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Here is a bulleted list of my specific questions in case you want to save time not reading what gave rise to them:

  • Do German people use cursive writing often? Is it necessary for me to learn how to read & write cursive?

  • If so, which style should I choose? (I intend to go to Berlin in the near future.)

  • How do German folks hand-write numerals (0-9)?


I was hand-filling out a form in German just now, and I realized immediately that I could not decide how I should properly put words and numbers down. I vaguely recall how my German instructor back in college would write certain alphabets and numbers differently on the chalkboard--namely the capital "I", capital "G", sieben (as in "7" but with a sort of a slanted slash in the lower middle), and perhaps "null" and "neun".

Regarding the alphabet, I tried to look for related resources, but there was such a mixed result on Google that I really could not tell which one was more reliable. Now I did read on a page somewhere which said something to the effect that nowadays three types of cursive styles are taught respectively in schools in Germany: excluding the somewhat controversial Grundschrift and the outdated Sütterlinschrift.

In that case, which one should I learn? Does it depend on which state in Germany I will go to in the future? Or perhaps I should ask this: Is it imperative for me to learn any German cursive in order to have less of a hard time getting around in Germany? How often do the German write in cursive?

In terms of number-writing, how do German people write Arabic numerals? I kind of know for sure that "sieben" is handwritten differently from the American style which I believe I was taught, but how about the rest of them?

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Ich dachte wir würden keine vielfältige Frage akzeptieren... –  c.p. Mar 20 '14 at 21:35
As a non-German (raised in Australia and the UK) I find it interesting that many of these "Germanisms" also feature in my own handwriting. I will use a diagonal stroke on the numbers "1" and "0" if they're in a context where they could be confused for the letters "I", "l" or "O"; I put a cross through "7" always, and often though "z". That said, as a programmer I have ended up spending hours debugging a problem only to find it was caused by two characters that look very similar, so those experiences have probably informed by handwriting. –  tobyink Mar 20 '14 at 22:38
Es wird von mir also davon ausgegangen, dass man hier zusammenhängende untergeordnete Punkte aufbringen kann. Habe ich mich geirrt? –  T. G. Monk Mar 21 '14 at 8:10
This are multiple questions put into one. You should ask questions one by one so voting can take place on the individual answers and every part can be marked as solved separately. –  user unknown Mar 23 '14 at 5:33
Actually, what's American handwriting? While everybody reads and typesets English in this site, I guess the title doesn't have to refer the differences between German handwriting and other language's, but to peculiarities of German handwriting. –  c.p. Mar 23 '14 at 16:54

8 Answers 8

This is how I would normally write them (I’m German): German alphabet

I'm not really consistent with the U, as you can see. Of course everyone has their own handwriting style, some use cursive, some don’t, but almost no one writes it the way you learn in school. People are flexible.

I mainly uploaded this to contradict jmiserez’ claim that the 4 has to be closed. I didn’t learn it that way, and nobody ever had problems recognizing my 4s. Both versions are common.

I generally wouldn’t think about this too much – people will probably understand your unadapted handwriting perfectly fine, because handwriting styles just vary a lot anyway. My mom, even though she is German, always used to write the 9 the American way for example. And there are probably a number of Germans who are too lazy to draw the diagonal line for the 1...

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I'm American and I have always written the 4 and 2 that way.. the 9 looks like a g to me. Everything else is how we are taught here in the States. –  staticx Mar 20 '14 at 15:10
close to mine, but slings and loops dominate mine - my 4 looks like a small phi (not that round, though) –  christian.s Mar 20 '14 at 15:37
That is a very helpful diagram. Thank you. –  T. G. Monk Mar 21 '14 at 7:31
I also write my 4 like that. –  Portree Kid Mar 21 '14 at 8:05
In Poland, we write the digits exactly the same, with exception of 9 that is round like 6 –  Danubian Sailor Mar 21 '14 at 13:23

No way should you learn Sütterlin - nobody uses this anymore. I guess you don't even have to learn a "new handwriting" at all. If you try to handwrite "Arial", you'll be fine :-) (Which is requested on most official forms anyway, when they say to fill out in "Druckschrift" or "Druckbuchstaben - could also be "Blockbuchstaben" or "Blockschrift", then they mean all capital letters).

The difference in number writing: 1 is written like a 1 in Arial. The 7 is written like a 7 in Arial, but with a little line parallel to the top line in the middle of the slanted line. See here:

enter image description here

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People use it, even young (30-ties), at least in my office, but it's, well, Bayern. –  Danubian Sailor Mar 20 '14 at 10:46
@T.G.Monk 9 and 0 look like in Arial. You may add the slanted line to make a difference to the letter "O", but that's not the usual way of writing it. –  Thorsten Dittmar Mar 20 '14 at 10:54
@Łukasz웃Lツ They may use it to prevent other people from understanding what they write, but I've never ever seen anybody use Sütterlin, also it is not taught in school. My Grandparents were able to write it, but my parents are able to read it more or less fluently and I can not do either. –  Thorsten Dittmar Mar 20 '14 at 10:56
Note that almost nobody writes the letter a as in Arial. Also Blockschrift is all-caps. –  Wrzlprmft Mar 20 '14 at 13:07
@Łukasz웃Lツ I encountered Sütterlin was in elementary school, and only because one particular teacher taught it as a curiosity, not because it's normally thought and my grandmother's handwriting is influenced by it. But apart from that I've never seen it, despite living in rural Bavaria. Normally I only see the modern Schreibschift and of course Druckschrift. –  CodesInChaos Mar 20 '14 at 13:55

As you already mentioned, there is a wide variation of styles in use. I wouldn't worry too much, most people are used to be rather flexible at reading them, as there are quite significant individual differences.

For filling forms, you are usually requested to use Blockschrift (upper case letters only) or Druckschrift (upper and lower case letters, but letters are clearly separated from each other) to make it easier to read and/or scan automatically.

If you are interested in historical styles of handwriting and their evolution into modern ones this article in the Austrian newspaper "Der Standard" may be of interest. (I didn't find a similar compilation for Germany in a quick search, perhaps someone else could add one). The article was triggered by a political discussion whether the Schreibschrift should be continued to be taught to children in primary schools. This tells a lot about its declining importance in everyday life, as electronic means of communication and taking notes slowly replace handwritten ones.

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+1 for the link. –  Portree Kid Mar 20 '14 at 10:27
Interestingly--though far from surprising--a similar issue is taking place in my country as well. Our older generations often complain how kids nowadays don't know how to write properly. I believe this discussion begun since the dominance of personal computers--to say nothing of smartphones and tablets. Thank you for the information. Very helpful indeed. –  T. G. Monk Mar 20 '14 at 10:38

Contrary to Portree Kid, I would say that everyone frequently uses cursive handwriting. Most of the adults have learnt it in school and its quicker than block-letter style. As a result, you don't need to know cursive handwriting to fill out forms and most of written communication can be done by computer anyway. However, in order to understand written notes from people (colleagues, friends, etc.) you're in trouble if you cannot intepret it properly. Nevertheless, some people have a horrible handwriting, which is basically not readable by anyone but themselves, e.g. medical doctors are notorious for this. But I also have some troubles reading my own notes after some time if I write too fast and therefore, very sloppy.

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Germany is a big country (80mil people) Depending on when and where you learned writing it tends to be different. But yes I did learn cursive writing. And this was what it was supposed to look like: GDR Handwriting

Wikipedia GDR Handwriting

Just look at this article for some pictures on how "official" Handwriting is/was supposed to look in Germany. In the picture below you see where it is probably going to go according to Wikipedia. Wikipedia: Schreibschrift

Possible most recent evolutionary step

On how often it is used? A lot I'd say, depending on occupation. Writing is mostly used for business. If you are just scribbling notes to yourself you'd probably use handwriting. If there is a chance somebody else should be able to read it use printed letters instead. Even then, some people cannot even make them look readable. (I corrected several tests (non German) and even though one would think the test takers would want to make the test scorers job as easy as possible, some of them just can't or won't write in a way that makes their potentially correct answers legible.

I cannot give you a percentage. But I was in a restaurant yesterday where a waiter used an iPad to take the order. So I'd say less and less. Yet at my work place there are some (including me, depending on circumstance) people that like paper and use it instead of all the technology we have available.

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Almost the same as in Poland, only "t" is other, more like a printed form –  Danubian Sailor Mar 21 '14 at 13:23

You should not worry about numerals. Just make sure the top bar of the 7 is long and horizontal, so that it won't be confused with a 1, which in Germany has a short and diagonal stroke. But just using a single vertical stroke would be recognised as the digit as well.

As for letters, what all the other answers said.

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I see. Thanks for the tip! –  T. G. Monk Mar 20 '14 at 11:15

Nobody uses cursive writing after leaving school, so learning to write cursive is not necessary. I my experience the Handwriting differs more, than you'd expect. My sons name is Ian and he often becomes Jan since the writing of I vs. J is not consistent. Some write a I with a hook like J and the J dipping below the line. This inconsistency seems to stem from reunification. Most people in West Germany will have learned Grundschrift and in the GDR you will have learned Schulausgangsschrift

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Please correct me if I understand you wrongly: Do you mean that although I don't have to know how to write cursive, I do actually need to have the ability to read them? Thank you for replying as well. –  T. G. Monk Mar 20 '14 at 10:22
No you most probable won't see any cursive writing. I just wanted to point to slight subtle differences. Much the same as in English. I learned Normschrift ( in my apprenticeship and is has influenced my handwriting. –  Portree Kid Mar 20 '14 at 10:25
Ah, I see. Thanks a lot! –  T. G. Monk Mar 20 '14 at 10:32
There also is the "Lateinische Ausgangsschrift" and the "Vereinfachte Ausgangsschrift". The latter is taught to our children today. –  Takkat Mar 20 '14 at 11:34
@T.G.Monk: Unless you intend to become a teacher or something similar, you are hardly going to see any handwriting anyway. –  Wrzlprmft Mar 20 '14 at 13:09

Well, you should not care to much about. If you write Druckschrift, mostly all Germans will be able to read your notes. Those who are not do also have problems to read the notes of other Germans.

Nonetheless knowing Schreibschrift is not the worst idea - but more for reading.

Here you can download native German handwritings of all letters for excercises:

Regarding the numbers: that won't be a problem.

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Thanks for the link, but may I ask which of the currently used styles is featured on that website? Z.B. Vereinfachte Ausgangsschrift? –  T. G. Monk Mar 21 '14 at 7:20

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