Does the word "Erlebnis" stand alone?

I would like to get a tattoo of that word, representing how important it is to have true EXPERIENCE in my life, not just floating through, but really living it. Would I have to put the word into a sentence or phrase for that to come across accurately, or can I simply use the word? (Similar to how someone would tattoo the word "Believe")

Alternately, would Erlebnisse work as well? Which one would better represent that message?

  • 3
    Neither, you want Erfahrung. – Kilian Foth Mar 3 '16 at 13:18
  • 1
    JFTR, I have yet to find a good translation of user experience into German. – Crissov Mar 3 '16 at 15:53
  • @Crissov Nutzererfahrung? – 355durch113 Mar 7 '16 at 17:53
  • @Maasumi No, that sounds too much like expertise and Nutzererlebnis or Nutzungserlebnis sounds like a single event, but UX is about the whole life cycle of a product or service. I should probably ask a separate question. – Crissov Mar 7 '16 at 20:20
  • @Crissov I see the problem. I guess English avoids the dilemma because of user experience/user's experience. It is still a valid interpretation though, so you could try to coin the general perception thusly. – 355durch113 Mar 8 '16 at 3:46

An Erlebnis is a single experience or adventure you had, so it doesn’t fit the desired theme, which seems to resemble carpe diem or live life to the fullest / … max. Erfahrung, on the other hand, is the experience or expertise someone gathers over time, but can also stem from single events. Without context and article it’s more easily associated with older and wiser people. Within a proper phrase or sentence, it may become clearer, but as single words, please get inked neither one.

I don’t understand why anyone would put a word or phrase in a language they don’t understand (well enough) onto their skin permanently, but at least the OP is asking first (unlike most people who choose arbitrary sinograms).

Here are some suggestions that use leben ‘to live’ or (das/ein) Leben ‘(the/a) life’ in one way or another; erleben is more like ‘to witness’.

  • leb! or lebe! – imperative forms of leben ‘to live’
  • Leben am Limit – closely matches live hard or life to the max
  • sorge dich nicht, lebe! ‘don’t worry, live!’ – German title of How to Stop Worrying and Start Living by Dale Carnegie, kinda cheesy
  • lebe lieber ungewöhnlich ‘rather live unusual’ – German title of the 1997 movie A Life Less Ordinary with Ewan McGregor and Cameron Diaz
  • liebe das Leben ‘love/enjoy life!’ or liebe dein Leben ‘love your life’ or leben lieben ‘to love living’
  • some clever typographic combination of Liebe ‘love’ or lieben ‘to love’ and leben – probably too softcore, cf. Goethe’s “Denn das Leben ist die Liebe // Und des Lebens Leben Geist”
  • leben und leben lassen ‘live and let live’ – Schiller quote, means ‘be tolerant’
  • leben, aber anders ‘life/living, but different’ or leben, aber richtig ‘… right’ – possibly with en dash instead of comma
  • lebst du noch oder erlebst du schon? – after IKEA’s slogan, wohnst du noch oder lebst du schon? ‘do you still dwell or live already?’, where wohnen ‘to dwell’ can often be replaced bei leben, much like in English
  • Lebenslust or Lebensfreude ‘joy of life’ or aus Freude am Leben ‘out of enjoying life’ – resemble well known Schadenfreude and BMW’s slogan aus Freude am Fahren; I think VW tried to establish Fahrvergnügen in an English ad once, but *Lebensvergnügen doesn’t fly; adjective is lebensfroh
  • Die Kunst ist lang! // und kurz ist unser Leben. ‘for art ist long // and our lives are short.’ – Goethe, Faust
  • Lebe, wie du, wenn du stirbst, // wünschen wirst, gelebt zu haben. ‘Live as you, when you die, // will wish to have lived.’ – Gellert
  • leben statt überleben or erleben statt nur überleben ‘live, not (just) survive’
  • mehr leben ‘living more’

My top recommendation would be Lebenslust.

I have lowercased initial verbs, but uppercasing them is of course fine, especially since many instances of the infinitive leben can also be understood as a noun.


I would not leave it alone, it sounds kind of "empty" to me (native german speaker).

You can't compare it to "Believe" since "believe" is the imperative of a verb (to believe), related to the noun "belief"

In correlation to that, The noun "Erlebnis" and the verb "erleben" could form the imperative "Erlebe", which is already better but still kind of naked, as if something was missing.

Personally, I think "Lebe" (Live) sounds even better, I'll come back and add more if I think of something good :-)

  • Lebe Dein Leben (or: Leb Dein Leben) | Live your life
  • Lebe | Live
  • Du bist was Du erlebst | deviation of you are what you do, you are what you eat: you are what you experience
  • 1
    You mentioned you are what you eat in your post, without translation. What is actually funny is that the original quote was written in German by Ludwig Feuerbach: Der Mensch ist, was er isst. – wythagoras Mar 6 '16 at 8:12
  • I suggest to add that Erlebnis might not translate to experience the way the OP wants it to. As suggested in the question's comments, I would use Erfahrung. I feel like Erlebnis implies one single experience/adventure. Alternatively, Erleben? As in das Erleben a constant undergoing of experiences. – jera Mar 7 '16 at 14:19

I think the main reason this does not work well has already been touched by @BarthyB: in English, the imperative, infinitive and sometimes even the noun are spelled the same. This way one can get a lot more "dimensions" from writing a single word - in German, this does not work as well as there are more inflections.

If you really want to use a single word this way, I would probably opt for the imperative (e.g. "lebe!"), but this IMO sounds off for "erlebe!".


If you have


tattooed on your body, it will stand there without any context. Nobody will know that you translated the english word »experience« into German.

The meaning of »Erlebnis« is:


A remarkable event that someone experienced.

These are examples for events, that may come up in a native German speaker's mind, when he/she hears the word »Erlebnis« without any context:

A ride on a roller coaster.
First time in your life watch crystals grow through a microscope.
Go to a restaurant and have an extraordinary meal.
Watching the performance of an artist in a circus.

But Erlebnis can also be:

In a commercial:

»Mit der Bahn reisen ist immer ein Erlebnis«
“Traveling by train is always a remarkable event

Written in a biography:

Die Erlebnisse seiner Kindheit prägten sein ganzes Leben.
His childhood-experiences shaped his whole life.

So, to summarize it, you can say that »Erlebnis« is something that happens to you in a more or less passive way. You can do things to let »Erlebnisse« arise. You can go to the circus, to the restaurant, or enter the roller coaster. You can look through the microscope or buy a train ticket. But this initial act is not the »Erlebnis« itself. The »Erlebnis« is the thing that happens to you after you initiated it.

And even more passive: An »Erlebnis« can also happen to you without any initiation from you. You did not initiate your own childhood. But you experienced »Erlebnisse« as a child. To be robbed is a very remarkable »Erlebnis«, but it comes to you without any active initiation by you.

Another translation of »experience« is


  1. Knowledge and skills that someone collected through long time by often repeated practice.

    Frau M. hat viel Erfahrung mit Kindern.
    Mrs. M. is very experienced with kids.

  2. A single event from which you could learn something.

    Der Besuch dieser Ausstellung war eine tolle Erfahrung für mich.
    Visiting this exhibition was a great experience for me.

I think »Erfahrung« works better as a tattoo than »Erlebnis«, but I guess it's still not what you want.

Others already gave you lists of alternatives (for which you didn't ask), and I don't have better German suggestions than they had.

My suggestion is to use the english word. It has exactly the meaning that you want and most people you will meet will be able to understand it.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

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