Initial search results confirm its wide usage across German-language websites, from blogs, to SPIEGEL.de, to advertising. It is clearly a very popular saying in Germany in all sorts of contexts. By contrast, it is used far less frequently in English.
“Der Weg ist das Ziel“ is a proverb whose origins are uncertain. It appears to have come from the teachings of Chinese philosopher Confucius (or Konfuzius) who lived between 551-479 BC.
What does it mean?
Essentially, it implies that the goal or destination is not as important as the metaphorical journey taken to get there, and that the experiences or emotions gained are the true reward.
How do you translate it?
In German, this saying always takes the same form. In English, there are numerous ways of expressing the same idea. However, fHowerom my research I have found three which appear to be in fairly common usage:
o ‘The journey is the reward’
o ‘The journey is the destination’
o ‘The way is the goal’
‘The journey is the reward’ appears on all the online dictionaries I consulted. Google search returns a sizable 1 560 000 results. However, this may be influenced by a book with this title about the life of former Apple boss Steve Jobs (but this does confirm that it is a phrase in use). The search was narrowed by including the word ‘proverb’. This returned 482 000 hits.
‘The journey is the destination’ provides 1 080 000 results. However, a large number of the returned links are concerned with journals of this title by a British photographer called Dan Eldon, who was killed in Somalia in 1993. While this does not make this choice unsuitable, it seems to have a specific association with these journals.
‘The way is the goal’ and ‘proverb’ returns 7 610 000 Google hits. However, the search results often point towards a link with Gandhi – in all likelihood due to a book called The Way is the Goal: Gandhi Today by Prof. Johan Galtung. Intriguingly, there is no firm evidence to suggest Gandhi actually did say this. Again, this connection does not necessarily make it unsuitable.
Modern quotations as viable alternatives
From further research, I found that two notable literary figures of recent history had their own take on the idea underlying “der Weg ist das Ziel”.
Ralph Waldo Emerson, an American poet, once said ‘life is a journey, not a destination.’ This has 1 620 000 Google hits or 228 000 when searched specifically in connection with Emerson.
And in 1881, poet and novelist Robert Louis Stevenson said ‘to travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive.’ For further information see: http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/387450.html
So, which translation should I use?
I would use either, ‘the journey is the reward’ as it has a high number of relevant hits, or ‘the way is the goal’ which has an even higher number of reliable Google results.
And now for something completely different
Having said all that, we had a translation this week about an electric car rally. One of the headings was “der Weg ist das Ziel” - because the rally was about demonstrating the benefits of technology, not about winning a trophy. A native English speaker would probably not have understood why the article had this title if we had chosen one of the options above. Therefore, we came up with a completely new title, in this case: “A SHOWCASE NOT JUST A RALLY”.