The following sentence appears in the Goethe-Zertifikat A2 Wortliste :

Haben Sie meinen Schirm gefunden? — Sie können dort bei den Fundsachen schauen.

In English, the term "lost property" is ambiguous, meaning either the lost objects, or a place at which lost objects are deposited. However, my understanding of the Duden entry for Fundsache is that the German word refers only to the lost objects themselves.

When I first read Sie können dort bei den Fundsachen schauen, I thought it meant that I could look "over there" (at some unspecified place) for lost objects. However, a second reading, and taking into account the word "bei" made me think that Fundsachen refers to a place-of-collection (as in English), and that the reply tells me that I can look there-at-the-lost-property-counter for the implied-but-not-stated lost object.

What is the correct meaning?

  • My impression is that while there may be a theoretical difference between "lost property" and "lost property office", in everyday speech it's common to use one for the other. For example (from The Mentalist, German subtitles, via DWDS) Und nach der Show wird er zu den Fundsachen gehen und versuchen, es zurückzuholen. -- "And after the show he'll go to the lost and found and try to get it back." It's interesting that in German it's called "found property" and not "lost property".
    – RDBury
    Dec 13 '20 at 18:28
  • 2
    You can look over there [points to the lost and found office], where the (other) lost property items are. Dec 13 '20 at 18:48
  • I consider the sentence as more appropriate, if not a complete Fundbüro (i. e. a building, possible at the other end of town) is referred to, but something like a counter (at the most), a cupboard or even a basket, where found items are kept, so it should be in sight. I agree with Hagen, that a supplementing gesture is necessary to add details to dort.
    – guidot
    Dec 13 '20 at 21:41
  • @hagen-von-eitzen Thank you. That could have been an answer! I found it clearer and much simpler than the answer below.
    – user02814
    Dec 14 '20 at 11:30

Your analysis is correct:

  1. Fundsachen refers to the objects that are lost and found, not to the place they are collected at. That would be Fundbüro (for the authority to collect lost and found stuff).

  2. As you say, because of the preposition bei, the verb cannot be translated as look for, but means look at. You can look there for the lost (and found) property would be

Sie können dort nach den Fundsachen schauen.

So, You can look over there at the lost property, or, maybe a bit better in English, You can just look over there, at the place of the lost property, is the meaning of the sentence.

  • 3
    +1, and I think you can capture the spirit of the meaning even better with the translation: "You can look over there, where the pieces of lost property are". I would be more likely to use the original German formulation for a place where right now some Fundsachen happen to lie, rather than a place which is permanently dedicated to Fundsachen (even though both can indeed be meant by the original sentence).
    – rumtscho
    Dec 13 '20 at 17:49
  • 1
    Yes "bei den Fundsachen" evokes in my mind a big shelf neatly labeled "FUNDSACHEN" standing in the far corner where all kind of found stuff is being exposed. Go look there. Dec 14 '20 at 0:50

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