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Music to our ears: The top 10 melodic German phrases

Many German idioms have a musical association. We take a look at ten of our favourites.

Music to our ears: The top 10 melodic German phrases
Photo: Depositphotos/Wavebreakmedia

Austria is a country which is well known for producing great musical maestros, being the birthplace of Johann Strauss II, Mozart, Haydn and more. 

It is, therefore, unsurprising that many musical references have found their way into the German language. 

READ ALSO: Six ways to fall in love with learning German again

1. Musik in meinen Ohren

Let’s start with one that’s very familiar to English speakers. This means, literally: “Music in my ears” or, as we would say, “music to my ears”. The meaning is the same as the English idiom – that something is very pleasing to hear or to find out about. 

2. Der Ton macht die Musik. 

“The tone makes the music” or, in other words, it’s not about what you say, but how you say it. This is a phrase which was adopted by the German language from the French saying “C’est le ton qui fait la musique”.

3. wie eine kaputte Platte klingen 

Another familiar one, meaning “to sound like a broken record”. When someone says the same thing over and over again, they start to sound like a scratched up vinyl which is stuck on repeat.

4. Ich könnte dir ein Lied davon singen!

If someone tells you in German “I could sing you a song about it!”, it means they have a lot to say on the subject.

The origin of this phrase traces back to meaning of the word “Lied” (song) itself. In the 16th century, Lied was the word for a speech given in public. The speech could be accompanied by music or include rhymes, but the main point was that one would talk a lot about a subject, about which they had a lot of knowledge. Hence the origin of the phrase. 

5. eine Saite im jemandem berühren

This one literally translates as “to touch a string in someone”. Its phrasal equivalent in English would be “to strike a chord”. 

6. Pfeifen im Walde

If you ever find yourself alone in the woods, maybe whistling a little tune will bolster your courage? This phrase “to whistle in the forest” is used to describe outward behaviour which attempts to cover up underlying fear or insecurity.

(Photo by Clem Onojeghuo on Unsplash)

7. die zweite Geige spielen

This phrase derives from the way in which an orchestra is organized – the first violin (or fiddle) sits nearest the conductor and is the leader of the violin section. Second violin is, as you would imagine, second in command. Thus, “die zweite Geige spielen” means to have a subordinate or less important role than somebody else.

8. auf die Pauke hauen

This rowdy phrase means “to bang the timpani” and is used as an expression when one wants to do something very openly, for example to celebrate. 

So, if you want to declare to your friends desire to party like crazy tonight, tell them: “Lass uns heute auf die Pauke hauen!”.

9. immer die alte Leier 

In English we might say “the same old story”, but in German you could say “always the same old Lyre”.

This is probably the oldest phrase in this list, as the Lyre was a string instrument invented in the 9th century, which very early on gained a reputation for its irritating  musical inflexibility. Thus it became part of this well-known phrase, to express annoyance at the constant repetition of something annoying or unpleasant.

10. aus dem letzten Loch pfeifen

This idiom from the 17th century literally translates as: “to pipe from the last hole” and means to be right at the end of your strength, almost completely exhausted. 

The phrase refers to the last hole in a wind instrument, such as a flute, which makes the highest tone the instrument is capable of producing. After blowing the last hole, the musical possibilities of the instrument are exhausted – and no further tone can be reached. 

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Austrian word of the day: Beisl

This is a spot you might visit at the end of the working day - or Feierabend - particularly in Austria, as Germany has a different word for these establishments. Here's what this Austrian-German word means and how to use it.

Austrian word of the day: Beisl

Why do I need to know Beisl?

Because you may be invited to one or need to find one on the map.

What does it mean?

Das Beisl, which sounds like this, is the name for a pub or inn in Austrian German where people gather to drink beverages. In Germany, it is usually called a Kneipe.

This isn’t a fancy cocktail bar – it’s a neighbourhood watering hole and forms part of the make-up of towns and cities across Austria. It’s usually unpretentious, often small and used to be very smoky before Austria banned smoking indoors.

The term comes from the Czech “pajzl”, which means pub or dive. It’s a diminutive short form of the noun “hampejz” – with meaning such as “dog house” and even “brothel”.

Other possibilities for its origins include the Yiddish bajiss (house) , and the Austrian dialectal diminutive of the word Beiz – which was a low-class pub until the word got a better reputation.

Nowadays, the Beisl are usually friendly and charming and give an insight into life in Austria. So perhaps ask your Austria friends for a tip on a cool Beisl to visit. Just don’t expect the staff to speak English at all – or take credit cards.

If you’re hungry, keep in mind that Beisl usually doesn’t serve food or at least no hot dishes.

How to use it:
Treffen wir uns am Freitag nach Feierabend im Beisl.
Let’s meet in the pub on Friday after work finishes.
Ich gehe mit den Jungs ins Beisl.
I’m going to the pub with the lads.