Barbaras Rhabarberbar: How a German tongue-twister became an unlikely viral hit

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Barbaras Rhabarberbar: How a German tongue-twister became an unlikely viral hit
Rapper Bodo Wartke performs in 2020. His tongue twister became a TikTok hit. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Hendrik Schmidt

A tongue-twisting German rap about rhubarb has become the latest unlikely musical hit to storm the internet, racking up millions of views and inspiring a viral dance routine.


The song by musical comedian Bodo Wartke was first posted on YouTube in December 2023, but took off earlier this year thanks to a dance video made by two Australian students.

In May, the track briefly reached number 12 in the TikTok music charts, ahead of US R&B superstar Beyonce.

The charm lies in the song's tongue-twisting title, "Barbaras Rhabarberbar" (Barbara's Rhubarb Bar) -- a bit like the German equivalent of "She sells sea shells".

The song tells the story of Barbara, a woman famous for her rhubarb cakes who decides to open a bar in her village.

As the song goes on, Barbara is joined by an ever-growing cast of people whose names add to the tongue-twister -- such as barbarians and barbers.

Wartke, 47, teamed up with German content creator Marti Fischer to make the video, the two men taking turns at the microphone to recite the tricky lyrics.

47 million views

Wartke is delighted with the unexpected success of the song, though he admits he doesn't actually like rhubarb very much, "except when it's made into a crumble or jam with strawberries".

"Even in our wildest dreams, we could never have imagined such success," said Wartke, who has been performing as a cabaret artist in Germany, Austria and Switzerland for 27 years.

"Barbara's Rhubarb Bar" has racked up more than 47 million views on TikTok and has been translated into several languages.


It has also inspired all manner of copycat dance videos, including underwater, on ice skates and on rollerblades.

Wartke, who performs comic songs on the piano, once wanted to be a German teacher and has a penchant for a linguistic challenge.

He has recorded several other songs based on tongue-twisters, such as "Fischers Fritz fischt frische Fische" ("Fisherman Fritz catches fresh fish").

"Until now, I always thought I was talking to a German audience. I thought you had to understand the meaning to appreciate it," said Wartke, who grew up in northern Germany but now lives in Berlin.

"But apparently this kind of alliteration combined with hip-hop has an appeal beyond the meaning of the words," he said.

READ ALSO: 8 German tongue-twisters to leave your mouth in knots 

Image problem 

Wartke hopes the song will do something positive for the image of the German language around the world.

"Lots of people think that Germans have no sense of humour, don't know how to have fun and that German is an aggressive language," he said.

"Now they're reconsidering their prejudices, which I am delighted about. People write to me saying that our song has made them want to learn our language."

As if to dispel any last perceptions that Germans are serious and boring, Wartke and Fischer have posted a video of themselves doing the dance, with Wartke wearing a pink suit.


"Dancing is not our speciality at all, we had to do a lot of practising," he said.

Buoyed by their success, the duo are thinking of taking a Barbara-based comedy routine on tour to non-German-speaking countries.

"The songs would remain in German but we would present them in English," Wartke said.

There has even been talk of the Eurovision Song Contest -- and with Germany having finished in last place in 2022 and 2023, Barbara could only raise the bar.




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