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German Idioms List- A Fun Way to learn to Speak Like a German

German Idioms List- A Fun Way to learn to Speak Like a German

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Have you ever heard an someone say something in German, and you understand the vocabulary, but you really have no idea what the heck they are saying? Most likely, they are using an Idiom. An idiom is defined as “a group of words established by usage as having a meaning not deducible from those of the individual words” …. in other words…  If you say “I put my foot in my mouth”, you don’t really MEAN that you are sucking on your toes (unless you are a flexible 4 month old) you mean that you said the wrong thing. This German Idioms List is loaded with somewhat confusing sayings or expressions (mostly about animals) that you can casually sprinkle throughout your speech, to sound more like a real German. Next time your German friend says “Da liegt der Hund begraben” (“that’s where the dog is buried), he’s not talking about an actual dog grave, you will know, he’s not talking about a dog grave… and you can reply… Ich verstehe nur Bahnhof!

German Idioms List

Ich verstehe nur Bahnhof- (I only understand train station)
– I’m guessing this one came out of someone trying to give long convoluted directions, and all that was understand was Train Station. Basically, this is how you respond if you have no idea what the heck someone is talking about.

German Animal Idioms

Da Liegt der Hund begraben- (That’s where the dog is buried)
– no, no one’s dog died… this means, to get to the heart of the matter or the point of the issue.

german idioms list
photo credit pixabay

Er hat ein Vogel- (He has a bird)
– If he DID have a bird, it would probably be a Parakeet named Hansi, but this one actually means you are a bit nuts. This is one of my FAVORITE German idioms (maybe because it has quite often been used on me by cousins…) and it comes with an interesting backstory. In the Middle Ages, it was thought that crazy people have BIRDS IN THEIR HEAD just flying around causing madness. (I guess that makes sense… and it makes me think about the song “Birdhouse in your Soul” by They Might be Giants. No connection, I’m almost sure)

and more birds…

Vogel friss oder stirb- (Bird eat or die)
– Pretty straight forward… it’s a do or die situation…

Weiß der Kuckuck- (What does the Cuckoo know)
-My Oma used this one a lot… I always had an idea of what it meant, but the translation didn’t make sense. Turns out, it’s based on 16th century superstition that you don’t mention the Devil’s name (think Voldemort in Harry Potter), and the Cuckoo (who is seldom seen, and has an eerie call).

Wo sich Hase und Fuchs Gute Nacht sagen- (Where the rabbit and the fox say good night)
– Where do rabbits and foxes co-exist? In the country. So, if you are describing a place out in the middle of nowhere (like my Oma’s house), you would use this one.

german idioms list

Das ist ein Katzensprung- (That’s a cat jump)
– How far can a cat jump? not too far. You use this expression to describe how close something is. The bar is just a Katzensprung away…

more about cats…

Sie hat ein Kater- (She has a tomcat)
– no, not a furry feline, she’s got a hangover.

Sich zum Affen Machen- Make a monkey of yourself
– I guess this one doesn’t need a lot of explanation. It means you are making a fool of yourself.

And this takes us right to….

Affentheater- (Monkey Theater)
– There is actually historical background to this one! Back in the 19th century, there were traveling shows where Monkeys would perform acrobatics or imitate humans. These wildly exaggerated comedy shows may have vanished into history, but the idiom remains, and is applied to outrageous behavior.

Zwei Fliegen mit einer Klatsche schlagen- (Kill two flies with one swatter)
– I don’t know about you, but killing 2 flies sounds much nicer than killing 2 birds with one stone. Either way, it’s multitasking.

Da steppt der Bär- (That’s where the bear dances)
– If you have a dancing bear, you have a great party!

Da liegt der Hase im Pfeffer!- (There’s a Rabbit in the Pepper!)
– Rabbits don’t belong in the pepper… it wrecks everything. This is the fly in the ointment, and the hair in the soup… the flaw in the plan. Total bummer.

german idioms lisst

Wie die Kuh vorm neuen Tor dastehen- (Like a cow standing in front of a new door)
– Cows really aren’t the cleverest of beasts, and according to this idiom, if you put them in front of a new door, they just get confused. Much like some people when faced a new situation.

Ich habe Schwein gehabt- (I’ve had a pig)
– In Germany a pig is lucky. Why? Well, if you own a pig, you and your family will probably survive the winter without starving. So, if you’ve had a pig, you got lucky!

Stochere nicht im Bienenstock (Don’t poke the Beehive)
– There are certain things you shouldn’t do… poking at beehives is one of them. And a tense or emotional situation can be a beehive. Leave it alone.

Moving on to Home and Village Life

german idioms list
Life in a German Village by Pixabay

Er fällt immer mit der Tür ins Häuschen- (He always falls into the House with the door)
– Do you know anyone who just blurts things out without introduction? Or just jumps right in without starting with pleasantries? That’s what this one means. The guy just opens the door an BAM starts talking.

Man soll den Tag nicht vor dem Abend loben- (Don’t praise the day before night)
– This is a don’t count your chickens before they are hatched expression. You can’t say it’s been a great day, until the day is over… for all you know, it will end in tragedy.

Die Kirche im Dorf Lassen- (Leave the church in the Village)
– I had to do some digging for this one. The usage is “don’t exaggerate”, but what does that have to do with a church and a village? One source cleared it up a bit. It seems that in early days the Church (Kirche) would have processions through the Dorf (village) … and when the processions got to long and loud, and worked their way out of the village, people in surrounding areas would complain. So, maybe, the idea is, keep your church procession in your own village, and don’t get it so big that it disturbs the rest of us?

In des Teufels Küche sein- (To Be in the Devil’s Kitchen)
– Things are going to get hot, and you are in big trouble if you are in the devil’s kitchen.

Wenn man dem Teufel den kleinen Finger gibt, so nimmt er die ganze Hand- (If you give the devil your little finger, he will take your whole hand)
– There is no making a small deal with the devil, you always have to pay more.

This goes hand in hand (see how I did that?) with…

Man reicht den kleinen Finger, und er nimmt die ganze Hand- (You offer your little finger, and he takes the whole hand.
– If you offer some people a little help, they will take more. Remember the book “If you give a Mouse a cookie?”

And of course… German FOOD Idioms

german idioms list

Senf dazu geben- (adding your mustard )
– You know that person who always has to add his or her opinion to everything… in Germany they add mustard.

Weggehen wie warme Semmeln-  (Go like warm rolls)
– In America we would say, “going like Hotcakes”, but truth is, I’d rather have a Brötchen than a pancake any day… Basically, it’s something popular that is disappearing quickly.

In den sauren Apfel beißen- (to bite into the sour apple)
– A bit like diving into a swimming pool, you just do it. The apple might be sour, but you have to get it eaten.

Tomaten auf den Augen Haben- (To have tomatoes on your eyes)
-Can you see through tomatoes? no. If you have tomatoes on your eyes, you are missing the obvious things going on around you.

Das ist nicht dein Bier!-( That’s not your Beer!)
-Basically, mind your own business….

Die Radieschen von unten anschauen- (To view the Radisches from underneath)
– Radisches are root vegetables, if you can see them from underneath, you are buried underground and dead.

And, these are the Wurst Idioms….

heehee… They’re the WORST!

german sausage idioms
photo credit pixabay

Die beleidigte Leberwurst spielen- (To play the insulted liver sausage)
– Why is the liverwurst insulted? Because it’s the last one in the pot when all the other yummy sausages are eaten.

Es geht um die Wurst- (It’s all about the sausage)
– This relates to heavy decisions. But WHY? according to one site, people in the Middle Ages were rewarded with sausage in competition. In a time when meat was a luxury, it was a huge deal. And so you will find sausages playing heavily in many German idioms…

for example-

Das ist mir Wurst- (That is sausage to me!)
-I love the explanation of this one. Das ist mir Wurst is used to say “it’s all the same to me”… but why? Think about it… both ends of the sausage look the same.

which brings us to our last one…

Alles hat ein Ende nur die Wurst hat zwei- (Everything has an end, only a Sausage has two.)
-Pretty self explanatory….

Learn HUNDREDS more German Idioms and Phrases HERE

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Comment(5)

  1. An idiom I learned from my brother when he married a Black Forest girl and moved there to live and work. (We are English by the way). I once observed in a restaurant that a fellow diner was, as drunk as a newt, )a n English idiom), John said that in Germany, the term would be , Blau wie ein veilchen, (blue as a violet!!)

  2. Hello Karen,
    I just loved to read this post about German idioms – actually I am learning German language these day.
    German is very tough language in itself and German idioms makes it more tougher – also we planning to add German idioms on our website too.
    Well, I would like to thank you for this valuable post to the world. I’ve learn a lot.
    Keep up the Good work!

    Veronica Scott, UK
    theidioms.com

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