10 catchy songs to help on your quest to learn German

10 catchy songs to help on your quest to learn German
The Helene Fischer Show. Photo:DPA
If you’re bored of staring at case tables and memorising the gender of every single noun, why not give yourself a break and listen to some music? Here are 10 songs which will help you master German grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation.

After a while you’ll be effortlessly singing along with these tunes and using phrases from them in your everyday speech without even realising.

1. Nena: 99 Luftballons (99 Air Balloons)

Nena in performance. Photo:DPA
We’ll start with a classic which you’re bound to already know. This song is great because you’re probably already familiar with the tune. After a couple of listens – and maybe a quick glance over the lyrics – you should be able to understand the story of these 99 Luftballons. 

“Hast du etwas Zeit für mich
Dann singe ich ein Lied für dich
Von 99 Luftballons
Auf ihrem Weg zum Horizont”

The West German song tells the story of how 99 air balloons floating towards the horizon are mistaken as a threat and are shot down, leading to a 99-year war, which leaves all sides in ruins. The song was released in 1983 and achieved world-wide success. 

Take note of the interesting war vocabulary, like Fliegerstaffel (flying squadron), Düsenflieger (jet planes), Benzinkanister (petrol canister) and Trümmer (ruins) – hopefully your use of this vocab will be limited to the theoretical. 

2. Helene Fischer: Atemlos durch die Nacht

Helene Fischer performing her hit Atemlos durch die Nacht. Photo:DPA
Pop princess Helene Fischer delivers the best German cheese. Her song Atemlos durch die Nacht became the most successful song in German history after its release in 2013.
“Atemlos durch die Nacht,
Bis ein neuer Tag erwacht”
It’s the definition of Euro-pop and extremely catchy so will be a real Ohrwurm (ear worm). Most Germans know the words to this hit – even if many of them wish they didn't.
This song is so simple it can't really teach you much, but the fact that you won't be able to get it out of your head means you'll soon be able to romance people in the cheesiest way possible.

3. Marlene Dietrich: Sag mir, wo die Blumen sind

Here’s another classic. Sag mir, wo die Blumen sind, was originally written in English and has since been translated into over 30 languages. Marlene Dietrich famously performed the German version in Israel in the '60s.

The song is pretty simple to follow, it isn’t too fast and utilises lots of repetition to strengthen its message of the futility of war. It begins with Dietrich asking where the flowers have gone and what has happened to them. The answer: the girls have picked them all in haste. Then Dietrich asks where the girls have gone, what has happened to them. This structure continues until it goes full circle and sees the flowers on the graves of dead soldiers. 

“Sag mir wo die Blumen sind,
wo sind sie geblieben
Sag mir wo die Blumen sind,
was ist geschehen?”

This song demonstrates the changing word order after question words like wo (where) and was (what), depending on whether the sentence is a question or a statement.

4. Rammstein: Ohne dich (Without You)

You can’t have a list of German songs without an appearance from German heavy metal gods Rammstein. Ohne dich is a pretty moody song, with lots of repetition of the phrase “ohne dich”. So you're not likely to forget which case the prepositions ohne takes any time soon.

This song also has great examples for practising that pesky group of prepositions which take either accusative or dative dependent on movement: an, auf, hinter, in, neben, über, unter, vor, zwischen. A good example can be seen in the lines below.

“Doch der Abend werft ein Tuch aufs Land,
Und auf die Wege hinterm Waldrand…”

In the first line the movement makes auf take an accusative, while in the second hinter is describing a position and therefore takes a dative.

5. Howard Carpendale: Ti Amo (I Love You)

Howard Carpendale. Photo:DPA
We promise this song is actually German. This South-African singer brings you a German version of the Italian love song Ti Amo. It has a slow and steady rhythm and will have you humming along in no time.
“Ti Amo, du sagtest Ti Amo,
Das heißt ich lieb dich so.”
The beauty of this show is that all the vocabulary is very simple and you probably won't find any complicated grammar points to try to contend with. Even the lines above (engl. Ti Amo, you said Ti Amo, / That means I love you so), are clear, precise and almost self-explanatory.

6. Wise Guys: Nur für dich (Only for You)

The Wise Guys are a German a cappella band whose quirky songs will always make you laugh. In this song, the main singer recounts all the things he did just for his girlfriend who has now left him.

The sentence structures are great to borrow from and adapt to your own situations if you want to bemoan all the little things you do just to please other people.

“Ich bin nur für dich mit dir in Bridget Jones gegangen
Ich hab' nur für dich mit dem Joggen angefangen”

The phrase “nur für dich” is embedded into each statement after the first verb. There's also some help in knowing which verbs take sein in the past.

7. Adel Tawil: Lieder (Songs)

Adel Tawil on his Lieder tour. Photo:DPA
If you fancy training your translation skills, listen to this song and see how many pop references you can spot. Adel Tawil has taken quotes from his favourite songs from around the world, translated them into German and and has made them into a brand new hit. This is a great translation exercise, so try listening and matching each line to the artist it originally comes from.
“Ich ging wie ein Ägypter, hab' mit Tauben geweint
War ein Voodookind, wie ein rollender Stein”
Granted, it may sound better in the original German.
8. Tim Bendzko: Nur noch kurz die Welt retten

A perfect tune to help with complicated word order problems. If you're not quite sure in which order to place all those little words in your sentence, Bendzko has the answer.

Even the title is a great example of knowing where all the adverbs, nouns and verbs go in a short phrase:

“Nur noch kurz die Welt retten”

Bendzko shows the hierarchy of the three adverbs, and also demonstrates that, in a phrase with no subject, adverbs come before nouns, which come before verbs. 

9. Cro: Whatever

Here's one from a guy who insists on always wearing a panda mask to protect his identity. If you want to know how a real German speaks (granted a younger German) then Cro takes you speedily through vocabulary you may need to describe a crazy night, or when chilling with mates.

“Das war mit Abstand die schlimmste Woche,
Die ich in meinem Leben je hatte.
Ich weiß nicht ob ich aufstehen soll
Und ich hab keinen Plan was ich mache.”

You probably will have to take a look at the lyrics for this one, but if you can imitate Cro's speed, you'll sound like an absolute German pro in no time.

10. Julia Engelmann: Grapefruit

Julia Engelmann is a German spoken-word poet, who rose to fame after competing in poetry slam competitions. She is known for incorporating music into her poems and Grapefruit is a great example of this.
The poem-song is addressed to a friend who's feeling down; she tries to brighten up her friend's day with the promise of “grapefruit for breakfast”.
This is an incredibly sweet song and is great to help you practise your pronunciation due to its spoken-word elements. It's also a perfect study of different tenses, as you'll find the present, perfect, imperfect, conditional, future, imperatives and straight up infinitive lists.
“Komm, wir machen mal das Fenster auf, das Radio laut
Lass frischen Wind herein und alle alten Zweifel heraus
Wenn du fest daran glaubst, dann wirst du glücklich
Und heute gibt es Grapefruit zum Frühstück.”
From just this short snippet you can see the wealth of verb usage. There's a second-person singular imperative, present conjugated verbs and an example of the future tense with the common German habit of omitting the main verb after werden if it's guessable in context; here “dann wirst du glücklich [sein]”. Phew, who said learning German couldn't be fun?

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