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CHRISTMAS

Five Christmas songs to improve your German language skills

Want to feel more festive while also improving your German? Writer Sarah Magill digs out some of the most beautiful (and fun) German-language Christmas carols.

A choir singing at the opening of the Nuremberg Christkindlesmarkt in 2019.
A choir singing at the opening of the Nuremberg Christkindlesmarkt in 2019. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Daniel Karmann

German Christmas songs (Weihnachtslieder) have a very long tradition – with some of the songs sung today having their origins in the Middle Ages.

Like their English language counterparts, there are a few traditional German Christmas songs which can be heard everywhere during the festive season and which are sung every year, without fail on Heiligabend (Christmas Eve).

Here are five of the nation’s favourite Christmas songs, which will not only get you in a christmassy mood, but will also broaden your German vocabulary.

READ ALSO: Seven classic German Christmas traditions still taking place in the pandemic

1. Stille Nacht

You may be familiar with the English adaptation of this carol – “Silent Night” – but the original version comes from the city of Oberndorf bei Salzburg in Austria. 

On December 24th, 1818, the assistant priest of the church of St. Nicola, Josef Mohr, presented the organist Franz Gruber with a poem called Stille Nacht! Heilige Nacht! (“Silent Night! Holy Night!”) and the two sang the song for the first time at the Christmas mass.

The Silent Night chapel in Oberndorf near Salzburg. Photo:picture alliance / Eva-Maria Repolusk/SalzburgerLand Tourismus/dpa-tmn | Eva-Maria Repolusk

Written just after the Napoleonic wars, the text of Stille Nacht uses imagery of peace and calm, and has played an important role in times of war throughout its 200-year history: it was sung and performed in public during the First World War and also during the Second World War. 

German version

Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht!

Alles schläft, einsam wacht

Nur das traute, hochheilige Paar.

Holder Knabe im lockigen Haar,

Schlaf in himmlischer Ruh,

Schlaf in himmlischer Ruh.

English version

Silent night, holy night!

All sleeps, lonely wakes

Only the happy, sacred couple.

Sweet boy with curly hair,

Sleep in heavenly peace,

Sleep in heavenly peace.

The song has since been translated into more than 300 languages and dialects around the globe.

2. O Tannenbaum

Another German language original which has found its way into the English canon of Christmas carols, O Tannenbaum (“Oh Christmas Tree”) was originally a sad love song. The text was written by Potsdam scholar August Zarnack in 1820 to an already existing melody (“Long live the journeyman carpenter”) and is written from the perspective of a betrayed lover who is praising the constancy of the conifer tree:

German version

O Tannenbaum, o Tannenbaum,
wie grün sind deine Blätter! 

O Tannenbaum, o Tannenbaum,
wie grün sind deine Blätter!

Du grünst nicht nur zur Sommerszeit,
nein, auch im Winter, wenn es schneit.
O Tannenbaum, o Tannenbaum,
wie grün sind deine Blätter!

English version

O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree
How green are your branches!
O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree
How green are your branches!

You’re not just green in summertime,
No, also in winter when it snows,
O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree
How green are your branches!

Four years later, Ernst Anschütz took the successful song and, retaining the first verse, turned it into a cheerful Christmas carol for children, which has grown in popularity ever since.

Sunlit conifers on the slopes of the Black Forest. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Philipp von Ditfurth

3. O du fröhliche

O du fröhliche (“Oh you joyful”) is one of the best-known German-language Christmas carols. Its melody is based on the Sicilian Marian carol O sanctissima and the text of the first of three stanzas was written by the Weimar “orphan father” Johannes Daniel Falk.

Another text composed just after the Napoleonic wars, this song was written by Johannes Daniel Falk for the war orphans who were in the care of him and his wife Caroline. Around 1815, he wrote a song for these children: o du fröhliche and, to this day, many people all over the world sing it, especially on Christmas Eve. 

German version

O du fröhliche, o du selige,

Gnadenbringende Weihnachtszeit!

Welt ging verloren,

Christ ist geboren:

Freue, freue dich, o Christenheit!

English version

O merry, O blessed, 

Merry Christmas time!

The world was lost,

Christ is born:

Rejoice, rejoice, O Christendom!

READ ALSO: Ten ways to celebrate Christmas like a German

4. Leise rieselt der Schnee

The Christmas song Leise rieselt der Schnee (“Quietly trickles the snow”) is traditionally sung throughout Advent in Germany. It was written and composed by the Protestant pastor Eduard Ebel in 1895 and is now one of the nation’s most popular Christmas songs.

The text is is packed with beautiful imagery of a snowy landscape:

German version

Leise rieselt der Schnee
Still und starr ruht der See
Weihnachtlich glänzet der Wald
Freue Dich, Christkind kommt bald

English version

Quietly trickles the snow

Still and rigid rests the lake

Christmas shines in the forest

Rejoice, Christ Child is coming soon

5. In der Weihnachtbäckerei

A much more modern Christmas song, in der Weihnachtsbäckerei (“in the Christmas bakery”) describes what’s going on behind the scenes in preparation of German sweet seasonal treats. 

It’s a great song for practising your culinary skills, as it reads like a recipe for making Plätzchen (traditional German Christmas cookies). 

A child cuts out cookies in Hamburg, 2018. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Axel Heimken

The song’s composer and writer,  Rolf Zuckowski, made up the song in 1986 while driving home to his family who were making Christmas cookies. When he arrived home, the song was ready and his three-year-old son immediately sang the new song on his way to bed.

German version

In der Weihnachtsbäckerei
Gibt es manche Leckerei
Zwischen Mehl und Milch
Macht so mancher Knilch
Eine riesengroße Kleckerei
In der Weihnachtsbäckerei
In der Weihnachtsbäckerei 

Brauchen wir nicht Schokolade
Zucker, Nüsse und Succade
Und ein bisschen Zimt?
Das stimmt

Butter, Mehl und Milch verrühren
Zwischendurch einmal probieren
Und dann kommt das Ei (pass auf)
Vorbei

English version

In the Christmas bakery

There are many treats

Between flour and milk

Many a lout makes

A huge mess

In the Christmas bakery

In the Christmas bakery

Don’t we need chocolate

Sugar, nuts and succade

And a little bit of cinnamon?

That’s right

Mix butter, flour and milk

Taste in between

And then comes the egg (watch out)

Too late!

READ ALSO: German Advent word of the day: Die Plätzchen

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GERMAN LANGUAGE

10 words to help you enjoy the German summer

Summer has arrived in Germany, so we’ve put together a list of ten words to help you navigate the hottest season.

10 words to help you enjoy the German summer

1. (die) Sommersprossen

A close-up of a woman with prominent freckles.

A close-up of a woman with prominent freckles. Photo: pa/obs/myBody / Shutterstock | Irina Bg

The German word for ‘freckles’, translates literally as “summer sprouts”, as these little spots start to appear on many people’s faces as soon as the sun begins to shine in spring and summer.

2. eincremen

A woman applies sun lotion on a summer's day.

A woman applies sun lotion on a summer’s day. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-tmn | Christin Klose

To help protect against sunburn, it’s important to use a lot of sunscreen during warm summer days in Germany. Thanks to the magic of German separable verbs, there is a specific word for applying creme to the skin – eincremen – which can also be used to talk about applying sun lotion.

Examples:

Den gesamten Körper vor dem Aufenthalt in der Sonne eincremen

Apply creme to the entire body before sun exposure.

Einmal eincremen reicht nicht, um die Haut einen ganzen Tag lang vor Sonne zu schützen.

It’s not enough to apply sun cream just once to protect the skin from the sun for a whole day.

3. (die) Hundstage

A dog lies exhausted on the stones of a terrace in summer temperatures.

A dog lies exhausted on the stones of a terrace in summer temperatures. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Martin Gerten

‘Dog days’ are colloquially referred to in Europe as the hottest period in summer from July 23rd to August 23rd.

The term ‘dog days’ dates back to the 14th century and was originally associated with the first appearance of the star Sirius of the “Great Dog” constellation. However, due to the changing position of the Earth’s axis, the time period has shifted by about four weeks.

Nevertheless, you’ll still hear people all over Germany referring to the “Hundstage.”

4. eisgekühlt

A glass of mineral water with ice and lemon.

A glass of mineral water with ice and lemon. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Daniel Karmann

There’s nothing better than cooling off with a refreshing, ice-cold drink on a hot summer day, so make sure to use this word at the beach bar to specify that you want your drinks at a near-zero temperature!

Examples:

Das Kokoswasser schmeckt am besten eisgekühlt.

The coconut water tastes best ice-cold.

5. (die) Waldbrandstufe

A sign on a forest path indicates forest fire level five.

A sign on a forest path indicates forest fire level five. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-centralpicture | Soeren Stache

The Waldbrandstufe – meaning forest fire level – is a warning system that has been used in all German states since 2014 to indicate the level of forest fire risk, based on the local heat and dryness levels.

Level 1 stands for very low fire risk in forests and level 5 for very high risk. When the Stufe (level) is above 3 or 4, certain measures – such as banning barbecues – will come into force locally.

You will often see the Waldbrandstufe sign in woodland areas, near beaches, or on weather reports over the summer.

Example:

Lagerfeuer werden aufgrund der hohen Waldbrandstufe nicht geduldet.
 
Due to the danger of forest fires campfires will not be tolerated.

6. (der) Strandkorb

Beach chairs stand in sunny weather on the beach in the Baltic resort of Binz on the island of Rügen.

Beach chairs on the beach in the Baltic resort of Binz on the island of Rügen. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Stefan Sauer

The “Strandkorb”, literally meaning beach basket, is a special type of beach chair that you will find on almost every German beach. The traditional beach chair was invented in 1882 by German basket maker Wilhelm Bartelmann in Rostock.

Example:

Hier kannst du in der Ostsee baden oder dich in einem Strandkorb entspannen.

Here you can swim in the Baltic Sea or relax in a beach chair.

7. (die) Radtour

A man and a woman cycle through Lüneburg Heath.

A man and a woman cycle through Lüneburg Heath. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/HeideRegion Uelzen e.V. | Jürgen Clauß, HeideRegion Uelz

Germans love biking, so it’s no surprise that a specific word exists for the summer phenomenon of going on a Radtour – bike tour.

READ ALSO: 10 things to consider for a bike trip in Germany

Example: 

Der gesamte Rundweg ist eine leichte Radtour.
 
The entire circular route is an easy bike ride.

8. Sonne tanken

A man on an air mattress sunbathing on a lake while a model boat passes him by.

A man on an air mattress sunbathing on a lake while a model boat passes him by. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Thomas Warnack

If you love summer, then you probably like to lie in the sun and soak up the rays. In German, you would call this “Sonne tanken” – literally to fuel up on sun.

Example:

Ich will einfach nur Sonne tanken!

I just want to soak up the sun!

9. (die) Sommergewitter

Lightning striking in the Hanover region in June 2021.

Lightning striking in the Hanover region in June 2021. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Julian Stratenschulte

Another very specific word, this term is used to describe the phenomenon of summer thunderstorms.

Example:

Die ersten Sommergewitter rollen quer durch Deutschland.

The first summer thunderstorms are rolling across Germany.

10. (die) Eisdiele

A scoop of strawberry ice cream is placed on top of another scoop in a waffle cone at the "Eiskultur" ice cream parlor in Schöneweide.

A scoop of strawberry ice cream is placed on top of another scoop in a waffle cone at the “Eiskultur” ice cream parlor in Schöneweide. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Jens Kalaene

Finally, no summer would be complete without a generous helping of ice cream. In German, the most common name for an ice-creme parlour is “Eisdiele”. 

The word seems to have joined the German language when the very first ice-creme parlour was opened in Hamburg in 1799.

READ ALSO: Spaghetti ice cream to Wobbly Peter: Why we love Germany’s sweet summer snacks

Example:

Es gibt eine sehr gute Eisdiele an der Promenade.

There is a really good ice-creme parlour on the promenade.

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