Construction terminology in German

Terms are more than just words. Dictionaries and dictionaries are useful, but they often do not tell us the whole story. Meaning always includes context – not only the way the word is used within a sentence, but often also the social context in which the word is used in the country where the text originated. This is illustrated by some of the German construction terms that I have seen in the context of my work in translation:

  • Builder:Baumeister
  • Model Resolution: Entscheidungsvorlage
  • Ceiling:Decke
  • Construction Code: Baurecht
  • File:Bestand
  • Developed: Erschließung
Construction terminology in German
Construction terminology in German


This usually translates as "main construction". In Germany, it is mainly used as a historical term for architects and builders who have created projects such as cathedrals, palaces or major public buildings.

In many cases, the person himself was responsible for the design, planning and construction work on the construction site. In Germany, the term was still used as an official qualification and job title until the eighties.

Now, it remains only in job titles in some regions, such as "Regierungsbaumeister" as a degree in the civil service system or "Dombaumeister", the person responsible for maintenance and repairs in a large cathedral.

However, the term "Baumeister" still represents the official job title and professional qualifications in Austria and Switzerland. It is a comprehensive qualification that includes construction, engineering, architecture, design, detailed planning, legal knowledge, construction and project management.

What about the English term "master builder"? It is also historically used by experts in all respects who worked as architects and builders in previous centuries. Nowadays, the term is mainly used for high-quality construction contracting companies that join together to promote their services, for example through the UK's Major Builders Association, the Master Builder system registered in New Zealand and similar organisations in other English-speaking countries.

However, there is a relatively new trend in English similar to the model of the historical master builder: the concept of "building design". In projects based on the design/construction concept, there is one contractor responsible for both the design and construction of the project. The idea of modern "design building" originated in the sixties, but it is very similar to the historical model. However, the focus is on the project itself and the team of specialists, and not on the qualification of any individual.

So where does this leave us as translators? As is often the case, it depends on the context and purpose of the translation. To translate the German "Baumeister", we have two basic terms – the traditional "main construction" and the modern concept of "design building". In each case, we must decide how these terms can be combined to make the best presentation in the given context.

Teaching German from scratch

  • Model Resolution: Entscheidungsvorlage
  • In construction projects, this term refers to the information or report that is presented to the client or developer. The advantages, disadvantages and costs involved in the various options are usually identified for details in the construction plans, so that the client can make an informed decision. Possible translations are "decision note", "decision paper" or "proposal". One of my translation clients designs a large building and uses the term "decision note" to describe such reports. In this context, I find this a good solution.

    However, in other contexts, it may be completely wrong. In governments, for example, preparatory work for civil servants to help ministers draft new legislation can be described as "Entscheidungsvorlage". In English this is likely to be a "draft", or perhaps a "bill". In other contexts, "Entscheidungsvorlage" can be used in order to "request change" in the operations of the management of the plant or office, "credit report" in banks, etc.

  • Ceiling: Decke
  • The basic meaning of the word "decke" in buildings is "ceiling" in rooms. But in multi-storey buildings, the one-level roof is also the structural floor of the next level. In the descriptions of buildings, the term "deck" is often used to refer to the concrete floorboard / roof in such buildings. In road construction, the word "deck" is also used for the upper road deck. So it is important to know what the word actually refers to in context.

  • Construction Code: Baurecht
  • Construction Code: Baurecht

    In general, legal texts may refer to the building code as a branch of law. But in texts related to specific construction projects, it usually means "planning authorization" or "building permit". So the phrase "Baurecht beschaffen" means "obtaining a building permit".

  • File:Bestand
  • This can indicate the pre-existing condition of a building, urban neighborhood, façade, wall, floor or some other detail of the built environment. When used in texts related to the preservation or restoration of monuments, it may mean the original historical situation – sometimes the goal of the project is to restore a building so that it is as close as possible to the original. In other texts about functional renewal or construction, they usually refer to the current building, current urban context or the like.

    Terminology at the dentist in German

  • Developed: Erschließung
  • Another simple term is deceptive. The dictionary suggests development, access, or openness, but the actual use in texts related to construction is somewhat more complicated. When used in relation to an entire building or building development area, the word may refer to a road traffic system leading to property, a public transport system or the supply of infrastructure services such as electricity, water, sewage, gas or other utilities.

    In a single building, the word may refer to the points through which access to the building is possible, that is, the main entrance doors and any entry ramps or other entry points for vehicles, or to the corridors or entry routes leading to these access points.

    Inside the building, especially in large commercial buildings, the term is also used for features designed to enable movement within the building, such as elevators, stairs (for vertical access), walkways and in some cases moving corridors.

    Often, these different meanings can only be deduced from the context. Translation usually includes words such as access, development, or portal, but the translator must add other elements to explain the type of access, development, or portal intended.

    Some other German construction terms

    Some other German construction terms

    • Wind deflection abtreibenden Windkräfte
    • Drückergarnitur handle unit
    • Wood trim Holz-Blende
    • Plaster and mats Putz und Vlies
    • Stahlbetonkragplatte reinforced concrete cantilever slab
    • Drain the road Straßenablaufschächte
    • 4-Ziegeleck 4-corner tiles
    • Abdeckwinkel Casting Cover/Bracket Cover
    • Abfangmauer retains the wall
    • Beam transmission Abfangriegel
    • Abfertigungsanlage tickets and payment terminals (e.g. in the parking lot)
    • Abflußset – schallentkoppelt drainage set – sound separation / insulated
    • abflusslose Sammelgrube Drain-free fishing trough
    • abfugen for laying concrete/masonry separators
    • Floating abgefilzter Putz Christine L plaster
    • abgehängte Decken Suspension/Low Roof Thayenga
    • abgehängte Decken, Zwischendecken suspended ceilings


    Dictionary of Building Terms in German

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