Listening to songs in the language you’re learning is an effective and enjoyable way to practise your language skills. It can help improve your listening comprehension and your pronunciation and, on top of this, music is catchy! This means that the new words, phrases and structures that you hear within a song may be easier to remember and reuse in your own speaking or writing.
Earlier this year we published a blog article titled ‘Language learning using your favourite songs’, in which we gave you our top tips for using a song to practise your language skills. But there are thousands and thousands of songs which exist throughout the German-speaking world – where do you start with finding ones to listen to which will help you practise your German? In this article, we’ve done the hard work for you! Read on to discover 5 of our recommended songs in German.
1. Griechischer Wein – Udo Jürgens, 1974
Udo Jürgens was an Austrian-Swiss singer and composer who is partly remembered for winning the Eurovision Song Contest for Austria in 1966 with the song Merci, chérie. Many consider him to have played a large role in expanding German-language pop music by bringing in influences from other genres, such as French chanson. Griechischer Wein is one of his most popular songs and versions in a number of different languages have since been recorded, including Bing Crosby’s version which he recorded during one of his last sessions, titled Come Share the Wine.
After listening to the song a few times without reading the lyrics, we recommend following the stages described in our blog article on language learning through songs (see link above). This melancholic song contains not only poetic praises about Greek wine, but is also riddled with examples of relative clauses. Look out for exemplary uses of this, for example in the lines “Kind, das seinen Vater noch nie sah” and “Musik, die fremd und südlich war”. A particularly interesting line is “Wirtshaus, aus dem das Licht noch auf den Gehsteig schien“, as this combines the relative clause with the preposition of location “aus”. We recommend studying the lyrics of the song to find other language points you have been learning about.
2. Ein bißchen Frieden – Nicole, 1982
If any of you are Eurovision fans, perhaps you’ll remember Germany’s winning song from 1982, Ein bißchen Frieden, performed by 17-year-old school student, Nicole. In 2005, the European Broadcasting Union announced Ein bißchen Frieden as one of the 14 most popular Eurovision songs ever, according to the results of their Internet poll. The song was written by Ralph Siegel and Bernd Meinunger and its success led to the recording of versions of it in many different languages. The English version, A Little Peace, reached Number 1 in the UK Charts.
Listen out for similes in this song’s first verse, as they are great examples of phrases of comparison in German. Just consider “wie eine Blume” or “wie ein Feuer” and you can spot the common construction introduced by the adverb “wie”. Another grammatical feature to look out for is the recurrence of embedded clauses beginning with the word “dass”.
3. 99 Luftballons – Nena, 1983
We’re sure that many of you will know the 80s hit 99 Red Balloons, which reached Number 1 in the UK and the US Charts, but have you tried listening to its original version in German? It was released in 1983 by German band Nena, who were together between 1981 and 1987. The band is very important to German musical culture, as it was part of the forming of the German New Wave scene (Neue Deutsche Welle). 99 Luftballons was a huge success across Europe, leading to the writing of the English version the year after. Unfortunately, Nena never managed to match the success of 99 Luftballons and the band broke up after the release of its fourth, final and least successful album in 1986. They reunited in 2017 for a public performance of their debut single, Nur geträumt, to mark the 40th anniversary of the band’s first appearance on stage.
The lyrics to 99 Luftballons tell the story of the release of 99 balloons. These are mistaken for UFOs and the reactions of different nations result in a destructive war breaking out. The lyrics to 99 Red Balloons aren’t an exact translation, but carry the same anti-war message.
The song contains a number of interesting language points that you may recognise. For instance, it demonstrates the differences in building the plural form of nouns. For example, the words “Kriegsminister” and “Düsenjäger” remain in the same form when made plural. On the other hand, the nouns “Luftballons” and “Jahre” change in their plural form. Another interesting point is the omission of the personal pronoun in sentences like “Hab’ nen Luftballon gefunden”. This song is also good practice for your numbers in German! Before you look at the lyrics, see if you can count how many times you hear her sing “neunundneunzig” (“ninety-nine”).
4. Mensch – Herbert Grönemeyer, 2002
Our next song is the title track of Germany’s best-selling album of all time. Mensch sold over 3 million copies in Germany and thanks to this success and the popularity of his fifth album, 4630 Bochum (1984), Herbert Grönemeyer is often considered one of the most successful German artists.
One prominent language feature of this song is the frequent use of the conjunction “und”. In German, this word is often added to form sentences with multiple dependent clauses. Also, listen out for examples of compound words, such as “Sonnenzeit” or “ozeanblau”.
5. Der perfekte Moment… wird heut verpennt – Max Raabe, 2017
Our final song recommendation comes from an artist with a very interesting musical style. Max Raabe founded his Berlin-based Palast Orchester with fellow students in the mid 1980s, while studying opera in Berlin. Together, Raabe and Palast Orchester perform covers of cabaret songs from the Weimar period as well as original songs that merge 1920s and 30s melodies with modern lyrics. As well as this, they have recorded some covers of modern pop songs in a 1920-30s style, including Britney Spears’ Oops!… I Did It Again! The title track of their most recent album, Der perfekte Moment… wird heut verpennt, is a good song for German learners wanting to practise their listening comprehension, where Raabe sings in nice, clear German.
As you’re listening, it is particularly interesting to take a look at all the idioms the song contains. Most of them are used to describe that the singer will not do anything today, for example, “Heut’ mach’ ich gar nichts/Keinen Finger krumm”. “Was ich heut’ besorgen kann” is especially interesting, because it is a play on the original saying “Was ich heut’ kann besorgen, verschieb’ ich nicht auf morgen”.
We hope this article has given you a useful introduction to just a tiny proportion of the huge variety of German music which is out there. One of the songs we have chosen, 99 Luftballons, is already included in our Tune for Tuesday playlist. This is a feature that we introduced earlier this year. Every Tuesday we add another song with the aim of building up a playlist of songs from all over the world and in many different languages to help you develop your language skills and introduce you to some new styles of music. We are going to add these five songs to our new playlist, Tune for Tuesday – German, which will contain only songs in German. You can find this playlist on YouTube and on Spotify by clicking on the links below. And remember to keep up to date with Tune for Tuesday by searching for Coffee Break Languages and Coffee Break German on Facebook.
What songs in German do you already know and love? Feel free to share some of your favourites with us in the comments to help other German learners discover them!