One really effective way to make your German sound more like a native’s is to learn Redensarten.
These are the everyday German sayings that German speakers use to express emotions, actions and thoughts. You probably know them better as turns of phrase or idioms in English and you use them every day. You know, expressions like:
- “Hit two birds with one stone”
- “Once in a blue moon”
- “Let the cat out of the bag”
- “Cry over spilt milk”
By learning these phrases your German will begin to take on a more natural flow and help convince people of your fluency! You’ll never see anyone look so surprised as when you quote Goethe or ask someone, Warum spielst du die beleidigte Leberwurst? “Why are you playing the offended liver sausage?”
In this article I want to share some of the best German proverbs, idioms and sayings that you can work into your everyday conversations.
Editor's note: before we get started, if you’re looking for an online German course, here’s the course we recommend: German Uncovered – Learn German Through the Power of Story, a course with a fascinating new method.
Lass uns anfangen! Let’s begin!
1: “Ich kriege so eine Krawatte”
This is one of those funny German sayings that really doesn’t make any sense when you first hear it in conversation (I mean, do they ever?).
Literally it translates to, “I get such a tie!” as in the formal item you would wear around your neck. And it comes from the pressure you feel in your throat when you get so angry you could scream.
Germans use this saying when they find something makes them really angry. Here are a few examples of it in action:
- Ich kriege so eine Krawatte, wenn Lucy mein letztes Ibuprofen nimmt. “It really annoys me when Lucy takes my last Ibuprofen”
- Sara hat gesagt, ‘James du musst nicht lügen!’, aber ich bin kein Lügner! Ach…ich kriege so eine Krawatte. “Sara said, ‘James, you don’t need to lie.’ But I’m not a liar! Oh…it really winds me up that does.”
- Ich kriege so eine Krawatte, wenn man mit mir auf Englisch reden will. Ich muss Deutsch üben! “It really annoys me when someone wants to speak to me in English. I have to practise my German!”
If you can use the English phrases, “I get so annoyed when…” or “It really winds me up when…” you can use this in its place.
2: “Warum spielst du die beleidigte Leberwurst?”
In English this translates quite hilariously to, “Why are you playing the offended liver sausage?”. This is one of my favourite German sayings because I feel you can only appreciate the strangeness of it if you’re not a native speaker.
You’d use this to ask someone why they’re throwing a tantrum or overreacts to something trivial. For example when a child asks for some sweets and doesn’t get them. Or in an adult setting that might look like:
”Jenny, warum spielst du die beleidigte Leberwurst?” (“Jenny, what’s ticked you off?”)
”Ach! Ich habe am Samstag Frühschicht. Ich will Freitagabend zu einem Konzert gehen. Mist!” (“I have an early shift on Saturday. I want to go to the concert on Friday evening! Crap.”)
This adds a little fun to the situation too. It’s hard to be mad when someone is calling you a liver sausage.
3: “Du gehst mir auf den Keks”
Is someone really getting on your nerves? Maybe they’re grinding your gears? Or, perhaps they’re just a thorn in your side. Well then this phrase is perfect for you.
This phrase literally translates to “You’re going on my cookie” and can be used any time someone is really getting on your nerves.
- David, hör auf! Du gehst mir auf den Keks. “Stop it David, you’re getting on my nerves.”
- Ach, Ed Sheeran. Seine Musik geht mir auf den Keks. “Oh Ed Sheeran! His music really gets on my nerves.”
It’s simple and it’s often considered quite a polite way to tell someone to stop doing what they’re doing because you find it annoying.
4: “Ins Fettnäpfchen treten”
Have you ever said something to someone and then immediately regretted it? Like making a joke and then realising someone in the group could really take offence?
Well that feeling of putting your foot in your mouth translates to this phrase in German. Although it has an appropriately more disgusting translation of, “To step into the fat bowl”. Which pretty much sums up how anyone has ever felt at that moment.
5: “Ich hab’ dich lieb”
In German there are two stages of love.
There’s ich liebe dich which means you’re completely in love with someone or something. But they also have a stage that sits somewhere around puppy love on the spectrum and it’s best used when you want to express love, but don’t want to be too on the nose about it.
That’s where, “Ich hab’ dich lieb” comes in.
This translates to, “I have love for you”. Which is one of those sentences that sounds like it could be grammatically correct but there’s something off with it.
6: “Ich bin bis über beide Ohren verliebt”
If you’ve found someone you’re completely smitten with, this is the perfect saying to express that emotion.
In English this is the equivalent of saying that you’re head over heels in love, although it literally translates to, “I’m over both ears in love!”.
This could either mean that your body is so filled with love that it goes over your ears. Or, that your brain is completely in love with them and can’t shake the thought.
7: “Frauen und Bier immer von unten”
If you’ve ever given a toast in German you’ll notice two things: people make extreme eye contact and they always clink their glasses at the bottom.
And whenever you ask a German about the latter they’ll always tell you this (cheeky) German saying. It translates to, “Women and Beer; always from the bottom!” and I’ll let you figure out why for yourself.
8: “Ich habe einen Kater”
Sticking with German sayings about beer, this lovely little phrase is what people use when they have a hangover.
Now I’ve never had to use this phrase myself but I’d hear it often on Saturday and Sunday mornings after we’d been out to bars and clubs. “Kater” literally translates to a hangover, but you can also use Muskelkater to describe the soreness in your muscles after you’ve been to the gym.
9: “Das ist nicht mein Bier”
Has someone ever told you a problem that you really don’t care about, or want nothing to do with?
“That’s not my beer” literally expresses that emotion in five short words. Much like how you wouldn’t drink someone else’s beer, you’re not going to take on that problem.
This is one of those phrases that it’d be really cool to have in English because, “That’s not my problem” just feels a little bit too unimaginative. The Polish phrase “Not my circus, not my monkeys” is another way of saying the same thing that I really like.
10: “Da steppt der Bär”
Do you have a good feeling about a party or place you’re going to? Well this phrase is the perfect way to express your excitement.
This literally translates to “There steps the bear” and I really can’t think an English equivalent for it. But beware, sometimes Germans use this sarcastically when they’re invited to a party they really don’t want to go to. So be sure to pay attention to the tone of voice when it’s said.
It’s also pretty flexible because you can replace Da with any location or place, for example:
- Hier steppt der Bär. “Here steps the bear/ This party is really good!”
- Bei Julia steppt der Bär. “At Julia’s it’s a crazy party!”
- In der “Bar 100” steppt der Bär heute. “In Bar 100 it’s going to be a great party today!”
Play around with it and use it to show how much you’re looking forward to a party. Or use it sarcastically to express how much you want to leave.
What’s Your Favourite German Saying?
OK, now it’s your turn! What’s your favourite weird, funny, or insightful German saying that you love to use? Share it with the Fi3M community in the comments…
And finally... One of the best ways to learn a new language is with podcasts. Read more about how to use podcasts to learn a language.