Worte und Musik

by James Glazebrook

Phew! We’ve finished German classes! Not that we know the language now – far from it. We’ve just finished our eight weeks of 4 x 3 hour lessons (plus homework) and decided to take a breather. While we are relieved (we have our little lives back!) we’re a bit worried that, as shut-ins, we won’t practice and will forget what little Deutsch we managed to learn. That’s why I came up with the idea of combining our love of music with our eagerness to improve our language skills: by listening to songs with German lyrics. Here’s our taster course.

David Bowie – Helden

Obvious choice, but potentially helpful. Knowing the English version forwards and backwards helps make connections, especially with this sync of the original video with the German language recording. Chock full of useful personal pronouns like “ich” and “du” and practical words like “Tag” (“day”), “Zeiten” (“times”), “Mauer” (“wall”; very useful here in Berlin). Although I’m not sure I’ll ever have to tell someone that I wish they could swim as dolphins can swim.

Peaches – Keine Melodien

This version of Berlin band Jeans Team’s “Keine Melodien” by the city’s resident electroshocker is like punk rock Sesame Street. You need to learn numbers right? Well, listen to this earworm just once and you’ll never forget “eins, zwei, drei, vier”. I’ve had a quick search and it doesn’t look like Peaches has done a German version of “now I know my ABCs next time won’t you sing along with me”. Schade.

Nena – 99 Luftballons

Apart from getting into double-digit numbers (“ninety nine” = “neunundneunzig”), Germany’s most famous pop song is of limited use. With good reason, no one really remembers badly-translated English lyrics like “everyone’s a Captain Kirk, with orders to identify”, so hearing the original won’t spark flashes of comprehension. Still, required listening when you’re preparing to board the Hi Flyer, the Die Welt-sponsored Heliumballon that hovers over Berlin.

Lady Gaga – Scheiße

“I don’t speak German but I can if you like”. This song from Gaga’s new album is shocking (not in the way she hopes), but it’s a good guide to the mangled AngloDeutsch that Berlin’s international community speaks. Plus its scatological celebration of freedom is like the Disney version of the crazy shit (LITERALLY) that goes down in the city’s underground dark rooms: “I’ll take you out tonight / Do whatever you like / Scheiße-scheiße be mine, Scheiße be mine”. And, seeing as our German teacher didn’t agree that the first thing you need to learn in a foreign language is the swear words, this’ll have to do for now.

Ellen Allien – Sehnsucht

We grown-up emos need words like “longing”, and it doesn’t take Google Translate to tell you that’s what this song is about.

Peter Gabriel – Schock den Affen

The phrase “(don’t) shock the monkey” could only ever be of use in a zoo, and even then it pretty much goes without saying. Regardless, there’s something infectious about Gabriel’s love of words, English or otherwise, that we find inspiring. This was a labour of love, as Gabriel originally struggled to find a label willing to release an album’s worth of German versions of his songs. And like one of the few YouTube comments not whining about his accent says, “Peter is a genius in any language.”