Home Language HacksExpressions & Idioms 27 Hilarious Everyday German Idioms and Expressions

27 Hilarious Everyday German Idioms and Expressions

by Michele
German Idioms
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Learning German? Don’t “make an ape of yourself”. Speak like a native with these 27 Hilarious Everyday German Idioms and expressions.

I love German idioms because they are full of references to popular German foods like sausages, bread rolls, and mustard! Yum! Not only does this give you insight into its culture and history but it’s quirky references like these that help you remember such things.

When you first start out speaking a foreign language, you’ll have quite a few near misses. Sometimes you’ll translate things literally, or simply forget to apply a grammar rule. This happens with the German language and all many other languages. Whether you’re a beginner, intermediate or in need of a refresher, check out these popular German courses by German teacher Kerstin Cable from Fluent Languages.

Idiomatic phrasesareessential to helping sounding like a native and sometimes only an idiom can help you express exactly what you mean. That’s why I’ve organised an impressive list of common German idioms with their literal translations plus their English equivalent. Viel Glück! (Good luck!)

1. ein Fisch auf dem Trockenen

German idioms ein Fisch auf dem TrockenenLiterally: a fish on the dry
English Equivalent: a fish out of water

2. Da liegt der Hund begraben

German Idioms Da liegt der Hund begraben

Literally: That’s where the dog is buried
English Equivalent: That’s the heart of the matter

3. Die Daumen drücken!

German Idioms Die Daumen drucken

Literally: Press the thumbs!
English Equivalent: Keep your fingers crossed!

Viel Glück! Ich drücke dir die Daumen!
(Good luck! I’ll keep my fingers crossed for you!)

4. Wo sich Fuchs und Hase gute Nacht sagen

German Idioms Wo sich Fuchs-und Hase gute Nacht sagen

Literally: Where fox and hare say goodnight to one another
English Equivalent: In the middle of nowhere or out in the sticks

5. Ich bin fix und fertig

German Idioms Ich bin fix und fertig

Literally: I’m quick and ready
English Equivalent: I’m wiped out or I’m exhausted

6. Du nimmst mich auf den Arm!

German Idioms Du nimmst mich auf den Arm

Literally: You’re taking me on your arm!
English Equivalent: You’re pulling my leg!

7. Das ist ein Katzensprung

German Idioms Das ist ein Katzensprung

Literally: That’s a cat’s jump
English Equivalent: It’s a stone’s throw away

8. Schlafen wie ein Murmeltier

German Idioms Schlafen wie ein Murmeltier

Literally: Sleep like a woodchuck [marmot]
English Equivalent: Sleep like a log

9. um den heißen Brei herumreden


Literally: to talk around the hot porridge
English Equivalent: to beat around the bush

10. Da kannst du Gift drauf nehmen

German Idioms Da kannst du Gift drauf nehmen

Literally: You can take poison on that
English Equivalent: You can bet your life on that

11. sich zum Affen machen

German Idioms sich zum Affen machen

Literally: Make an ape of yourself
English Equivalent: Make a fool of yourself

12. zwei Fliegen mit einer Klappe schlagen

German Idioms zwei Fliegen mit einer Klappe schlagen

Literally: kill two flies with one swat
English Equivalent: to kill two birds with one stone

13. eine Extrawurst haben

German Idioms eine Extrawurst haben

Literally: to ask for an extra sausage
English Equivalent: to ask for special treatment

14. Himmel und Hölle in Bewegung setzen

German Idioms Himmel und Holle in Bewegung setzen

Literally: put heaven and hell in motion
English Equivalent: to move heaven and earth

15. Da steppt der Bär

German Idioms Da steppt der Bar

Literally: The bear dances there
English Equivalent: It will be a good party

A similar phrase to this is ‘the burning air’ with an identical meaning:
Da brennt die Luft!

16. Tomaten auf den Augen haben

German Idioms Tomaten auf den Augen haben

Literally: to have tomatoes on one’s eyes
English Equivalent: to be oblivious to what is going around you

17. den Nagel auf den Kopf treffen

German Idioms den Nagel auf den Kopf treffen

Literally: to hit the nail on the head
English Equivalent: to hit the nail on the head

18. Ich verstehe nur Bahnhof

German Idioms Ich verstehe nur Bahnhof

Literally: I only understand “train station.”
English Equivalent: It’s all Greek to me

19. weggehen wie warme Semmeln

German Idioms weggehen wie warme Semmeln

Literally: Go like warm rolls
English Equivalent: Go or sell like hot cakes

20. Er muss zu allem seinen Senf dazugeben

German Idioms Er muss zu allem seinen Senf dazugeben

Literally: To add your mustard to it
English Equivalent: Give their two cents worth

21. wie seine Westentasche kennen

German Idioms wie seine Westentasche kennen

Literally: to know something like one’s waistcoat pocket
English Equivalent: to know like the back of one’s hand

22. Man soll den Tag nicht vor dem Abend loben

German Idioms Man soll den-Tag nicht vor dem Abend loben

Literally: Don’t praise the day before the evening.
English Equivalent: Don’t count your chicks before they hatch

23. ein Ohr abkauen

German Idioms ein Ohr abkauen

Literally: to chew someone’s ear off
English Equivalent: to talk someone’s ear off

24. klar wie Kloßbrühe

German Idioms klar wie Klossbruhe

Literally: clear as dumpling broth
English Equivalent: crystal clear

25. dumm wie Bohnenstroh

German Idioms dumm wie Bohnenstroh

Literally: as dumb as a bean straw
English Equivalent: as thick as a brick

26. die Kirche im Dorf lassen

German Idioms die Kirche im Dorf lassen

Literally: to leave the church in the village
English Equivalent: to not get carried away

27. ich habe Schwein gehabt

German Idioms ich habe Schwein gehabt

Literally: I’ve had a pig!
English equivalent: I’ve had a stroke of luck!

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Travelling to Germany? make sure you brush up on your German travel phrases.

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Over to you!

Which one of these hilarious German expressions is your favourite? Do you know any other German idioms?
Let me know using the comments section below or join me on social media to start a conversation.

Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoyed this post.

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Marc October 2, 2020 - 23:48

Hey Michele,

Nice article. Thanks for a good read. And those graphics. Very cool.

There are some others you might want to add.

Nicht alle Tassen im Schrank haben > a figurative way to describe someone who is not quite right in the head and it suggests a lack of intelligence.

einen Kater haben > The German idiom to express the feeling of fatigue, dizziness, and headaches after an alcohol-filled night out is “to have a tomcat.”

Das Haar in der Suppe suchen > This German expression is used to characterize people who are nitpicky and often exercise their need to criticize.

Kyselak February 17, 2019 - 12:48

Nice list though maybe it’s worth mentioning that some of these expressions are only in use in Germany but quite uncommon in other German-speaking countries. To me (native speaker from Vienna, Austria) sayings like “klar wie Kloßbrühe” or “Tomaten auf den Augen” sound excruciating “teutonic” ;)

Sems July 15, 2018 - 03:53

Is the hammer/nail picture a joke? Not being mean, just. It reads like a joke when you have that picture paired with it

Michele July 16, 2018 - 13:10

Hi Semus, the image was added to help you remember the expression. It can be used seriously or even sarcastically, just like in English :)

Gabi Bard December 26, 2017 - 21:08

Die Kuh vom Eis holen
Du gehst mir auf den Wecker
Ich gehe auf dem Zahnfleisch
Essen wie ein Scheunendrescher
Erzähl mir nichts vom Pferd
Da liegt der Hund begraben
Das ist des Pudels Kern
Mit den Hühnern zu Bett gehen
Nachts sind alle Katzen grau
Die Suppe alleine auslöffeln
Es zieht wie Hechtsuppe

Michele December 27, 2017 - 20:34

Awesome addition to the list! thanks Gabi :)

Michael September 8, 2017 - 21:40

Hallo Michele,
Are any of your German Idiom posters available for download or for purchase?

Michele September 16, 2017 - 19:06

Hi Michael,
Thank you for your message. Please email me to discuss this further. michele@theintrepidguide.com

Basil Pereira April 7, 2016 - 06:35

Diese sind wirklich gut. !!


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