Germany has quite an obsession for its little sayings, phrases and proverbs. You may be learning German already or have a basic knowledge of the language, but all the sudden you are complete at loss in a conversation, because your conversation partner starts talking about an elephant in a porcelain store or a gifted horse… like what in the hell???

When I first decided to do a text about the subject I started googling German proverbs and was stunned to see how many there are, like pages and pages of phrases and words. So, I will keep this somewhat brief and pick out the best and funniest.

German Saying

Literal English translation


Einen Affenzirkus veranstalten

to host a monkey circus

throw a tantrum over something

In den sauren Apfel beißen

bite in to a sour apple

do something you dread

Nur Bahnhof verstehen

understand only main train station

don’t understand what is going on

Jemandem einen Bären aufbinden

to tie a bear on to your back

telling someone a lie

Nicht alle auf dem Christbaum haben

don’t have everything up on the Christmas tree

someone that isn’t quite right in their mind

Einen Dachschaden haben

to have a damaged roof

another phrase for someone not right in their mind

Dreck am Stecken haben

to have dirt on your stick

someone with a shady past

Sich wie ein Elefant im Porzellanladen benehmen

behave like an elephant in a porcelain shop

to be rude, loud and tactless

Eulen nach Athen tragen

to carry owls to Athens

doing an unnecessary wasteful task

Zwei Fliegen mit einer Klappe schlagen

to hit 2 flies with a shutter

to solve 2 or more problems at once

Einen Frosch im Hals haben

to have a frog in your throat

when you talk with a hoarse voice

Dort wo sich Fuchs und Hase Gute Nacht sagen

where fox and hare say good night to each other

a location away from civilisation

Bei jemand/etwas auf Granit beißen

to bite on granite with because of someone

when your opponent is not giving in or is not opening for compromise

Für jemanden die Hand ins Feuer legen

to put your hand into a fire for someone

when you completely trust someone

Da liegt der Hase im Pfeffer

there, the hare lays in the pepper

this is the reason or the cause

Da wird der Hund in der Pfanne verrückt!

The dog is going crazy in the frying pan

this is crazy!

Das ist Jacke wie Hose

this is jacket and pants

it does not matter

Eher geht ein Kamel durch das Nadelöhr

a camel will walk through the eye of a needle before

impossible task to complete

Jetzt ist das Kind in den Brunnen gefallen

now the child has fallen into the well

now we have the result

Ihm ist eine Laus über die Leber gelaufen

a louse walked across his liver

he is in a bad mood, grumpy

Es ist zum Mäusemelken

it is like milking mice

something is not working out the way you want it to

Er macht gerne aus einer Mücke einen Elefanten

he likes to turn a mosquito into an elephant

someone is making a bigger deal then needed out of something

Jemandem einen vom Pferd erzählen

to tell someone a story about a horse

someone is lying to you

In die Puschen kommen

to get into your slippers

you better hurry up

Die Radieschen von unten betrachten

to watch the radishes from below

someone passed away

Wie ein Rohrspatz schimpfen

to curse like a reed bunting

if someone is yelling and angry

Sich freuen wie ein Schneekönig

they are happy like a snow king

when someone is really happy about something

Ich glaub’, mein Schwein pfeift

I think my pig is whistling

when you are surprised, astonished about something

Einen an der Waffel haben

to have something on your waffle

someone that is crazy, out of their mind

Das ist mir wurst (wurscht)

that is sausage to me

it does not matter to me


As you can see the translations don’t always make sense. But knowing the meaning makes it much easier. Have fun trying to use them with your German friends.