German Idioms


Not only will learning idioms improve your German comprehension, but it’ll also give you insight into German culture and history. German idioms are chock-full of references to popular German foods like sausages, bread rolls and mustard.

Potsdamer Platz in Berlin, Germany

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I Only Understand Train Station

German: Ich verstehe nur Bahnhof

Meaning: I don’t understand anything. It’s all Greek to me.

To Feel Like A Fish On The Dry

German: sich wie ein Fisch auf dem Trockenen fühlen

Meaning: Fish out of water

That’s Where The Dog Is Buried

German: Da liegt der Hund begraben

Meaning: That’s the heart of the matter

Press The Thumbs!

German: Die Daumen drücken!

Meaning: Keep your fingers crossed!

Where Fox And Hare Say Goodnight To One Another

German: Wo sich Fuchs und Hase gute Nacht sagen

Meaning: In the middle of nowhere

I’m Done And Ready

German: Ich bin fix und fertig

Meaning: I’m wiped out or I’m exhausted

You’re Taking Me On The Arm!

German: Du nimmst mich auf den Arm!

Meaning: You’re pulling my leg!

That’s A Cat’s Jump

German: Das ist ein Katzensprung

Meaning: It’s a stone’s throw away

Sleep Like A Groundhog

German: Schlafen wie ein Murmeltier

Meaning: Sleep like a log

To Talk Around The Hot Porridge

German: Um den heißen Brei herumreden

Meaning: To beat around the bush

You Can Take Poison On That

German: Da kannst du Gift drauf nehmen

Meaning: You can bet your life on that

Make An Ape Of Yourself

German: Sich zum Affen machen

Meaning: Make a fool of yourself

Kill Two Flies With One Swat

German: Zwei Fliegen mit einer Klappe schlagen

Meaning: Kill two birds with one stone

To Ask For An Extra Sausage

German: Eine Extrawurst haben

Meaning: To ask for special treatment

The Bear Dances There

German: Da steppt der Bär

Meaning: It is a good party

The Air Burns!

German: Da brennt die Luft!

Meaning: Heated atmosphere – tension

To Have Tomatoes On One’s Eyes

German: Tomaten auf den Augen haben

Meaning: Not to see obvious things/to be blind

To Add Your Mustard To It

German: Seinen Senf dazugeben

Meaning: Give your opinion / give your two cents

To Know Something Like One’s Vest Pocket

German: Wie seine Westentasche kennen

Meaning: To know smth. like the back of one’s hand

Don’t Praise The Day Before The Evening

German: Man soll den Tag nicht vor dem Abend loben

Meaning: Don’t count your chicks before they hatch

Clear As Dumpling Broth

German: Klar wie Kloßbrühe

Meaning: Crystal clear

To Leave The Church In The Village

German: Die Kirche im Dorf lassen

Meaning: To not get carried away

To Have A Pig

German: Schwein haben

Meaning: To get lucky

Lies Have Short Legs

German: Lügen haben kurze Beine

Meaning: Lies don’t get you far

I Believe I Spider

German: Ich glaube ich spinne

Meaning: I think I’m going crazy

To Have A Cat

German: Einen Kater haben

Meaning: To have a hangover

You Can Steal Horses With Him

German: Mit jemandem Pferde stehlen

Meaning: Someone that is trustworthy / someone to do unsual things with

To Have A Bird

German: Einen Vogel haben

Meaning: To be a little cuckoo

To Look Too Deep Into The Glass

German: Zu tief ins Glas schauen

Meaning: To drink too much

Small Cattle Also Make Poop

German: Kleinvieh macht auch Mist

Meaning: Small wins also count/small wins add up

Under All Pig

German: Unter aller Sau

Meaning: Catastrophic

Under All Cannon

German: Unter aller Kanone

Meaning: To be really lousy

To Play The Offended Liver Sausage

German: Die beleidigte Leberwurst spielen

Meaning: Being unnecessarily pouty

To Give Someone A Basket

German: Einen Korb geben

Meaning: To be stood up

All In Butter

German: Alles in Butter

Meaning: Everything is ok

To Tie A Bear To Someone

German: Jemandem einen Bären aufbinden

Meaning: To lie to someone in a joking matter

To Hit Someone Over The Ear

German: Jemanden übers Ohr hauen

Meaning: To bamboozle/trick someone

Why Is The Banana Curved?

German: Warum ist die Banane krumm?

Meaning: I don’t know either

The Fish Stinks From The Head

German: Der Fisch stinkt vom Kopf her

Meaning: The problems start at the top (in an organization)

I Am Not A Cow To Be Milked

German: Ich bin keine Kuh, die man melken kann!

Meaning: You can’t take advantage of me

To Go Down With Drums And Trumpets

German: Mit Pauken und Trompeten durchfallen

Meaning: To fail gloriously, guns blazing

That Is An Argument Over The Emperor’s Beard

German: Das ist ein Streit um des Kaisers Bart

Meaning: To get lost in the details

To Put A Monkey Theater On Stage

German: Ein Affentheater aufführen

Meaning: To perform a charade

To Stick Under One Blanket

German: Unter einer Decke stecken

Meaning: To do something secretly with someone

The Egg Of Columbus

German: Das Ei des Kolumbus

Meaning: An easy solution to a problem that appears difficult to solve

Search/ Find For A Hair In The Soup

German: Haar in der Suppe suchen/finden

Meaning: To see a glass half empty

I Think My Pig Whistles

German: Ich glaube mein Schwein pfeift

Meaning: That’s absurd

I Even Eat A Broom

German: Da fresse ich glatt einen Besen

Meaning: I can’t believe it

There We Have The Salad

German: Da haben wir den Salat

Meaning: Now we have a problem

We Sit Beautifully In The Ink

German: Wir sitzen schön in der Tinte!

Meaning: We are in a bad situation

It Goes Off Like The Cat Of Schmitz’

German: Das geht ab wie Schmitz’ Katze

Meaning: It’s great, it’s a lot of fun

That Is Sausage For Me

German: Das ist mir Wurst

Meaning: I don’t care

The Poop Is Steaming

German: Die Kacke ist am dampfen

Meaning: We are in trouble

Sponge Over

German: Schwamm drüber

Meaning: Don’t worry about it

Now Butter At The Fish

German: Jetzt Butter bei die Fische

Meaning: To speak the truth, get to work, give extra effort

Human, Meier

German: Mensch, Meier

Meaning: Jeez!

Don’t Bring Me On The Palm Tree

German: Bring mich nicht auf die Palme

Meaning: Don’t get me started, don’t get me angry

To Laugh Into One’s Small Fist

German: Sich ins Fäustchen lachen

Meaning: To laugh up one’s sleeve – To rejoice or be amused secretly

That Is Jacket As Pants

German: Das ist Jacke wie Hose

Meaning: It doesn’t matter, there is no difference

To Put Everything On One Card

German: Alles auf eine Karte setzen

Meaning: Put your eggs in one basket

Bang And Fall

German: Knall und Fall

Meaning: Suddenly

Get The Cow Off The Ice

German: Die Kuh vom Eis holen

Meaning: Avert imminent danger/ to difuse a difficult situation

Those Are Two Pairs Of Boots

German: Das sind zwei Paar Stiefel

Meaning: Those are two different unrelated matters

To Turn The Skewer

German: Den Spieß umdrehen

Meaning: To switch roles / to retaliate

To See Something Through Pink Glasses

German: Etwas durch die rosarote Brille sehen

Meaning: To be naive / too optimistic

To Let Down One’s Pants

German: Die Hosen runterlassen

Meaning: To come clean

That’s Not The Yellow Of The Egg

German: Das ist nicht das Gelbe vom Ei

Meaning: To be insufficient / not the best

Here Is Dead Pants

German: Hier ist Tote Hose

Meaning: Nothing is happening here / It’s boring

Until The Dolls

German: Bis in die Puppen

Meaning: Until late

To Go Around The Corner

German: Um die Ecke gehen

Meaning: To go to the bathroom

To Shoot Cannons At Sparrows

German: Mit Kanonen auf Spatzen schießen

Meaning: Overkill

I Make Me From The Field

German: Ich mache mich vom Acker

Meaning: I am leaving

To Make The Fly

German: Die Fliege machen

Meaning: To leave

To Have The Nose/Snout Full

German: Die Nase/Die Schnauze voll haben

Meaning: To be fed up

Like A Rock In The Surf

German: Wie ein Fels in der Brandung

Meaning: Solid as a rock

Nonsense With Sauce

German: Quatsch mit Soße

Meaning: Total nonsense

That Is Not My Beer

German: Das ist nicht mein Bier

Meaning: That is none of my business

Until The Doctor Comes

German: Bis der Arzt kommt

Meaning: Excessively

To Not Have All Cups In The Cupboard

German: Nicht alle Tassen im Schrank haben

Meaning: To be bonkers

To Say Something Through The Flower

German: Etwas durch die Blume sagen

Meaning: To break something to someone gently

To Not Have A Buck

German: Keinen Bock haben

Meaning: To not be in the mood

Sport Is Murder

German: Sport ist Mord

Meaning: Sport can be dangerous /exhausting

That Is To Milk The Mice

German: Das ist zum Mäusemelken

Meaning: To become desperate

That Is The Hammer!

German: Das ist der Hammer!

Meaning: That’s awesome!

For An Apple And An Egg

German: Für einen Apfel und ein Ei

Meaning: A bargain / a steal

To Pull Something Out Of Someone’s Nose

German: Jemandem etwas aus der Nase ziehen

Meaning: To force conversation with someone

To Let The Pig Out

German: Die Sau rauslassen

Meaning: To party hard / to paint the town red

To Look Dumb From The Laundry

German: Dumm aus der Wäsche gucken

Meaning: To look surprised

To Dance On Someone’s Nose

German: Jemanden auf der Nase herumtanzen

Meaning: To walk all over someone / To be disrespectful

Stay Where The Pepper Is Grown!

German: Bleib wo der Pfeffer wächst!

Meaning: Stay away!

Oh You Green Nines!

German: Ach du grüne Neune!

Meaning: Good heavens!

I Sit On You

German: Ich setz auf dich

Meaning: I count on you

Three Cheeses High

German: Dreikäsehoch

Meaning: A small smart and curious child

Could’ve Could’ve Bike Chain

German: Hätte hätte Fahrradkette

Meaning: Hindsight is easier than foresight

To Not Be Able To Pass Someone The Water

German: Jemandem nicht das Wasser reichen können

Meaning: Can’t hold a candle to someone – inferior to someone or smth.

To Keep The Ball Leveled

German: Den Ball flach halten

Meaning: To not exaggerate

To Act Like A Dying Swan

German: Den sterbenden Schwan markieren

Meaning: To exaggerate injury/pain

The Morning Hour Has Gold In The Mouth

German: Morgenstund hat Gold im Mund

Meaning: The early bird catches the worm

That Seems Spanish To Me

German: Das kommt mir Spanisch vor

Meaning: Something is off/something is fishy

To Make A Polish

German: Einen Polnischen machen

Meaning: To sneak away without saying good-bye (e.g. at a party)

Here Goes The Post Mail Off!

German: Hier geht die Post ab!

Meaning: It’s all happening here!

It’s Five To Twelve

German: Es ist fünf vor zwölf

Meaning: It’s high time

To Have Hair On One’s Teeth

German: Haare auf den Zähnen haben

Meaning: To be confrontational/bossy

That Goes In The Pants!

German: Das geht in die Hose!

Meaning: It will fail!

To Promise The Blue Of The Sky

German: Das blaue vom Himmel versprechen

Meaning: To uninhibitedly promise the impossible

To Dance Out Of Line

German: Aus der Reihe tanzen

Meaning: To not stick to the rules/agreement

To Be The Little Tongue On The Scale

German: Das Zünglein an der Waage sein

Meaning: To hold the balance of power

To Smear Honey Around Someone’s Mouth

German: Jemandem Honig um den Mund schmieren

Meaning: To butter someone up

Stay With The Ball!

German: Bleib am Ball!

Meaning: Keep at it!

To Draw A Line Through Someone’s Calculation

German: Einen Strich durch die Rechnung machen

Meaning: To ruins someone’s plans

Everything Has An Ending, Only The Sausage Has Two

German: Alles hat ein Ende, nur die Wurst hat zwei

Meaning: Everything will come to an end eventually

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Common European Framework of Reference for Languages

The CEFR is an international standard used to describe language ability. Here are specific details of the CEFR for this topic.

General Explanation:

Can understand the main points of clear standard input on familiar matters regularly encountered in work, school, leisure, etc. Can deal with most situations likely to arise whilst travelling in an area where the language is spoken. Can produce simple connected text on topics which are familiar or of personal interest. Can describe experiences and events, dreams, hopes & ambitions and briefly give reasons and explanations for opinions and plans.

Specific Capabilities at this Level

I can write simple connected text on topics which are familiar or of personal interest. I can write personal letters describing experiences and impressions.
Spoken Production:
I can connect phrases in a simple way in order to describe experiences and events, my dreams, hopes and ambitions. I can briefly give reasons and explanations for opinions and plans. I can narrate a story or relate the plot of a book or film and describe my reactions.
Spoken Interaction:
I can deal with most situations likely to arise whilst travelling in an area where the language is spoken. I can enter unprepared into conversation on topics that are familiar, of personal interest or pertinent to everyday life (e.g. family, hobbies, work, travel and current events).
I can understand texts that consist mainly of high frequency everyday or job-related language. I can understand the description of events, feelings and wishes in personal letters.
I can understand the main points of clear standard speech on familiar matters regularly encountered in work, school, leisure, etc. I can understand the main point of many radio or TV programs on current affairs or topics of personal or professional interest when the delivery is relatively slow and clear.