For members


Beatles to Bowie: how pop stars can help you master German grammar

If you are struggling to cement some simple German words in your head, listening to some very familiar songs sung in German by iconic pop stars might help.

The Beatles perform in Munich in 1966.
The Beatles perform in Munich in 1966. Photo: dpa | Gerhard Rauchwetter

The Beatles – tricky datives

The Fab Four famously cut their teeth in Hamburg’s Reeperbahn district, where they would play for hours on end in the district’s seedy nightclubs.

Less well known is that they recorded German versions of two of their biggest hits.

“Komm gib mir deine Handand Sie liebt dich” are two Beatles tracks that only true aficionados still know.

The boys from Liverpool already had a few words of German from their Hamburg days, but their impeccable grammar in these songs is more likely the result of learning the words off by heart.

“In deinen Armen bin ich glücklich und froh, das war noch nie bei einer Anderen einmal so,” they sing on the German version of “I want to hold your hand” – that’s some careful use of the dative case! Prepositions including bei are followed by the dative as this guide explains.

On “Sie liebt dich” (“She loves you”), the band sing that:

Du glaubst sie liebt nur mich?/ Gestern hab’ ich sie gesehen/ Sie denkt ja nur an dich/ Und du solltest zu ihr gehen”.

This is another useful text for learning when to use an accusative (dich/mich) and when to use the dative (ihr following the preposition zu).

By the way, if you want to hear the real standard of the Beatles’ German, take a listen to “Geh raus”, a jam that Paul McCartney sang to the tune of Get Back. Probably best not to get any grammar tips here though!

The Supremes – giving orders

Diana Ross’ girl group also got in on the 1960s trend for cutting records in German in the hope of breaking the market in the German-speaking world.

In 1964 they recorded German versions of the hits “Where did our love go?” and “Moonlight and Kisses”.

On “Baby, baby, wo ist unsere liebe”, the Motown group sing: “Geh nicht fort, oh baby bleib bei mir!”

Good use of imperatives there! Geh (go!) and bleib (stay!) are both simple imperatives (order verbs) to get your head around. For a full explanation of the German imperative, see here.

On the lonesome “Moonlight and Kisses”, the girls mourn the fact that “Einsamkeit ist mein Begleiter, seitdem du gesagt hast, goodbye.”

David Bowie – irregular verbs

Berlin’s most famous guest musician performed a German version of his most iconic song, “Heroes”, for the soundtrack of the cult film Die Kinder vom Bahnhof Zoo.

Bowie wrote and recorded the track at Hansa studios near the Berlin Wall during his stay in the city in the late 1970s. The lyrics, just as in the English version, reference the political events of the time of recording in 1977.

Die Mauer Im Rücken war kalt/ Schüsse reissen die Luft/ Doch wir küssen/ Als ob nichts geschieht/ Und die Scham fiel auf ihre Seite/ Oh, wir können sie schlagen/ Für alle Zeiten!” Bowie sings, describing a love affair under the Berlin Wall.

By coincidence, Bowie uses two common irregular verbs that are useful to learn. Geschehen (to happen) turns to geschieht in the third person singular and becomes geschah in the simple past. Fallen becomes fällt in the third person singular and fiel in the simple past.

David Bowie shared a flat with rock star Iggy Pop during his time in Berlin. Legend has it that Pop wrote the song “The Passenger” after being inspired by a journey on the Berlin S-Bahn, but as far as we know, he never took to singing in the local tongue.

Joan Baez – past tenses

1960s protest singer Joan Baez did a cover version of one of the most famous anti-war songs of all: “Where have all the Flowers Gone” by Pete Seeger.

But she gave her version a twist. Instead of covering the Seeger original, she learned the German words to a version that was sung by Marlene Dietrich: “Sag mir wo die Blumen sind”.

Lamenting the destruction of war, Baez asks where the flowers, the young girls and the soldiers have all gone since war broke out. Then she asks where the graves are: “Sag mir wo die Gräber sind/ Wo sind sie geblieben?/ Sag mir wo die Gräber sind/ Was ist geschehen?”

Not only a powerful message but also an opportunity to learn two important verbs that take sein in the past tenses! Learning when to use sein instead of haben to create a past tense is one of the most important skills on the road to German fluency. Bleiben (stay) and geschehen (happen) are two very common verbs that take sein.

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.
For members


Six German expressions to entice your Wanderlust

The German word 'Wanderlust' means "the desire to travel" and is used even in other languages. Here are some of the other words commonly used in Germany to describe the nation's love affair with travelling.

Six German expressions to entice your Wanderlust

Germans are very connected to nature and a lot of the activities they routinely do, even in winter, involve staying outdoors. So it’s no wonder the language also reflects that passion for walking, travelling, and spending time in nature.

Some of the German words that are most famous to speakers of other languages reference this passion. Perhaps most notably, the term “Wanderlust” which has made its way to other dictionaries, including Merriam-Webster, with the definition “a strong longing for or impulse toward wandering”.

The word is composed of “wandern“, which means to hike or roam about and “lust“, meaning “pleasure or delight”.

READ ALSO: Holiday like a local: Five of the best camping regions in Germany

This is not the only unique expression the German language has related to travelling. Another of the hard to translate ones is “Fernweh“. It comes from “fern“, meaning “far”, and “Weh“, meaning “pain”. It is used to describe the longing for far-off places – in contrast to “Heimweh”, a feeling many immigrants might be very attuned to and could be translated to homesickness.

The German language also has several interesting and even funny expressions for walkers and travellers alike. The Local talked with German teacher and travel enthusiast Lutz Michaelis to collect a few of the best expressions.

“So weit dich deine/mich meine Füße tragen”

It literally means “as far as my feet will take me” (or alternatively, “as far as your feet will take you”). It is often said as an answer to the question, “where are you going?”.

READ ALSO: Waldeinsamkeit: Five of the best forest walks around Berlin

“Die Sieben-Meilen-Stiefel anhaben”

“To wear the seven-league boots”. This means being able to walk long distances fast. Lutz explains that it was actually based on a trope in French mythology, in which magical boots could help the wearer cover long distances in a short amount of time. Having been used in The Little Thumb by Charles Perrault, the term was brought into the German language by writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.

“Wer rastet, der rostet”

The translation would be “he who rests, rusts”. It is used in the German language to say that being in motion is a good thing, not only with travelling but also to incentivise people to keep learning new things.

“Das Reisen kost’t Geld, Doch sieht man die Welt.”

It’s a very common rhyme used to show the downsides and benefits of travelling: “travelling costs money, but one sees the world”.

“Reisende soll man nicht aufhalten.”

It literally means that “travellers shouldn’t be stopped”. However, Lutz explains that the expression is not only used to refer to travellers but also to anyone that might be going through a transitional situation – such as someone wanting to change their jobs, for example.

Rhododendren park Bremen

Rhododendrons bloom in the Rhododendron Park in Bremen. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Sina Schuldt

“der Weg ist das Ziel.”

One of the most beautiful ones, and many languages have their own version of it. It translates to “the road is the destination”.

Of course, coming back home, especially for those suffering from Heimweh, can also be something beautiful. One common saying is “Wiedersehen macht Freude“, which means that to meet again brings happiness, used among those looking forward to seeing someone again after a long trip.

READ ALSO: How to explore Germany by train with the €9 ticket

And one more…

In Germany, there is a common joke about finding German people abroad. The rhyme goes “Hüte dich vor Sturm und Wind, und Deutschen, die im Ausland sind“, which could be translated as “Be on your guard for storm and wind, and Germans in a foreign land”.

“It refers both to the bad behaviour of Germans on holidays or travels and a dark joke and a funny nod to the fact that German troops have invaded other countries”, Lutz, who is a German himself, explains.