Common German Idioms, Sayings, and Proverbs

In many everyday German expressions, it's all about the sausage

The best of the German 'Wurst.'
The best of the 'Wurst.' Many of the most memorable sayings in German feature sausage. Getty Images / Credit: Sean Gallup / Staff

Ein Sprichwort, a saying or a proverb, can be a fun way to learn and remember new vocabulary in German. The following sayings, proverbs, and idiomatic expressions (Redewendungen) are our favorites. 

Some of the following expressions here are more common than others. Many work in Germany's love affair with its endless variety of Wurst (sausage). Some may be a little more current or old-fashioned than the others.

But they can all be used in everyday conversations.

The best way to learn these is to read each sentence to yourself and immediately read the English equivalent. Then say the same sentence aloud in German. Continue saying these aloud in German and, with practice, you'll automatically remember the meaning; it will become subliminal and you won't even have to think about it. 

A good exercise: Write each phrase or sentence out as you say it the first two times. The more senses and muscles you engage as you learn a language, the more likely you are to remember it correctly and the longer you will remember it. A third time, cover the German and read the English version; then task yourself, as in a dictation, to write the sentence in German.

Keep in mind that little symbol ß (as in heißstands for a double "s," and remember correct German word order, which you know by now is different from that in English.

Don't forget that all German nouns, common or proper, are capitalized. Even Wurst.  

These are fun, so come on. Let's get started. Below you'll find expressions, the colloquial English translation, and the literal translation.

Expressions About Sausage ('Wurst') and Other Things to Eat

Alles hat ein Ende, nur die Wurst hat zwei. 

  • Everything must end.
  • Literally: Everything has an end; only the sausage has two.​

Das ist mir Wurst.

  • It's all the same to me.
  • Literally: It's a sausage to me.

Es geht um die Wurst.

  • It's do or die / now or never / the moment of truth.
  • Literal: It's about the sausage.

Äpfel mit Birnen vergleichen. ​

  • Comparing apples and oranges
  • Literally: Comparing apples and pears

In des Teufels Küche sein.

  • To get into hot water  
  • Literal: In the devil's kitchen

Dir haben sie wohl etwas in den Kaffee getan.

  • You've got to be kidding.
  • Literally: You've probably done something in / to the coffee

Die Radieschen von unten anschauen/betrachten

  • To be pushing up daisies (to be dead)
  • Literally: To see / view the radishes from below

Expressions With Animals

Die Katze im Sack kaufen 

  • To buy a pig in a poke
  • Literally: to buy a cat in a sack

Wo sich die Füchse gute Nacht sagen

  • The middle of nowhere / the back of beyond
  • Literally: Where the foxes say goodnight

Stochere nicht im Bienenstock.

  • Let sleeping dogs lie.
  • Literally: Don't poke around in the beehive.

Expressions With Body Parts and People

Daumen drücken!

  • Keep your fingers crossed!
  • Literally: Press / hold your thumbs!

Er hat einen dicken Kopf.

  • He's got a hangover.
  • Literally: He has a fat head.

    Was ich nicht weiß, macht mich nicht heiß.

    • What you don't know, won't hurt you.
    • Literally: What I don't know won't burn me.

    Er fällt immer mit der Tür ins Häuschen.

    • He always gets right to the point / just blurts it out. 
    • Literally: He always falls into the house through the door.

    Was Hänschen nicht lernt, lernt Hans nimmermehr.

    • You can't teach an old dog new tricks.
    • Literally: What little Hans didn't learn, adult Hans never will.

    Wenn man dem Teufel den kleinen Finger gibt, so nimmt er die ganze Hand.

    • Give an inch; they'll take a mile.
    • Literally: If you give the devil your little finger, he'll take the whole hand.
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    Flippo, Hyde. "Common German Idioms, Sayings, and Proverbs." ThoughtCo, Jul. 30, 2017, Flippo, Hyde. (2017, July 30). Common German Idioms, Sayings, and Proverbs. Retrieved from Flippo, Hyde. "Common German Idioms, Sayings, and Proverbs." ThoughtCo. (accessed February 22, 2018).