20 German Proverbs That Make You Sound Like a Native: German Idioms, Phrases and Expressions

Learning German can be just as challenging as any other language, especially when it comes to idioms. Germans have a special way with humor, and Denisa from Spring German (a project I co-founded) tells you all about it here:

Just like with Spanish sayings, German proverbs and expressions often have figurative meanings that are not immediately obvious, which can be tricky for German learners.

If you’re interested in picking up these nuances and enriching your vocabulary, I have compiled a list of common German sayings for you. Understanding these can improve your fluency, sound more natural, and enhance your communication with native German speakers.

Here are 20 German sayings and idioms that find their way into everyday speech in German-speaking countries:

German proverbEnglish translation
Da liegt der Hund begraben.That’s where the dog’s buried.
Das ist nicht mein Bier.That’s not my beer.
Um den heißen Brei herumreden.To talk around the hot porridge.
Alles hat ein Ende, nur die Wurst hat zwei.Everything has an end, only the sausage has two.
Da steppt der Bär.There the bear dances.
Das ist mir Wurst.That is sausage to me.
Schwein haben.To have pig.
Nicht alle Tassen im Schrank haben.Not to have all the cups in the cupboard.
Ich glaub, mein Schwein pfeift.I think my pig whistles.
Die Kirche im Dorf lassen.To leave the church in the village.
Das fünfte Rad am Wagen sein.To be the fifth wheel on the car.
Ins Gras beißen.To bite into the grass.
Hals- und Beinbruch!Neck and leg break!
Klappe zu, Affe tot.Lid closed, monkey dead.
Die Axt im Haus erspart den Zimmermann.The axe in the house spares the carpenter.
Du gehst mir auf den Keks.You’re walking on my cookie.
Von Tuten und Blasen keine Ahnung haben.To have no clue about tooting or blowing.
Jetzt geht’s um die Wurst.Now it’s about the sausage.
Das ist Jacke wie Hose.It’s jacket like trousers.
Jemandem die Daumen drücken.To press one’s thumbs for someone.

Now, let’s see what all of these German sayings mean and how you can use them in real-life conversations. Consider signing up for our German Conversation Based Chunking Guide to learn more about these German idioms and how you can incorporate chunks into your language learning journey.

Why learn these German expressions and slangs?

German sayings and proverbs, known as “Sprichwörter” and “Redewendungen,” play a huge role in German.

They show wisdom, humor, and cultural heritage in a few concise words or just a simple sentence. They are often used by native speakers to explain complex ideas simply.

For learners of German, understanding these German sayings is vital as they frequently color conversations. Mastering them not only boosts one’s fluency but also offers insights into the German way of thinking and values, bridging the gap between mere language proficiency and true cultural understanding.

1. Da liegt der Hund begraben. (That’s where the dog’s buried)

Da liegt der Hund begraben” literally means “That’s where the dog’s buried.” It’s equivalent to saying “that’s the heart of the matter” or “that’s the crux of the issue” in English. The saying is used to point out the central issue within a problem or situation.

In an actual conversational setting, it would appear like this:

Tom: Warum werden die Verhandlungen so kompliziert? (Why are the negotiations so complicated?)
Anna: Das Hauptproblem ist das Budget. Da liegt der Hund begraben. (The main problem is the budget. That’s the heart of the matter.)

2. Das ist nicht mein Bier. (That’s not my beer)

Das ist nicht mein Bier” translates literally to “That’s not my beer,” but it means “That’s not my problem” or “I’m not interested in that.” It’s used when someone is distancing themselves from a problem or situation that they feel is not relevant to them or is not their responsibility.

german sayings beer on a bar stand

This is how it would look in a genuine dialogue:

Jan: Kannst du mir bei meinem Umzug helfen? (Can you help me move?)
Lena: Sorry, aber das ist nicht mein Bier. Ich habe schon andere Pläne. (Sorry, but that’s not my problem. I already have other plans.)

3. Um den heißen Brei herumreden. (To talk around the hot porridge)

Um den heißen Brei herumreden” literally means “to talk around the hot porridge,” or in English, “to beat around the bush.” This idiom is used when someone is avoiding getting to the point or is not addressing the main issue directly.

In a real-world conversation, it would take this form:

Klaus: Wirst du dem Chef von der kaputten Maschine erzählen? (Are you going to tell the boss about the broken machine?)
Petra: Ich habe es versucht, aber ich habe nur um den heißen Brei herumgeredet. (I tried, but I just beat around the bush.)

4. Alles hat ein Ende, nur die Wurst hat zwei. (Everything has an end, only the sausage has two)

This humorous saying, “Alles hat ein Ende, nur die Wurst hat zwei,” literally means “Everything has an end, only the sausage has two,” akin to “all good things must come to an end.” It’s a lighthearted way to acknowledge that everything, except for a sausage, comes to an end at some point.

During a live discussion, it would look something like this:

Fabian: Schade, dass die Party vorbei ist. (It’s a shame the party is over.)
Mia: Ja, aber alles hat ein Ende, nur die Wurst hat zwei. (Yes, but all good things must come to an end.)

5. Da steppt der Bär. (There the bear dances)

Da steppt der Bär,” literally “there the bear dances,” is comparable to the English “it’s going to be a great party” or “it’s a lively place/event.” It indicates that something is going to be fun and full of action.

german sayings bear dancing in the forest

If this were a real-life chat, it would resemble this:

Tim: Wie wird die Feier heute Abend sein? (What will the party be like tonight?)
Julia: Oh, da steppt der Bär. Es kommen viele Leute. (Oh, there the bear dances. A lot of people are coming.)

6. Das ist mir Wurst. (That is sausage to me)

When Germans say “Das ist mir Wurst,” which literally translates to “That is sausage to me,” they mean “I don’t care about that; it’s all the same to me.” It’s used to express indifference to a choice or outcome.

In a practical conversational scenario, it would look similar to this:

Sven: Sollten wir ins Kino oder ins Theater gehen? (Should we go to the cinema or the theater?)
Katrin: Das ist mir Wurst. Entscheide du. (I don’t care. You decide.)

7. Schwein haben. (To have pig)

The phrase “Schwein haben,” literally “to have pig,” is equivalent to saying “to be lucky” in English. It’s usually exclaimed when someone has had a stroke of good fortune.

When applied in a real conversation, it would look as follows:

Marco: Ich habe das letzte Ticket für das Konzert bekommen! (I got the last ticket for the concert!)
Nina: Wow, du hast echt Schwein gehabt! (Wow, you were really lucky!)

8. Nicht alle Tassen im Schrank haben. (Not to have all the cups in the cupboard)

Saying someone “Nicht alle Tassen im Schrank haben” is like saying they’re “not all there,” or “a bit crazy.” It’s a colloquial way to suggest that someone isn’t thinking straight or is behaving oddly.

In the context of an actual conversation, it would be like this:

Lukas: Glaubst du, er meint das ernst mit dem Hai-Schwimmen? (Do you think he’s serious about swimming with sharks?)
Anna: Ich denke, er hat nicht alle Tassen im Schrank. (I think he’s not all there.)

9. Ich glaub, mein Schwein pfeift. (I think my pig whistles)

The expression “Ich glaub, mein Schwein pfeift,” or “I think my pig whistles,” is used to express disbelief or astonishment at something surprising or outrageous.

german sayings pig whistling cartoon style

This is what it would seem like in a real, face-to-face conversation:

Marie: Hast du gehört? Herr Müller hat den Marathon gewonnen! (Have you heard? Mr. Müller won the marathon!)
Lars: Echt jetzt? Ich glaub, mein Schwein pfeift! (Really? I can’t believe it!)

10. Die Kirche im Dorf lassen. (To leave the church in the village)

Die Kirche im Dorf lassen” literally means “to leave the church in the village,” but figuratively it suggests “don’t get carried away” or “let’s not overdo it.” It’s used to urge moderation or to keep things reasonable.

If we were to have this talk in person, it would go like this:

Britta: Wir könnten das ganze Haus für die Party dekorieren! (We could decorate the entire house for the party!)
Oliver: Komm, lass die Kirche im Dorf. Ein paar Dekorationen reichen. (Come on, let’s not overdo it. A few decorations are enough.)

11. Das fünfte Rad am Wagen sein. (To be the fifth wheel on the car)

This saying, “Das fünfte Rad am Wagen sein,” translates to “to be the fifth wheel on the car,” and means to be superfluous or not really needed. It’s similar to the English expression “to be a third wheel.”

Now, in a real-life conversation it would look like this:

Claudia: Ich fühle mich immer so unnötig, wenn ich mit Tom und seiner Freundin ausgehe. (I always feel so unnecessary when I go out with Tom and his girlfriend.)
Michael: Ja, ich verstehe. Du bist dann das fünfte Rad am Wagen. (Yes, I understand. You’re the fifth wheel then.)

12. Ins Gras beißen. (To bite into the grass)

Ins Gras beißen” quite literally means “to bite into the grass,” but it’s akin to the English phrase “to bite the dust” and means to die. It’s often used in a more casual or humorous context.

In a real interaction, it would present itself like this:

Felix: Mein alter Laptop hat heute Morgen den Geist aufgegeben. (My old laptop finally kicked the bucket this morning.)
Lisa: Oh, hat er ins Gras gebissen? (Oh, did it bite the dust?)

13. Hals- und Beinbruch! (Neck and leg break!)

The expression “Hals- und Beinbruch!” is used similarly to the English phrase “Break a leg!” meaning “Good luck!” It’s a way to wish someone success, especially before a performance or an exam.

This is the appearance it would take in an authentic conversation:

Kevin: Ich habe gleich meine Führerscheinprüfung. (I have my driving test soon.)
Julia: Hals- und Beinbruch, du schaffst das! (Break a leg, you’ll do great!)

14. Klappe zu, Affe tot. (Lid closed, monkey dead)

Klappe zu, Affe tot,” literally “lid closed, monkey dead,” is a somewhat morbid way to say “that’s the end of that; it’s done and can’t be changed.” It marks the conclusion of a matter.

Were this a live verbal exchange, it would look thus:

Simon: Also, wir haben den Vertrag abgeschlossen. Es gibt kein Zurück mehr. (So, we’ve signed the contract. There’s no going back now.)
Eva: Klappe zu, Affe tot. Hoffentlich war es die richtige Entscheidung. (Lid closed, monkey dead. Hopefully, it was the right decision.)

15. Die Axt im Haus erspart den Zimmermann. (The axe in the house spares the carpenter)

This idiom, “Die Axt im Haus erspart den Zimmermann,” means “The axe in the house spares the carpenter,” which is similar to the English saying “A stitch in time saves nine.” It suggests that being prepared or able to handle things yourself can prevent needing to rely on others.

In a true-to-life dialogue, it would be like this:

Andreas: Ich habe mir ein paar Werkzeuge gekauft, damit ich kleinere Reparaturen selbst machen kann. (I bought some tools so I can do minor repairs myself.)
Beate: Gute Idee, die Axt im Haus erspart den Zimmermann. (Good idea, the axe in the house spares the carpenter.)

Du gehst mir auf den Keks,” which translates to “You’re walking on my cookie,” is a colloquial way of saying “You’re getting on my nerves” or “You’re annoying me.”

german sayings stepping on a cookie

In the realm of actual conversation, it would look somewhat like this:

Nadine: Immer lässt du deine Sachen herumliegen! (You always leave your stuff lying around!)
Markus: Entschuldigung, ich wollte nicht auf deinen Keks gehen. (Sorry, I didn’t mean to get on your nerves.)

17. Von Tuten und Blasen keine Ahnung haben. (To have no clue about tooting or blowing)

The saying “Von Tuten und Blasen keine Ahnung haben” is akin to saying “to have no clue” about something. It originates from the expressions used for playing wind instruments and suggests a complete lack of knowledge in a certain area.

In the setting of a real-life discussion, it would be represented like this:

Stefan: Kannst du mir helfen, mein Auto zu reparieren? (Can you help me fix my car?)
Heike: Leider habe ich von Tuten und Blasen keine Ahnung von Autos. (Unfortunately, I have no clue about cars.)

18. Jetzt geht’s um die Wurst. (Now it’s about the sausage)

This idiom, “Jetzt geht’s um die Wurst,” literally means “Now it’s about the sausage,” but is used to express “now it’s getting serious” or “it’s do or die.” It’s said when something reaches a critical or decisive moment.

Imagine this in a real conversation; it would look like this:

Benjamin: Das Finale des Turniers beginnt gleich. (The final of the tournament is about to begin.)
Melanie: Jetzt geht’s um die Wurst. Ich bin so aufgeregt! (Now it’s getting serious. I’m so excited!)

19. Das ist Jacke wie Hose. (It’s jacket like trousers)

Das ist Jacke wie Hose” literally means “It’s jacket like trousers,” and is used to say “It’s all the same to me” or “it doesn’t make any difference.”

In a live, real-world interaction, this is how it would appear:

Tobias: Soll ich das blaue oder das grüne Hemd anziehen? (Should I wear the blue or the green shirt?)
Sophie: Das ist Jacke wie Hose. Beide stehen dir gut. (It doesn’t make any difference. Both look good on you.)

20. Jemandem die Daumen drücken. (To press one’s thumbs for someone)

The phrase “Jemandem die Daumen drücken,” or “to press one’s thumbs for someone,” is the German way of saying “to keep one’s fingers crossed for someone” or to wish someone luck.

In an actual talk between people, it would be similar to this:

Theresa: Morgen habe ich ein Vorstellungsgespräch für meinen Traumjob. (Tomorrow, I have a job interview for my dream job.)
Max: Ich drücke dir die Daumen! (I’ll keep my fingers crossed for you!)

Practice German proverbs with our Practice Worksheet

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Learn German proverbs and German idioms with Conversation Based Chunking

As you can see, these German sayings and proverbs offer a glimpse into the cultural nuances and perspectives inherent in the German language. Knowing them can provide a richer, more authentic experience when conversing in German.

Keep in mind that idioms are deeply rooted in cultural context, and they offer a fun and colorful way to communicate more effectively. Don’t hesitate to use them in your conversations to bring your language skills to a new level!

If you’re interested in further exploring German idioms and expressions, join me in the exciting journey of language learning, and let’s dive deeper into the wonderfully complex world of German.

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