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Quick guide to German pronunciation for English speakers

 There are a few very simple tricks to know how to pronounce most German words. 

Mostly, all the letters are pronounced similarly to English, but switch out these:

German "V" is said like an English "F"

"Viessmann" is  said "Fiessman"

 "Ludwig von Beethoven" is a said 'Lood-vig-fon-Bait-ohven"

German "W" is said like an English "V"

"Wien" (Vienna) is said as "Veen" rhymes with "bean"

"Weiss" (white) is said like "vice"

(Sadly, many Americans with that surname have lost track of how it is said!)

German "J" is usually said like an English "Y"

"Johanna" (female name) is said "Yo-hun-ah"

German "ch" when not at the start of a word, is pronounced like an extended hissy 'g' at the back of the throat (ç). Make the sound of air coming out of a faucet instead of water!

"Bach" (stream) is said "Bagggg"

"Ich" (I = first person) is said "igggg"

When "Ch" is at the start of a word, it is more like a "K" 

"Christian"(male name) is said "Kristi-yan" 

German "Sch" is pronounced like "Sh", don't change the "c" into a "k" like American "Skedule", say it like UK English "Schedule"

"Schule" (school) is said "Shul-uh"

German "S" in the middle of a word is pronounced harder, like "Z"

 Eisen (steel) is said "eye-zen" 

You may come across the "Eszett" = ß - it is simply a double "S" -> "ss"

 Gruß (greeting) is said "grooss"

"Th" is not like the English "the". Just switch in a "T"

Theadore - is said "Tea-a-door"

Ending "e"

English has a special rule that says that if there is an "e" at the end of the word, it is silent and instead modifies the sound of the vowel in the word, but German does not have that rule, so say an ending "e" as "uh"/"e"

English: "cash" is said "kash"

English: "cache" is said "kaysh"  (say the name of the vowel "a")

German: "Schule" (school) say the trailing "e": "Shul-uh"

Vowels ie and ei together

Many German words have these two vowels together and there is a very simple trick to get them right, by saying the 'English name of the second vowel'.

ie  - say it as the name of the English letter "E" rhymes with "he"

ei  - say it as the name of the English letter "I" rhymes with "eye"


Stein (stone) - say St <eye> n (Rhymes with wine)

Wein (wine) - say V <eye> n (Rhymes with wine)

Wien (Vienna) - V "E" n    (Rhymes with bean)

Eisenbahn (railway) - Eye-zen-baan.

Einstein (surname) - say "eye-n-st-eye-n" (most people get this name right, in fact all family names ending in "-stein" are pronounced like "-wine")

Spiel (play) is pronounced Schpeel


Umlauts are the two dots over some vowels, (called diaeresis). Just read an umlauted letter as if it was followed by an "e"...

Märklin -> Maerklin   "Mare-clean"

Möwe -> "Moev-uh"

Über -> Ueber

Other help


All nouns in German are capitalized, not just special nouns.


The names of vowels in German is very confusing for English speakers

"A" is called "ah"

"I" is called "E" "E wie Ida" (I as in Ida)

"E" is called "E" but sounds like "A" "E wie in Emil" (E as in Emil)

"O" is called "or"/"awe"

"Y" is called "Ypsilon" (Upsilon)


When spelling a word, it is common to drop into the phonetic alphabet mostly made up from common names of people that are unambiguous, just write down the first letter of the stream or words....

Dora Anton Ludwig Emil = Dale

Schule Ulrich Ludwig Theadore Zeppelin = Schultz


Liliput 111 locomotive

I recently bought an old train set which included some Märklin items (ES 800, CM800, and 3024) and in addition to those, an old 3-rail Liliput tank locomotive and a Shell tanker.


Cable ducts

Observe almost any railway track in Europe and you will likely notice a line of cement tiles running all along the track-bed. These are the covers of ducts that carry electrical cables used for running the railway.

I decided I would add some to my layout and set about creating some designs which could be printed on my 3D printer. The first question was, "How big are they?" I spent some hours browsing through the online product catalogs of European manufacturers who specialize in making the ducts and various trackside accessories for the rail industry. They come in almost every size imaginable!

I settled on making ducts 40cm wide, and designed them with gaps between the edges and covers.


3D printing for a model train layout

I watched the 3D printing technology progress from afar with great anticipation. In August 2020 I decided to take the plunge and see what I could do with the technology.

I decided to record my experiences as well as detail what the process involves in making something that is usable on the layout.

sample items printed with 3D printer


Distance marker stones

A few years ago I added modern distance marker signs around the layout. I decided I also wanted to have the old style cement markers that can usually be found along most German train tracks.


Indusi magnets

I decided to add some Indusi magnets to my layout. You may ask, what an Indusi magnet is...  Well it is not so much a magnet, it is resonance transformer that is located next to the rails of most German train tracks. When activated, these units, reduce the magnetism of a corresponding unit on a passing train, and that in turn triggers a signal in the train that can influence the speed of the train.

Typically these placed ahead of, and at main signals. They are also placed near level crossings. There are three frequencies used, and each frequency indicates a different type of speed check.

The first one encountered is usually at the distance signal, a 1000Hz signal tells the train driver that a main signal is being approached. A tone sounds, and the driver must press a button to acknowledge the warning within 4 seconds. If not, the train is slowed.

Then, about 250m before the main signal, a 500Hz Indusi will trigger a speed check of the train to ensure that it has slowed sufficiently in order to stop at the main signal.

The third one, at 2000Hz, is placed at the main signal. If this one is active when a train passes, then the train is stopped automatically.

This is what they look like, and the top is usually painted yellow:

Indusi mage from Wikipedia
Indusi prototype image by WHell  reproduced under CC BY-SA 3.0


Whole train lighting

Seeing an illuminated model passenger train at night is a magical experience. Installing lights makes the trains seem more alive and presents a project within the building and operating of a layout.

model train illuminated at night

There are many, many ways to illuminate passenger coaches. Some methods are more expensive than others, some are easier to install than others and one can find advantages and disadvantages of every approach.

Each approach is a combination of a number of factors:

  • Lighting technology: Incandescent/LED
  • Battery or track power
    • One, or multiple, power pickup shoes for the train
    • Full rectification of half wave rectification
    • Approach used for anti-flicker
  • Permanently coupled rakes or current conducting couplers
  • Off-the-shelf solution or DIY
  • etc
I have about 40 passenger cars that I wish to illuminate. 
  • Unless one is aiming for a classic toy era style, LED lighting is clearly a no-brainer.
  • The high costs of current conducting couplers rules them out for me
  • Multiple pickup shoes create too much drag on long trains (and they are not cheap either)
I decided to use the following approach for my first train:
  1. LED utilizing cheap 12V LED strips.
  2. Track power to be used
  3. Single power pickup shoe per train
  4. Permanently wired conductors run the length of the train
  5. Full rectification of digital track  power
  6. Capacitor for anti-flicker
  7. Inrush current limiting
  8. DC-DC converter used to set brightness
  9. Twin wires run along the length of the train to each coach
The approach is very economical but of course the biggest problem with a whole train permanently wired together is how to service an entire train, getting it on and off the layout can be tricky. I have solved that problem with a whole train cradle (which will be the subject of another post).

Steps to install whole train lighting

I have now completed an entire train and I report the steps I used to add the lighting.

The circuit I used is described in a lot of detail in the page Modelling with LEDs, particularly in the section on lighting passenger cars.

The train I happened to pick turned out to be rather tricky because the design of the Märklin coaches does not make installation of any type of lighting very easy. The metal weight in the floor of the coaches is used to hold the close coupler guide mechanisms in place, as well as transmit current to the next coupler. The chassis, weight, both couplers, seats and body of the coaches all have to be assembled in a single step and it is rather tricky to get all six components to be properly aligned at the same time, and that is before we start adding wires and lights. Things did get a bit better once I had completed a few though.

The train I selected was made of the more modern models of the Donnerbüchsen such as item 4313, 4314 with goods wagon 4315.

The logical place to start is in the goods wagon as it has space for the rectifier and capacitor. The goods wagon already had some tail lights and a pickup shoe. I used a 2200uF capacitor and added an inrush resistor (1K Ohm), and a 1N4001 diode in parallel to the resistor.

To that I connected a DROK DC-DC converter that powers the strips in the train and the tail lights. I placed it opposite one of the sliding doors such that I can easily access the voltage adjustment screw through the door.  I added an additional resistor to the tail light circuit to reduce their brightness.

Since I was not going to use current conducting couplers, I needed to find where I could pass the wires into each coach. After checking the limits of the coupler mechanism movement, I decided to drill small holes next to the brake pads. For the passenger coaches the holes had to be drilled at a slight angle so that the hole comes up through the end seat.

Once the 4 holes were drilled I opened the coach up and removed all drilling remnants.

Initially I ran the wires out of one coach and ran them parallel to each other into the next like this:

I soon found however that the wires can hang too low so I realised I needed to run them up and over the coupling like this:

I then decided that since I was permanently coupling the train together, I may as well use permanent couplers. Having just recently got a 3D printer working, I designed and printed some couplers and replaced each pair of close couplers with my ones.

(At the time I did not have any black resin so I used clear resin instead.) You can now order the couplers (in black) online at

I was using 30 AWG wires that are very flexible but were rather thicker than they need be. Here you can see how the wires have to come up through the end seats.

I glued in some cheap, seated passengers, and simply soldered the wires onto 10cm of strip.The brass weight held the strip while I soldered onto it.

Since both wires are black and I had to keep track of which was positive, I ensured that I always stripped the end of the positive lead. Only once it was soldered to the positive side of the next LED strip did I strip the negative wire.

On the underside of the roof of each coach is a sprue from the manufacturing process which I cut off so that the LED strip could be mounted through the middle of the car.

Since the peel off backing of the LED strips are completely unreliable, I attached the LED strips to the rooves using 3M VHB double sided tape. The columns used for fastening the shell onto the chassis are less than 10cm apart so the LED strips had to be placed diagonally.

Once the whole train was done and placed back on the layout, I was able to set the brightness of the lights using the adjuster on the DC-DC converter.

The capacitor keeps the train illuminated for a couple of seconds after losing power. It is certainly adequate for momentary power interruptions. The DC-DC converter keeps them at a constant brightness. I will also try a train that uses a resistor instead of the DC-DC converter to see if a slow dimming is preferable.