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If you like German music, learning the lyrics of German songs may add colour to your daily learning routine. Moreover, this way you can learn a little bit of colloquial language and slang as well as some bad words that are hard to find in German textbooks. The important thing is to choose the songs and the music genre that you really enjoy so that the lyrics will easily stick in your memory.
Germany is the birthplace of some of the world’s most famous composers of all time such as Johann Sebastian Bach, Ludwig van Beethoven, Carl Maria von Weber, Richard Wagner, Johannes Brahms or Richard Strauss to name just a few. Other famous German-speaking composers of the past era include Austrian-born Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Joseph Haydn, Franz Schubert and Gustav Mahler. Germans and German native-speaking Austrians have played a key role in the evolution of classical music and opera. It may surprise you to learn that the world-famous opera house in Milan, ‘La Scala’, was built by Empress Maria Theresa of Austria as Milan was then part of the Austrian Empire. So, when discussing German opera on this page, it also encompasses German native-speaking Austrian composers and their works.
Apart from classical music, Germany is internationally well known for its electronic music, techno and obviously the ‘Neue Deutsche Welle’. Given its rich music history, it is not surprising that many of the 20th and 21st century popular artists and bands in the music industry were and are Germans. Some of the internationally most famous names include Marlene Dietrich, Boney M, Nena, Alphaville, Modern Talking, Milli Vanilli, Bad Boys Blue, Guano Apes, Rammstein, Scorpions, Nina Hagen, Kraftwerk, Die Ärzte, Die Toten Hosen, Lou Bega, No Angels, Tangerine Dream and Enigma to mention but a few.
For lovers of classical music, German opera is a natural choice of music when learning German, though it may not serve as the best example of contemporary German language. The history of German opera goes back to the early 17th century while its roots can be even found in the music of Minnesingers and Meistersingers from the 12th to the 14th centuries. So, it is nearly as old as Italian opera.
The most prominent representatives of German opera include Mozart, Weber, Wagner and Strauss, though others, e.g. Beethoven, also composed operas (e.g., ‘Fidelio’). The best known 20th century German opera composer was Hans Werner Henze.
German Opera Composers and their Works
(For works click on the link under the composer’s name)
Where to Find German Operas with Libretti
There isn’t one single source where to find all German operas including their libretti (texts of operas). YouTube is a good place to start with but you will have to search for individual titles one by one (e.g. ‘Die Zauberflöte‘). Some videos contain original German libretti in subtitles, others don’t. A good channel where to find several German operas with original libretti and/or English translations in subtitles is FiDiTanzer528 for those who wish to sing along. If you are looking only for libretti check out Opera-Guide.ch.
German folk music is diverse and varied. In some regions it is dominated by brass instruments, while in others it is quite different, often very unique. Germany and the German-speaking world consist of many culturally distinct regions, adding to the diversity of German folk music. Moreover, traditional German folk songs are typically sung in a local dialect of the respective region that is difficult to understand (let alone to learn) for a non-native German speaker. However, some folk songs have become a part of popular German culture and are sung throughout Germany while their language is ‘Hochdeutsch’. These are the most likely German folk songs that foreigners will ever hear and are usually easy to learn. For lovers of folk music, here is a selection of countrywide popular folk songs with lyrics embedded in videos.
Early-Days Popular Music
Marlene Dietrich (1901 – 1992) is the most prominent representative of the German cabaret era. Judging by popularity on YouTube, ‘Lili Marleen‘ and ‘Sag mir wo die Blumen sind‘ must be her best known German-language songs. Thanks to her clear pronunciation and smoky voice the lyrics are easy to understand also to non-natives. Transcription of song lyrics for ‘Lili Marleen’ in the linked YouTube video is not totally correct, so check it out to see whether you can find any errors.
Modern-Day Popular Music
Mainstream Pop and Rock: Solo Artists
Rather bizarrely, the most popular and prolific pop music performer in German-speaking countries was not a German but a citizen of a small country neighboring Germany. Udo Jürgens (1934 – 2014) was an Austrian singer, songwriter and musician who achieved immense popularity in Germany, especially in the period from the late 1960s to the late 1990s. He composed nearly 1,000 songs and sold over 100 million records. His solo career span over 60 years, from the early 1950s till his death in 2014. ‘Ich war noch niemals in New York‘ is one of his more recent songs, characteristic of the later years of his work. Other popular German solo artists in the pop and rock scene (rather more on the rocky side) who are still active today include names such as Udo Lindenberg, Marius Müller-Westernhagen, Peter Maffay and Herbert Grönemeyer.
Mainstream Pop and Rock: Bands
Most pop and rock bands from Germany that have achieved international fame rely on English-language songs. But, there are some that managed to find foreign audiences in non-German speaking countries despite singing exclusively in German.
Puhdys (1965 – 2016) was a rock group from the former East Germany which gained substantial popularity also in West Germany as well as in several European countries. They still are one of the internationally best known German-language rock bands, popular especially in the former East Block countries. ‘Alt wie ein Baum‘ is considered to be their greatest hit.
Karat, established in 1975 in East Berlin, is yet another popular rock band from East Germany that has achieved international reputation both in the West and in the East. They are still performing to this day. One of their oldest hits – ‘Über sieben Brücken musst du geh’n‘ – is among their most played songs on YouTube.
Successful pop groups from the younger generation of musicians that you may find exciting include Klee (‘2 Fragen‘), incorporating several different styles of music, and pop rock band Silbermond (‘Das beste‘), which, just like Puhdys and Karat mentioned above, comes from the former East Germany.
Many Schlagers are a kind of cross between pop and folk music in that they are based on traditional folk songs which are arranged and presented in a modern, more popular style. The songs usually have simple rhythmical and sentimental lyrics that are easy to remember so that everyone can sing along. The music of the German singer Heino is probably the best example of this style. Born in 1938, he has been on the scene since 1961 and is still active and extremely popular among older audiences. The songs ‘Blau blüht der Enzian‘ and ‘Alte Kameraden‘ are very characteristic of his style.
Some of the well-known Schlager singers from the “younger” generation of musicians whose style you may want to explore include Roland Kaiser (e.g., ‘Warum hast du nicht nein gesagt‘) and Andrea Berg (e.g., ‘Du hast mich tausend mal belogen‘). When compared to Heino mentioned above, their music is more on the “poppy” side of things.
Neue Deutsche Welle
The ‘Neue Deutsche Welle’ is a genre that evolved in West Germany under the influence of electronic music as a derivative of British punk rock and new wave. German singer Nena (‘99 Luftballons‘) and the late Austrian singer Falco (‘Rock me Amadeus‘, the lyrics are actually in Denglish) are the internationally most recognized names in this genre. Furthermore, Wir Sind Helden was a well-known German pop group inspired and influenced by the ‘Neue Deutsche Welle’ that was active in the first decade of this century. Their greatest hit ‘Nur ein Wort‘ resembles the style of Nena as if it was written about 20 years earlier.
Yet another successful band that belongs to the ‘Neue Deutsche Welle’ musical movement is Münchner Freiheit. ‘Ohne Dich‘ is one of their most popular songs in Germany but they are also known on the international scene mainly because of several English-language singles, particularly ‘Keeping the Dream Alive’.
Punk music has enjoyed great popularity in Germany for decades and several German punk groups have earned considerable recognition also abroad. The most notable member of the punk scene in Germany is the singer, songwriter and actress Nina Hagen. Check out some of her greatest hits ‘Du hast den Farbfilm vergessen‘ and ‘Heiss‘ to find out whether her music is your cup of tea that can help you learn new vocabulary or improve your comprehension of the German language.
Other famous German bands that trace their roots to the punk scene include Die Ärzte and Die Toten Hosen. Both emerged in 1982 and are still active today. Over time, they have gained many international fans and are considered to be the most successful German punk groups so far. Listen to the sample of their greatest hits – ‘Schrei nach Liebe‘ and ‘Tage wie diese‘ to judge for yourself.
Metal/Neue Deutsche Härte
Germany has a long and fruitful history of metal music of all types. This also includes an extreme subgenre of heavy metal music called trash metal. The band Sodom is considered to be its best representative. Try to listen to one of their greatest hits ‘Ausgebombt‘ to find out how much you understand (as in all videos linked from this page you can find the lyrics in subtitles).
The ‘Neue Deutsche Härte’ is a German clone of industrial metal. Rammstein is the most prominent band within the ‘Neue Deutsche Härte’ genre. The group has achieved substantial recognition not just in Germany but also in many non-German speaking countries. Check out their most successful album ‘Mutter‘, containing twelve songs. Hopefully you will find some that you like. Another popular group within this genre is Oomph! while ‘Augen auf!‘ and ‘Labyrinth‘ are their greatest hits.
Electronic Music and Techno
For many music fans, electronic music and, particularly, techno are synonymous with Germany. Kraftwerk is the first German band that comes to most people’s mind when talking about German techno scene. It has been active since 1970, that is, for over 50 years and has developed huge international audience, which is familiar mainly with their English-language songs. If you are a techno fan, you may enjoy their songs also in their original German-language version (e.g., ‘Das Modell‘) and learn some German at the same time.
There have been quite many internationally successful disco groups originating from Germany but most of them were singing in English. Dschinghis Khan is an exception. They managed to earn international fame with German-language songs. Their greatest hit is none other than Dschinghis Khan which competed at the Eurovision Song Contest in 1979. The band was actually formed specifically for the Eurovision song contest.
Rap is ideal for learning German, so it cannot be omitted from this list. Die Fantastischen Vier is a leading German hip-hop band that has been on the scene for three decades now. Their commercially most successful hit ‘Die da?!‘ appears to contain more words that any other song presented on this page.
Tic Tac Toe were an all-girl hip hop band active around the turn of the century. Their breakthrough hits ‘Warum?‘, ‘Verpiss dich‘ and ‘Ich find’ dich scheiße‘ brought them a massive success and have found audiences not just in German-speaking countries but also in Netherlands and in Eastern Europe. Their simple lyrics are suitable for beginners and intermediate learners of German.
Moreover, Deutsche Welle is using hip hop to teach German in their 50+ episodes long German course named ‘das Bandtagebuch‘. In these episodes you will accompany the German hip hop band EINSHOCH6 from Munich on their way to different places such as theatre, bakery, Oktoberfest, Christmas market, carnival, Berlin wall, port of Hamburg, etc., and listen to their songs while learning new vocabulary. There are interactive exercises for each episode to practice your language skills and to check on your progress. Those who prefer to work on desktops can still find the original version of the course in the web archive at this link where PDFs of all episodes are available for free download.
These are just some examples of famous German bands and solo artists who have stood the test of time to get you started. You can find many more on the Internet (e.g., on YouTube, Spotify, etc.) or directly on German radio and TV.
Where and How to Find German Song Lyrics
While there are thousands of popular German songs available on YouTube, only some videos show the text of lyrics for you to read. If you wish to find more, a search engine such as Google comes in handy. Just type – Song title + Artist + “lyrics” – into the search box and the search will return the original lyrics of the song. For example, if you enter – Das Modell + Kraftwerk + “lyrics” – you will get the German lyrics for the song ‘Das Modell’ of the band called Kraftwerk.
Where to Find English Translations of German Song Lyrics
Just like in the example above use the search function of Google by entering – Song title + Artist + “translation” – to find a list of websites such as LyricsTranslate.com that have the German lyrics of the respective song translated in English.
Why Listen to Songs when Learning German?
It has been shown that music stimulates memory so that you can better remember new words and phrases if you hear them in a song rather than elsewhere, e.g., in a classroom or in conversation. However, to achieve this stimulating effect you must choose the type of music you really enjoy. This way you learn the lyrics subconsciously. Just like when your favorite melody gets stuck in your mind.
Studying a language through song lyrics is a complementary form of language learning to standard courses. It will help expand your vocabulary in areas that are missing in traditional textbooks such as modern words, colloquial expressions and idioms, slang and foul language while improving your listening comprehension and ability to understand local accents. However, with song lyrics you do not just improve your German language skills but also learn about German lifestyle and culture which in turn will make you ready for real-life conversation with the natives. Music as a language learning tool is suitable for all ages and proficiency levels.