Learn German by Listening to Deutsche Schlager (German Hit Songs)

Do you know who these people are? Roy Black, Lale Andersen, Freddy Quinn, Peter Alexander, Heintje, Peggy March, Udo Jürgens, Reinhard Mey, Nana Mouskouri, Rex Gildo, Heino, and Katja Ebstein.

If those names sound familiar, you were probably in Germany during the 1960s (or early '70s). Each of those people had one or more hit songs in German during that era, and some of them are still musically active today!

It's true that deutsche Schlager are not really “in” these days, especially the old, sentimental ones from the '60s and '70s sung by the people mentioned above and other German pop stars. But despite their lack of coolness and the distain of today's music generation in Germany, such German golden oldies are actually ideal for German-learners in many ways.

First, they usually have simple, uncomplicated lyrics suited for beginners: “Memories of Heidelberg sind Memories of You / und von dieser schönen Zeit da träum' ich immerzu. / Memories of Heidelberg sind Memories vom Glück / doch die Zeit von Heidelberg, die kommt nie mehr zurück” (Peggy March, an American from Pennsylvania, had several '60s hits in Germany). Even many of Reinhard Mey's folk ballads are not that difficult to follow: “Komm, giess mein Glas noch einmal ein / Mit jenem bill'gen roten Wein, / In dem ist jene Zeit noch wach, / Heut' trink ich meinen Freunden nach..” (CD album Aus meinem Tagebuch).

German songs can be a very enjoyable way to learn German—both vocabulary and grammar. The title alone of another Peggy March song, “Male nicht den Teufel an die Wand!,” is also a German saying that means something like “don't tempt fate” (literally, “don't paint the devil on the wall”).

Seemann, deine Heimat ist das Meer” (“Sailor, your home is the sea”) was a big German hit by the Austrian singer Lolita in 1960.

(Diese österreichische Sängerin hiess eigentlich Ditta Zuza Einzinger.) Other top tunes in Germany that year were: “Unter fremden Sternen” (Freddy Quinn), “Ich zähle täglich meine Sorgen” (Peter Alexander), “Irgendwann gibt's ein Wiedersehen” (Freddy Q.), “Ein Schiff wird kommen” (Lale Andersen), and “Wooden Heart” (Elvis Presley's version of “Muss i denn”).

By 1967, American and British rock and pop was already edging German Schlager out, but besides "Penny Lane" (Beatles), "Let's Spend the Night Together" (Rolling Stones), and "Good Vibrations (Beach Boys), you could still hear German hits on the radio (unlike today!). “Memories of Heidelberg” (Peggy March), “Meine Liebe zu dir” (Roy Black) and “Verbotene Träume” (Peter Alexander) are just a few oldies from 1967.

But if you weren't even around in the 1960s/70s or you've forgotten what those classic German oldies sound like, you can listen to them online! Several sites, including iTunes and Amazon.de, offer digital audio clips of these and other German songs. If you want the real thing, there are German “Hits of the...” and “Best of...” CD collections available from iTunes and other online sources, both in Europe and in North America.

(I even found one online source in South Africa!)

Popular German Singers of the '60s and '70s

  • Roy Black = Gerd Höllerich (1943-1991) Deutschland
  • Lale Andersen = Liselotte Helene Berta Bunnenberg (1913-1972)
  • Freddy Quinn = Manfred Nidl-Petz (1931- ) Österreich
  • Peter Alexander = Peter Alexander Neumayer (1926- ) Österreich
  • Heintje = Hein Simons (1955- ) Niederlande
  • Peggy March = Margaret Annemarie Batavio (1948- ) USA
  • Udo Jürgens = Udo Jürgen Bockelmann (1934- ) Österreich
  • Rex Gildo = Alexander Ludwig Hirtreiter (1936- ) Deutschland
  • Joy Fleming = Erna Strube (1944- ) Deutschland
  • Lolita = Ditta Zuza Einzinger (1931- ) Österreich
  • Heino = Heinz-Georg Kramm (1938- ) Deutschland
  • Katja Ebstein = Karin Witkiewicz (1945- ) Polen

Besides Peggy March, there were several other U.S.-born singers who either recorded exclusively in German or had several German-language hits in the 1960s or '70s.

Even the Beatles recorded a few of their hits in German ("Komm gib mir deine Hand" and "Sie liebt dich"). Here are a few of the "Amis," along with the names of some of their hit songs (most of them fairly forgettable):

Amis in Deutschland

  • Gus Backus (Donald Edgar Backus) "Der Mann im Mond," "Da sprach der alte Häuptling der Indianer," "Die Prärie ist so groß," "Schön ist ein Zylinderhut." "Sauerkraut-Polka"
  • Connie Francis (Concetta Franconero) "Eine Insel für zwei," "Die Liebe ist ein seltsames Spiel," "Bacarole in der Nacht," "Lass mich gehen," "Schöner fremder Mann," "Sternenmelodie," "Jedes Boot hat einen Hafen"
  • Peggy March (Margaret Annemarie Batavio) "Male nicht den Teufel an die Wand," "Memories of Heidelberg"
  • Bill Ramsey "Zuckerpuppe" "Schokoladeneisverkäufer," "Souvenirs," "Pigalle," "Ohne Krimi geht die Mimi nie ins Bett."

Now let's move on to those Evergreens and the Grand Prix for music!

“Grand Prix Eurovision”

Since 1956 there has been an annual European popular song contest, broadcast all across Europe. In all that time the Germans have only won once: Nicole sang “Ein bisschen Frieden” ("A Little Peace") in 1982 to win the number one spot that year. Germany won second place three times in the 1980s. In 2002, Corinna May from Germany placed a very disappointing 21st! (ARD - Grand Prix Eurovision)

Evergreens

The German word Evergreen has nothing to do with trees and everything to do with classic popular songs by people like Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Marlene Dietrich, and Hildegard Knef (more about her below).

An example is the Botho Lucas Chor (which had a sort of Ray Conniff choral sound). They recorded a few LPs by Capitol Records of classic Evergreens in German: "In meinen Träumen" ("Out of my Dreams") and "Du kamst als zauberhafter Frühling" ("All the Things You Are").

Hildegard Knef (1925-2002) has been called "the German answer to Kim Novak" and "the thinking man's Marlene Dietrich." She wrote several books and had a career that included Broadway, Hollywood (briefly) and performing as a sultry, smoky-voiced singer. One of my Knef song favorites goes: “Eins und eins, das macht zwei / Drum küss und denk nicht dabei / Denn denken schadet der Illusion...” (words by Knef, music by Charly Niessen). She also sings a great version of "Macky-Messer" ("Mack the Knife"). On her "Große Erfolge" CD, she also produces a wonderful version of Cole Porter's "I Get a Kick Out of You" ("Nichts haut mich um - aber du") and "Let's Do It" ("Sei mal verliebt"). See our Hildegard Knef page for more lyrics and information about her.

German Instrumentalists

In closing, we need to at least mention a couple of famous German instrumentalists. They almost always worked without words, but Bert Kaempfert and the James Last Band (real name: Hans Last) offered a sound that crossed the Atlantic and produced a few hits outside of Germany. Frank Sinatra's huge hit "Strangers in the Night" was originally a German song composed by Bert Kaempfert.