The expression an der Hacke appears in the name of this article from Der Spiegel: “Schulz und die SPD. Richtig was an der Hacke”. It appears again in the following paragraph:

"Jetzt haben wir erst mal richtig was an der Hacke", sagt Martin Schulz, aber nun komme eben die nächste Runde. So ähnlich hat er das bisher nach jeder Landtagswahl gesagt. Die Ergebnisse sind bekannt.

Various dictionaries translate die Hacke as either heel or hoe. None of the two translations seem to work in the above-referenced article. So, what does an der Hacke mean?

  • 7
    Think about walking over a meadow and stepping into some cow droppings - That's exactly the picture here.
    – tofro
    Commented May 15, 2017 at 7:52

3 Answers 3


In my communicative environment, the expression

Du hast wohl einen an der Hacke

is used to express doubt about somebody's mental health, or simply: "You seem to be a fool". However, as Mr. Schulz used it

Jetzt haben wir erst mal richtig was an der Hacke

it would rather mean "Now we have a big problem", or "We have taken a big defeat".

About the origins of the expression, or how Mr. Schulz understands the words and wires them in his mind, I would suppose Hacke is the heel, and "to have something at the heel" could be an euphemism for having stepped into a heap of excrement part of which now sticks to the heel. This at least would fit the situation his party, SPD, is in now after their unfavourable results of the elections in the province of North Rhine-Westphalia (May 2017).

A less "smelly" origin of the expression could be: you are walking through a wet, muddy field and the dirt sticks to your boots making them heavy, so walking becomes difficult. This would fit SPD's situation as well.

See, however, Takkat's historical etymology in the other answer posted here on this page. In this light, my "personal" etymology reflects only a contemporary state of mind, and the expression seems to derive from an idiom coined by people engaged in fighting and physical persuing opponents.

For those who are learning German: you can use both expressions with your friends or family or in the pub after two beers, but you should not use it in more formal settings e.g. at work, with superiors or whereever politeness is advisable.

  • 5
    The first thing I thought of was"chewing gum". But "mud" or "dog poo" could be meant too. At least something sticky and unpleasant. I agree it should generally be used in less formal contexts, although it is pretty graphic. Commented May 15, 2017 at 11:10
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    Also note the similarity of "Hacke" and "Backe", as noted in my answer. I think it's a mix of phonetically and semantically close phrases/metaphors in spontaneous speech. Traces of feces not withstanding! "Kacke am Dampfen" may have been the mental image, but was not fit for public speech. Backe, Hacke, Kacke. Commented May 16, 2017 at 6:33
  • "you can use both expressions with your friends" - given the first meaning you list, I would indeed be careful even there. "Ich habe was an der Hacke." could easily be mistaken for "I am insane." instead of the intended "I have a problem." Commented Aug 9, 2017 at 8:08

"Einen Gegner an/in der Hacke haben" originates from martial arts. It is used in the meaning of being (closely) attacked by an opponent. According to the Grimms this proverb is known from the 15th Century:

schon in einem xylographischen Ringbuche des 15. Jahrh.: wen er (der Gegner) sich aufricht, so du in in dem Hacken hast, so nim das Stuck das haiszt die halb Huft und ist ain rechtz Kampfstuck. Serapeum 5, 34. Grimm

There are more proverbs using Hacke (heel) in this meaning, e.g.:

  • ich will dir Hacken machen
  • die Verfolger sind uns auf der Hacke (den Hacken)
  • einer Sache auf der Hacke sein
  • 3
    Ich glaube, keine deiner Erklärungen (die sicher richtig sind) passt hier - Es geht um keinen Gegner und keinen Verfolger. Die Aussage sollte wohl eher "Scheisse gelaufen..." bedeuten.
    – tofro
    Commented May 15, 2017 at 8:45
  • @tofro: ... und was meint er dann mit der nächsten Runde?
    – Takkat
    Commented May 15, 2017 at 9:00
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    "Neues Spiel, neues Glück?"
    – tofro
    Commented May 15, 2017 at 9:11
  • 1
    @tofro: kann man so sehen, wenn man will, ich meine aber, dass es in diesem Kontext nicht um Glücksspiel sondern schon um Wahl- kampf und politische Gegner geht.
    – Takkat
    Commented May 15, 2017 at 9:16
  • 3
    Ein interessante Frage, finde ich, ist: Was hatte Herr Schulz für ein Bild im Kopf, als er den Ausdruck verwendete? Hatte er einen Gegner im Kopf, der ihm an den Fersen (= an der Hacke) hängt, oder hatte er eine unangenehme Sache im Kopf, in die er hineingeraten ist und die ihm jetzt am Schuh hängt? - Interessant, weil man hier möglicherweise die Umdeutung eines bestehenden Idioms beobachten kann: Die Form wird übernommen und beibehalten, jedoch wird sie mit neuer Bedeutung befüllt. Commented May 15, 2017 at 9:37

It could also be a mix with "etwas an der Backe haben", which means to have a sticky person or problem to deal with. The metaphor is that it sticks to your cheek.

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