I found this word in the poem Der Gott der Stadt by Georg Heym. The most plausible meaning I came across is like "burned smoke" but I haven't really got its meaning in the context. It may be useful to inform you that my teacher talked about something like "burning without flame", but I still don't get the point.

5 Answers 5


Glutqualm is a composite of Glut (ember, or something that glows) and Qualm (thick smoke, maybe smoulder). Without context, there would be (at least) three possible ways of reading this composite:

  1. Smoke that comes from ember
  2. Smoke that is as hot as ember
  3. a mixture of smoke and small, flying pieces of ember

I doubt that the first interpretation would fit here. First because ember does not produce (much) smoke. Second, it would not describe such a strong destroying force like the one that Heym seems to mean in his poem. And last but not least, because three other uses of the word that I could find on Google Books all seem to refer to 3. or maybe 2. (to me these two are very close in meaning, so I will not distinguish among them from here on):

  • In his "West-östlicher Divan" Goethe calls the phenomenon that guided Moses and his people through the desert as a Glutqualm.

    Der Herr, der aus einem brennenden Busche Mosen berufen hatte, zieht nun vor der Masse her in einem trüben Glutqualm, den man tags für eine Wolkensäule, nachts als ein Feuermeteor ansprechen kann.

  • An 1818 issue of the "Augsburger Allgemeine Zeitung" reports on a fire and uses the phrase feuriger Glutqualm to describe something that is apparently much more dangerous and destroying than the normal smoke of a fire.
  • Richard Zoozmann, in his translation of Dante's "Divine Comedy" (as far as I could see published in 1922, so only 12 years after Heym), uses the word Glutqualm at the end of part 14 of the "Inferno" to refer to an "eternal rain of fire flakes" that is described at the beginning of that part:

    Aufs Sandfeld sah ich sanften Regen schlagen
    Von großen Feuerflocken, dichthinfegend
    Gleich Alpenschneefall an windstillen Tagen.

    Wie Alexander in der glühenden Gegend
    Von Indien auf sein Heer sah niederfahren
    Brandflocken, noch am Boden feuerhegend,

    Drob er ihn vorsichtsvoll von seinen Scharen
    Zerstampfen ließ, da leichter zu zerdrücken
    Die Flammen noch solang sie einzeln waren:

    So fiel der ewige Brand hier, der voll Tücken
    Den Sand erhitzt wie Zunder unterm Steine,
    Daß Doppelschmerzen jeden Leib durchzücken.

    Der armen Hände Kreistanz freute keine
    Erholung: ruhlos löschten sie vom Regen
    Hier eine Flocke aus, dort wieder eine.

Finally, I think it is also worth mentioning that Wikipedia describes some variant of a pyroclastic flow called Glutwolke - a cloud of very hot gases, magma, and ashes of great devastating force. They also mention that such a cloud was part of a vulcan eruption in 1902 that killed the 28000 inhabitants of Saint-Pierre on Martinique within minutes, and they say that the terms Glutwolke and pyroclastic flow were coined after that. Reading the descriptions of that event (only 8 years before Heym wrote his poem) I could imagine that it might have impressed people as much as the first nuclear bomb 43 years later, and I could figure that Heym wanted to refer to something similar in his poem. He might have replaced Wolke with Qualm to make the word "darker" and more figurative.


Lets divide the word into its two parts: "Glut" and "Qualm".

"Glut" can be translated to "glow" which describes wood, coal, etc. which is just glowing, not burning. Like when you have a BQQ :)

"Qualm" is basically just thick smoke. In German you have two words which describe smoke, "Rauch" and "Qualm". "Rauch" is usually used when you refer to kinda "clear" smoke, like when you burn really dry wood. On the other hand you use "Qualm" to descibe dirt smoke, like the one when you burn wood that is a bit wet.

So with that in mind I would describe "Glutqualm" as the kind of smoke that is produced by something that doesn't burn very well and is just glowing. I don't think you have a literal translation for that in english. If someone can prove me wrong with this I would be glad be enlightened :)

  • 3
    addendum: The word »Qualm« is only used in Germany. In Austrian German there is only the word »Rauch« for smoke. (Maybe this is also true for Bavaria) (I do not have any knowledge about the usage of »Qualm« in Switzerland) Jan 17, 2016 at 15:49
  • @HubertSchölnast Thanks for the comment, I didn't know about that. Always learning new stuff about my language :) I am pretty sure that it is used in Bavaria too tho.
    – Denker
    Jan 17, 2016 at 16:09

Glut means embers, so it is the smoke of embers. This would also fit with the burning without flame thing your teacher mentioned, since embers don't have flames.


Literally, "Qualm" means "(heavy) smoke" and "Glut" means "embers".

The combination of the two is not a German word as such, but Heym poetically created the new word "Glutqualm". To what it really means, you'd probably have to ask Heym himself, if that were possible :) As Matthias stated, the word apparently had been around during Heym's time. I would assume that it got lost over time, as (at least to me) it is not a recognisable word in modern German.

To me, it creates a picture of something very hot, dark and all-consuming, possibly hot smoke with glowing particles in it. It might be close to the English "firestorm", but with a darker feel to it.

  • A quick research on Google Book shows that Heym did not create the word. It has been used almost hundred years before and even by Goethe.
    – Matthias
    Jan 17, 2016 at 21:46
  • @Matthias: wieder was gelernt :) Weisst du zufällig, ob das früher ein "normales" Wort war, welches über die Zeit einfach in Vergessenheit geraten ist, oder hatte es schon immer einen eher poetischen Klang?
    – Gerhard
    Jan 18, 2016 at 9:13
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    Ich weiß es nicht. Aber es kommt nicht in Grimms Wörterbuch vor, und in den von Google Books erfassten Büchern habe ich es vor Heym nur an 3 verschiedenen Stellen gefunden (abgesehen von Duplikaten durch verschiedene Ausgaben; zwei habe ich in meiner Antwort verwendet). Das sieht für mich eher nach einem selten verwendeten Wort aus. Ich würde nicht mal ausschließen, dass Heym es für sich neu erfunden hat, auch wenn ich eher vermute, dass er es irgendwann bei Goethe gelesen hat.
    – Matthias
    Jan 18, 2016 at 22:09

Burned smoke means the pleasure of a cigarette (a hurtful thing that has pleasure one fines dear) it's about a wonderful conversation.

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    Completely off the mark (did you read the poem?). But welcome to the site and thanks for your effort.
    – Stephie
    Jan 17, 2016 at 17:43
  • yeah I read the poem, I am a german.
    – Shen Ruki
    Jan 17, 2016 at 18:16

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