Farben:    Colors.   color legends are included, with English translations, on BMW schematics.  For paint, HELL means light and DUNKEL means DARK.

:   high beam; far away light.  Fern meaning something far or being far away.

   transmission, or gear unit

Getriebeseite:  this end goes to the transmission or gearbox

Gummikuh:  It means BEEMER.  Literally: Rubber cow.   Often seen in conjunction with a description on handling of old BMW airheads, as in BMW Airhead motorcycles feeling like there is a rubber hinge in the middle.

REAR.    As used in parts catalogs,  hinterrad meaning rear wheel. 



      LIGHT colored

lampe:    lighting device, the lamp itself.

licht:   light output, the light beam, etc.

   LEFT.    As marked on some valve covers, as an example, LEFT side, may be marked L

Motorrad:   Motorized wheel, motorcycle

Nockenwell:    Camshaft

TOP, topside, etc

OT:     Top Dead Center for the piston(s), that point, exactly, when the pistons are fully outwards. OT, in German, is Oberer Totpunkt, more correctly translated as the top dead point.  


RIGHT SIDE or RIGHT. As marked on some valve covers, as an example, may be marked R.


this mark on the flywheel outer edge (same on clutch carrier from 1981) is the Static timing point (no RPM or very low RPM).   S stands for Spaetzündung  (minimum advance; that is, late or retarded).

Scheisse:    feces, but means more like we would use the word SHIT, in exclamatory talk.

Schlimmerverbesserung:   A fix for something that turns out to be worse (example:  BMW's original change for the early 80's, of the valve seat material).

Schraube:   screw

  wheel spokes


fully:  unterbrecherkontakt.   Literally means under-breaker, or interrupter, and for us it means the mechanical ignition points in the old mechanical points systems.   Impulsegeber would be used for the electronic pickup device (Hall element, etc) in the more modern ignitions.  You are unlikely to see that word.

Ventil:   valve, as in cylinder head types, also for the valve in the tire or wheel.

Vorn; front.  As used in parts catalogs, example is Vorderrad, meaning front wheel.
Vorn, often shown as V in parts catalogs means FRONT as an adjective; whilst Vorderansicht is as noun.

Z:    This mark on 1981+ motorcycles is seen via spark triggered strobe light by raising the RPM until the timing no longer continues to advance, this point is about 3000 rpm.   See Frühzündung for motorcycles prior to 1981.

Zeit:   time

ZU:   found on some petcocks.  It means CLOSED (OFF) .   See AUF


spark plugs

ignition points or timing; see Unterbrecher and Impulsegeber


01-26-2008:  minor clarifications
02/04-2008:  edited, updated, thanks to Hans-Jürgen of Germany
02/29/2008:  edited to reflect sources for this article
06/06/2011:  Clean up a bit
03/29/2012:  Expanded section on AUF
03/30/2012:  add dual explanations in some translations, re-arrange the order of some commentary
09/29/2012:  add QR code; clean up presentation; add language button; update Google ad-sense code
05/05/2013:  Add English section. MINOR other changes; especially re-arrange so will display better on somewhat smaller screens.
07/15/2014:  Update DIN
07/06/2016:  Update scripts, H.L., metacodes, numerous layout changes & minor improvements in explanations.

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Last check/edit: Wednesday, July 06, 2016