German Language Stack Exchange is a bilingual question and answer site for speakers of all levels who want to share and increase their knowledge of the German language. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

With no prior knowledge of this, I would say

Wer ist das?

MY question is related to what I read here

It's a page from the Italian version of Wikipedia and it talks about the "vasistas", a name which is apparently used in Romance languages to identify the small opening in a door made to see who's knocking (by the way, I've never heard this noun).

The section on its etymology says that the term originates from German: when German soldiers heard some knocking at the door, they said "Was ist das?" and then French soldiers (who were knocking) identified the "vasistas" as the opening (I know, it sounds silly).

So I ask: is "was ist das?" a proper way to ask who is it at the door?

share|improve this question
Oh, knock-knock jokes on GLU! :D – Eugene Seidel Jul 18 '13 at 19:46
The story I've heard about le vasistas is different: The French, who are accustomed to large windows that let as much light into the interior as is possible (hence the term "French windows" in the English language), were puzzled at the smallness of the windows in German houses, especially the tiny tilt-hinge window in the bathroom. Being polite, they asked the natives in the local language, "Was ist das?" The term stuck and when they returned to France, they experimented with tiny windows themselves. Instead of inventing a new French word for these portholes, they re-used ... vasistas. – Eugene Seidel Jul 18 '13 at 20:03
German Wikipedia gives the explanation I am familiar with: "Ende des 18. Jahrhunderts sahen deutsche Besucher in Frankreich das erste Mal Kämpferfenster und stellten dem Hausherrn diese Frage." More etymology here. – Eugene Seidel Jul 18 '13 at 20:16
Dear Martina, if you click on the woxikon link I gave, you will find that the typical query is Wer da? A more polite way of asking would be Ja bitte? – Eugene Seidel Jul 18 '13 at 20:21
Wer da? is the short military (command) form of Wer ist da?. See also Halt! Wer da?... – äüö Jul 19 '13 at 6:56
up vote 4 down vote accepted

The usual phrase is Wer ist da? (Who's there?). Wer ist es? is also possible, and Wer da?, though the latter sounds rather unfriendly. I can't imagine asking Was ...?, however.

A typical answer would be: Ich bin's! Really. :-) More useful is, of course, just giving the name. Or both: Ich bin's, (die) Johanna!

As Eugene mentions, Ja bitte? is another possibility. However, it may already be understood as an invitation to enter. Herein! is the unambiguous phrase for that.

share|improve this answer
What does the 's in inch bin's stand for? – indoxica Jul 19 '13 at 7:33
bin's = bin es. – Dario Jul 19 '13 at 10:19

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.