In Im Westen nichts Neues (All Quiet on the Western Front), Remarque uses the phrases "fünf Tage Dicken" and "fünf Tage Kahn." Can anyone explain those phrases?

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    – Peter Shor
    Mar 14 at 13:04
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2 Answers 2


The first phrase "fünf Tage Dicken" translates as "five days of thickness", according to Google translate - I am not a German speaker. The equivalent passage in the English translation of the novel is:

"The least you'll get will be five days close arrest," says Kat.

A little research suggets that "Dicken" is a German idiom for military prison. While I don't have an academic reference for this, here's a quote from a wargaming message board:

A British soldier saw these words written on the wall of a jail cell by a German soldier who'd been confined there for over-staying his weekend pass with a girlfriend-
"Zwei tag ficken,
Drei tag dicken"

("Two days f*cking,
Three days dicken"
'Dicken' being slang for the glasshouse

And 'glasshouse' in term being British slang for a military prison after a famous installation of that name.

The second phrase follows closely after the first and Google translates it as "five days of boating." The English translation renders this as (continuing from the above quote from the book):

That doesn't worry Tjaden. "Five days clink are five days rest."

According to user @PeterShor this is another German idiom for prison. He says: Kahn (a flatboat) is slang for prison — In German Wiktionary, it gives for Kahn: 3 "umgangssprachlich: Gefängnis", meaning "colloquially: prison".

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    THank you for the quote about the graffiti. That gave me quite the guffaw that I then had to explain to my wife. Mar 14 at 14:14
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    This isn't quite right: Kahn (a flatboat) is slang for prison — In German WIktionary, it gives for Kahn: [3] "umgangssprachlich: Gefängnis", meaning "colloquially: prison".
    – Peter Shor
    Mar 14 at 14:17
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    The original German is »Das mindeste, was du kriegst, sind fünf Tage Dicken«, erklärt Kat. Das erschüttert Tjaden nicht. »Fünf Tage Kahn sind fünf Tage Ruhe.« which translates as "The least you'll get will be five days close arrest," says Kat. That doesn't worry Tjaden. "Five days clink are five days rest." Ruhe is German for rest — no slang involved.
    – Peter Shor
    Mar 14 at 14:23
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    @Matt Thrower: completely understandable — boating sounds much more like slang for rest than for prison. (I don't know how that slang could have arisen — do prisons look like flatboats?)
    – Peter Shor
    Mar 14 at 14:30
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    As Dr. Johnson put it, “No man will be a sailor who has contrivance enough to get himself into a jail; for being in a ship is being in a jail, with the chance of being drowned.” Mar 14 at 14:37

Matt Thrower has already given a very good answer to the question. I will try to add some more military context. In Switzerland, the disciplinary sanctions that can be imposed on a soldier used to include two sorts of detention: "leichter Arrest" (light detention) and "scharfer Arrest" (rigorous detention). The former meant that you spent your night and possible spare time in a cell, but worked normally with your platoon during the day. The latter meant that you were completely locked in, except for one hour per day where you were allowed to get some fresh air with no contact to other people.

In military slang, if someone got e. g. five days of rigorous arrest, one would simply say "Er hat fünf Tage Scharfen" (transforming the adjective into a noun) as a short form für "Er hat fünf Tage scharfen Arrest".

So, the word "Dicken" is most certainly simply the short form of "dicken Arrest" (in accusative, because of the rest of the phrase). It is not a general synonym for a military prison, but can, in that context, be considered a synonym for a disciplinary sanction involving detention.

The term "dicker Arrest" (nominative) does not, to my knowledge, exist in any official document of the Bundeswehr, but it might very well be an expression used by soldiers at that time.

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