"Mack the Knife" Lyrics in German

Learn the Original "Mackie Messeer" Lyrics and the English Translation

Hildegard Knef
Hildegard Knef. Ron Case / Getty Images

Known in English as "Mack the Knife," the original German version of the classic song is "Mackie Messeer." Made famous in "The Threepenny Opera" and sung by Hildegard Knef, this tune was a hit from its 1928 debut through the late 50s and it remains a favorite for many music lovers.

While you may be familiar with Louis Armstrong or Bobby Darin singing the English version, the original German lyrics tells the same story of a mysterious, knife-wielding man and it's interesting to see the translation. The hit song is great practice for students of the German language who want to put their vocabulary and pronunciation to the test.

About the Song "Mackie Messeer" ("Mack the Knife")

This classic Bertolt Brecht song (with music by Kurt Weill) is from "Die Dreigroschenoper" ("The Threepenny Opera"), which was first performed in Berlin in 1928. The now classic "Mack the Knife" is just one of several popular tunes from that play. 

The song was remade and recorded many times over the years, both in German and in English. A number of the recordings have hits in their own right over the years.

  • Hildegard Knef's German version uses only six of the eleven verses in the original "Die Moritat von Mackie Messer."
  • Marc Blitzstein wrote an English adaptation of "The Threepenny Opera" in 1954. Lotte Lenya appeared in that off-Broadway production (and in the original Berlin production).
  • Louis Armstrong made his famous version of "Mack the Knife" in 1955.
  • Bobby Darin's version was a hit in 1959. 

"Mackie Messeer" Lyrics

Text: Bertolt Brecht
Musik: Kurt Weill

Bertolt Brecht's (1898-1956) lyrics are an adaptation of Elisabeth Hauptmann's German translation of John Gay's "The Beggar's Opera."

German Lyrics Direct Translation by Hyde Flippo
Und der Haifisch, der hat Zähne
Und die trägt er im Gesicht
Und MacHeath, der hat ein Messer
Doch das Messer sieht man nicht
And the shark, he has teeth
And he wears them in his face
And MacHeath, he has a knife
But the knife you don't see
An 'nem schönen blauen Sonntag
Liegt ein toter Mann am Strand
Und ein Mensch geht um die Ecke,
Den man Mackie Messer nennt
On a beautiful blue Sunday
Lies a dead man on the Strand*
And a man goes around the corner
Whom they call Mack the Knife
Und Schmul Meier bleibt verschwunden
Und so mancher reiche Mann
Und sein Geld hat Mackie Messer
Dem man nichts beweisen kann
And Schmul Meier is missing
And many a rich man
And his money has Mack the Knife,
On whom they can't pin anything.
Jenny Towler ward gefunden
Mit 'nem Messer in der Brust
Und am Kai geht Mackie Messer,
Der von allem nichts gewußt
Jenny Towler was found
With a knife in her chest
And on the wharf walks Mack the Knife,
Who knows nothing about all this.
Und die minderjährige Witwe
Deren Namen jeder weiß
Wachte auf und war geschändet
Mackie welches war dein Preis?
And the minor-aged widow,
Whose name everyone knows,
Woke up and was violated
Mack, what was your price?
Refrain Refrain
Und die einen sind im Dunkeln
Und die anderen sind im Licht
Doch man sieht nur die im Lichte
Die im Dunklen sieht man nicht
And some are in the darkness
And the others in the light
But you only see those in the light
Those in the darkness you don't see
Doch man sieht nur die im Lichte
Die im Dunklen sieht man nicht
But you only see those in the light
Those in the darkness you don't see

The German lyrics are provided for educational use only. No infringement of copyright is implied or intended. The literal, prose translations of the original German lyrics by Hyde Flippo and are not from the English version written by Marc Blitzstein.

Who Was Hildegard Knef?

Although she had some international success, Hildegard Knef was better known in Germany than in the United States, where she began her singing career on Broadway. When she died in Berlin in 2002, she left behind the legacy of her long involvement with the arts—from movie actress to author, in both German and English.

Knef got her start in German films right after World War II, appearing in her first leading role in the 1946 film “Murderers Are Among Us” ("Die Mörder sind unter uns"). In 1951, she created a stir with a nude scene in the German film "Die Sünderin" (“The Story of a Sinner”).

From 1954 to 1956, she played the lead role of Ninotchka in the Broadway musical “Silk Stockings.” During that run, she sang Cole Porter tunes in her trademark smoky voice for a total of 675 performances.

She reluctantly used the name Hildegard Neff in the U.S., but her Hollywood career was brief. Knef's best-known film from that period was “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” with Gregory Peck and Ava Gardner. She returned to Germany in 1963 and began a new career as a chanteuse and songwriter. She continued to appear in German film and TV productions from time to time.

“Die Knef”—as she was affectionately called—was born in Ulm, Germany in 1925, although she spent most of her life in Berlin. Her long career included over 50 films, many music albums, Broadway, and several books, including her autobiography "The Gift Horse" ("Der geschenkte Gaul", 1970). She later wrote about her successful fight against breast cancer in "Das Urteil" (1975).

Popular Songs by Hildegard Knef

  • "Aber schön war es doch" (But It Was Nice)
  • "Eins und eins, das macht zwei" (One and One, That Makes Two) - featured in the film “Das grosse Liebesspiel
  • "Ich brauch' Tapetenwechsel" (I Need a Change of Scenery)
  • "Ich hab' noch einen Koffer in Berlin" (I Still Have a Suitcase in Berlin) - also sung by Bully Buhlan and Marlene Dietrich
  • "In dieser Stadt" (In This Old Town)
  • "Mackie Messer " (Mack the Knife) 
  • "Seeräuber-Jenny" (Pirate Jenny)  - also from "The Threepenny Opera"
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Flippo, Hyde. ""Mack the Knife" Lyrics in German." ThoughtCo, Sep. 8, 2021, thoughtco.com/mack-the-knife-lyrics-in-german-4076149. Flippo, Hyde. (2021, September 8). "Mack the Knife" Lyrics in German. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/mack-the-knife-lyrics-in-german-4076149 Flippo, Hyde. ""Mack the Knife" Lyrics in German." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/mack-the-knife-lyrics-in-german-4076149 (accessed June 4, 2023).