SHARE
COPY LINK

LEARNING GERMAN

8 German tongue-twisters to leave your mouth in knots

The Local looks at some of the best tongue-twisters to test your German pronunciation skills.

8 German tongue-twisters to leave your mouth in knots
Photo: DPA.

Just as English-speakers enjoy a good “Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers” challenge every now and then, Germans love their Zungenbrecher – literally, tongue-breakers.

Here are some of our favourites. How many can you say five times fast?

1. Wenn Fliegen hinter Fliegen fliegen, fliegen Fliegen hinter Fliegen her.

Even the English translation is bit tricky to say: If flies fly behind flies, then flies fly after flies.

2. Schnecken erschrecken, wenn sie an Schnecken schlecken, weil zum Schrecken vieler Schnecken Schnecken nicht schmecken.

This one means: Snails are shocked when they lick snails because to the surprise of many snails, snails don’t taste good.

3. Blaukraut bleibt Blaukraut und Brautkleid bleibt Brautkleid

Photos: DPA.

Wise words: A red cabbage is always a red cabbage, and a wedding dress is always a wedding dress.

4. Fischers Fritz fischt frische Fische, frische Fische fischt Fischers Fritz.

This one is a classic: The fisherman’s Fritz fishes for fresh fish, fresh fish is what the fisherman’s Fritz fishes. And don’t worry if you can’t get it on the first go – even the German news anchor struggled with it in the above video.

5. Zwischen zwei Zwetschgenzweigen sitzen zwei zechenschwarze tschechisch zwitschernde Zwergschwalben.

This one uses a bit of Bavarian vocabulary – even trickier: Between two plum branches sit two Czech coal-black twittering dwarf swallows.

6. Der dicke Dachdecker deckt Dir dein Dach, drum dank dem dicken Dachdecker, dass der dicke Dachdecker Dir Dein Dach deckte.

Added bonus if you can sing it like this guy: The fat roofer tiles your roof, so thank the fat roofer, that the fat roofer tiled your roof.

7. Am zehnten zehnten um zehn Uhr zehn zogen zehn zahme Ziegen zehn Zentner Zucker zum Zoo.

On the tenth of October (10/10) at 10.10am, ten tame goats pulled ten centners (unit of weight) of sugar to the zoo.

8.  Der Grabengräber gräbt die Gräben.

Der Grubengräber gräbt die Gruben.

Graben Grabengräber Gruben?

Graben Grubengräber Gräben?

Nein!

Grabengräber graben Gräben.

Grubengräber graben Gruben

Eli Duke/Flickr Creative Commons.

The gravedigger digs graves.

The ditchdigger digs ditches.

Do ditchdiggers dig graves?

Do gravediggers dig ditches?

No!

Gravediggers dig graves.

Ditchdiggers dig ditches.

For members

GERMAN LANGUAGE

10 ways to express surprise in German

From woodland fairies to whistling pigs, the German language has a colourful variety of phrases to express surprise.

10 ways to express surprise in German

1. Alter Schwede!

You may recognise this phrase from the cheese aisle at the supermarket, but it’s also a popular expression in Germany for communicating surprise. 

The phrase, which means “old Swede” comes from the 17th century when King Frederick William enlisted the help of experienced Swedish soldiers to fight in the Thirty Years’ War.

Because of their outstanding performance in battle, the Swedish soldiers became popular and respected among the Prussians, and they were respectfully addressed as “Old Swede”. Over the last three hundred years, the phrase developed into one to convey awed astonishment. 

READ ALSO: German word of the day – Alter Schwede

2. Holla, die Waldfee!

This curious expression literally means “Holla, the wood fairy”. It can be used both as an exclamation of astonishment and to insinuate that something is ridiculous.

Engraving of a fairy in the picnic park in Enfield in the UK.

Engraving of a fairy in the picnic park in Enfield in the UK. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-tmn | Mareike Graepel

There are various explanations as to how the forest fairy made it into the German lexicon. Some say that it comes from the Grimm’s fairy tale “Frau Holle,” while others say it comes from an old song called “Shoo, shoo, the forest fairy!”

READ ALSO: 10 words and phrases that will make you sound like a true German

3. Das ist ja ein dicker Hund!

Literally meaning “that is indeed a fat dog!” this expression of surprise presumably originates from a time in the past when German dogs were generally on the thinner side.

4. Ich glaube, ich spinne!

The origin of this expression is questionable, because the word “Spinne” means “spider” and also “I spin”. Either way, it’s used all over Germany to mean “I think I’m going crazy” as an expression of surprise.

5. Ich glaube, mein Schwein pfeift!

The idea of a pig whistling is pretty ridiculous, and that’s where the phrase  – meaning “I think my pig whistles” – comes from. Germans use this expression when they can’t believe or grasp something, or to express that they are extremely surprised.

The pig Rosalie stands on a farm in a pasture.

The pig Rosalie stands on a farm in a pasture. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Hauke-Christian Dittrich

6. Meine Güte!

This straightforward phrase simply means “my goodness” and is a commonly used expression of astonishment.

7. Oha!

More of a sound than a word, this short exclamation will let the world know that you are shocked by something.

READ ALSO: Denglisch: The English words that will make you sound German

8. heilige Blechle!

Often when surprised or outraged, we might let slip an exclamation that refers to something sacred. This phrase fits into that bracket, as it means “holy tin box”. 

The peculiar expression comes from the Swabian dialect and refers to the cash box from which the poor were paid by the Church in the Middle Ages.

The green house number nine which won an award for energy-efficient renovation and construction in Saxony-Anhalt.

The green house number nine which won an award for energy-efficient renovation and construction in Saxony-Anhalt. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Klaus-Dietmar Gabbert

9. ach du grüne Neune!

This slightly antiquated expression literally means “oh you green nine!”, or “oh, my goodness!” and is one you’re more likely to hear among the older generation of Germans.

The origin of the phrase is disputed. One explanation claims that it comes from the famous 19th century Berlin dance hall “Conventgarten” which, although it was located in Blumenstraße No. 9, had its main entrance in “Grüner Weg”. Therefore, the locals renamed it as “Grüne Neune” (Green Nine).

Another explanation is that the phrase comes from fairs where playing cards were used to read the future. In German card games, the “nine of spades” is called “green nine” – and pulling this card in a fortune telling is a bad omen.

10. Krass!

The word Krass in German is an adjective that means blatant or extreme, but when said on its own, it’s an expression of surprise. Popular among young Germans, it’s usually used in a positive way, to mean something like “awesome” or “badass”.  

SHOW COMMENTS