“Herzschläge” – Übersetzgesungen Episode 4: Mickey covers José Gonzalez covering The Knife

Posted on 15. Apr, 2014 by in Music, Practice


Do you remember that sweet TV commercial with the bouncy balls in San Francisco? This one:

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Well, for today’s episode of Übersetzgesungen, I decided to translated the song in that commercial! It’s performed by José Gonzalez, but it’s actually a cover of a song by The Knife. I prefer The Knife’s version of it, but Mr. Gonzalez’s acoustic interpretation is beautiful, too. His version is much quieter and instrumentally reduced, putting the focus on its haunting lyrics. Because both artists are actually from Sweden, I’m inclined to think that many of the lyrics were chosen for how the words sound specifically in English. It was especially challenging to convey that same lyrical smoothness in my German version of the song. What do you think?

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  • “One night to be confused” – “Eine Nacht, verwirrt sein

The opening line translates pretty smoothly! But it stops there.

  • “One night to speed up truth” – “Eine Nacht, die Wahrheit finden

I tried for the longest time to work the word beschleunigen (speed up/accelerate) into this line. There’s no real synonym for it in German, plus the word itself sounds hilarious to me. Beschleunigen. But unfortunately it’s just too many syllables, so I had to settle for finden, giving us “One night to find the truth”.

  • “We had a promise made” – “Wir hatten ein Versprechen”

In German you don’t really “make” promises. You just promise, and then you have a promise. So this line is literally “we had a promise”.

  • “Four hands and then away” - “Vier Hände auf einmal weg”

 My original translation was “Vier Hände und dann weg”, but it just doesn’t make sense to say it that way. So instead I went for the equivalent of “Four hands suddenly gone”. This is a step away from “just this once”, which is how I interpret the line in English.

  • “Both under influence” – “Beide angreifbar”

In English there’s a strong implication of alcohol here, but the expression “under influence” does not relate to alcohol at all in German. “Beide beeinflusst” wouldn’t make much sense, so instead my translation means “Both vulnerable”, achieving one of the two or more meanings in the original lyric.

  • “We had divine sense” – “Wir hatten den heiligen”

Here I had to split the line up to keep with the music. I like how this line ends with “heiligen”, because it could be taken to mean “saint” when unaccompanied by the subsequent line. “We had the saint”, or, “we had the holy/divine”.

  • “To know just what to say” – “Sinn zu wissen was zu sagen”

I pushed the word “sense” down to this line in order to keep rhythm. “Sense to know what to say”.

  • “Mind is a razorblade” - “Gedanken schneiden tief”

 Unable to find an equivalent metaphor for this line, I thought about what is being said by calling the mind a razorblade. I decided to reduce the symbolism a little and directly sing “Thoughts cut deep”.

  • “To call for hands of above to lean on” - “Zu verlangen nach der Kraft von oben”

Verlangen is a good word, meaning “to call for” or “to demand”. After trying to work in the word Hände, I decided to replace it simply with Kraft, or “power/energy”. “To call for energy from above.”

  • “Wouldn’t be good enough for me, no” - “Das würde mir nicht reichen”

 “That wouldn’t be enough for me.” Unable to directly translate the chorus of the song, I needed to approach it from a more conceptual place, approximating what the narrator is trying to say but with different words. I realized that this song is coming from a person who simply wouldn’t be content asking for divine intervention. This is a fiercely independent person, and he refuses to admit weakness by resting even in God’s hands.

  • “One night of magic rush” - “Eine Nacht voll magischem Rausch”

“One night full of magic rush”

  • “The start: a simple touch” - “Der Beginn: eine Berührung”

Behührung (touch) was a difficult word to work in, but unfortunately there aren’t any shorter words for “touch”! I had to get rid of “simple” for it to work, but I’m okay with this. I think in the context of the song, “simple” is pretty well implied.

  • “One night to push and scream” - “Eine Nacht gemeinsam schreien”

Again, I needed to eliminate half the action in this line. No pushing, just screaming. Screaming together. “One night to scream together”.

  • “And then relief” - “Dann die Erleichterung”

 “Then the relief”. I like that word, Erleichterung.

  • “Ten days of perfect tunes” – “Zehn Tage Perfektion”

No room for tunes here… “Ten days of perfection”.

  • “The colors red and blue” - “Die Farben blau und rot”

Hey look! I could even work in a rhyme, just by switching the color order. “The colors blue and red”.

  • “We had a promise made” - “Wir hatten ein Versprechen”

(See above)

  • “We were in love” - “Wir liebten uns”

Here the German translation takes away any skirting the issue of the song. “Wir liebten uns” can mean both “We were in love” and “we made love”.

  • “And you, you knew the hands of the devil” - “Und du kanntest des Teufels Hände”

Lots of hands in this song. Four hands, hands of above, the devil’s hands.

  • “And you kept us awake with wolves’ teeth” - “Und du hielst uns wach mit fletschenden Zähnen”

Instead of getting wolves involved, this translation literally means “And you kept us awake with snarling teeth”.

  • “Sharing different heartbeats in one night” - “Variierende Herzschläge in einer Nacht”

“Different heartbeats in one night”.

What do you guys think? Do you like this American’s German-language cover of an Argentine-Swedish acoustic interpretation of a Swedish electro duo’s English-language song?

Bis bald!


A Hilarious Season Finale in the Spirit of April Fool’s

Posted on 01. Apr, 2014 by in Culture, Practice, Television

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Hallo Freunde!

Erinnert ihr euch an meinen ersten Blogpost? Back in Dezember, I wrote about the season premiere of the new German TV show Neo Magazin mit Jan Böhmermann. Things started off with a bang with an amazing musical number, and the episodes to follow did not disappoint (all episodes are archived and viewable at the ZDF Mediathek). For the final episode of the groundbreaking first season, Jan and co. pulled off a stunt to keep people talking about the show during its well-deserved Sommerpause. 

 “Es gibt im deutschen Fernsehen viele Sendungen, denen es nicht so gut geht…”

In the following clip from last week’s season finale, Jan begins by explaining how in the world of German television there are many shows that aren’t doing so well. He then introduces a new element to the show to join bits like “Prism is a Dancer” and (my favorite) “Das Digitale Quartett” – the Neo Magazin Fernsehnothilfe, or, Television Emergency Relief. His chosen beneficiary for the first installment of Fernsehnothilfe? None other than German television titan Stefan Raab. Herr Raab is host of the ever popular talk show TV Total, which Jan claims has been on so long that the producers are in need of assistance to keep things fresh after being on the air for fifteen years. And so in order to give the TV Total production team something to talk about, he digs up evidence of Chinese plagiary of Raab’s show… or does he?

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As you can see, Stefan Raab is convinced that a Chinese TV show stole TV Total’s game segment “Blamieren oder Kassieren” (approx. “Disgrace or Cash-in”). “Wusstest du, dass das, was wir machen hier, zum Teil um den Globus geht, ohne dass wir ein einziges Mal gefragt werden?”  - “Did you know that what we do here sometimes goes around the globe, without us being asked a single time?” – He goes on to show the TV Total audience the clip of the Chinese ripoff, shocked by their audacity.

Only then does Herr Böhmermann reveal that the entire plagiarism was in fact pulled off by his team at Neo Magazin. “In China kennt euch leider keine Sau” – “Unfortunately nobody in China knows who you are”. Beginning at 5:26, we see a “making of”, which illustrates how the Chinese production was actually made in front of a green screen in Cologne.

Wir wollen einfach, dass unsere Ideen ins große Fernsehen kommen. Wenn schon die Sendung bei Neo bleibt, dann sollen die Ideen wenigstens strahlen, über Neo hinaus.

Just like with the series’s opening musical number, much of Neo Magazin’s first season has been devoted to playful self-deprecation of its belonging to the “Spartensender” channel ZDF Neo. As Jan ironically explains in the quote above, the program should not limit its ambition by only producing content for its own show. If it needs to send in a trojan horse to get on channels with higher viewership like TV Total’s home ProSieben, then that’s just what they need to do. And it seems to have worked! The final episode of the season was viewed by three times as many people as any other episode, and next week Neo Magazin will be decorated with a Grimme Preis, a prestigious award in German television. Gut gemacht!

Was meint ihr? Were you able to follow along with the video?

Bis bald,


“Amsel” – Übersetzgesungen brings you a German take on The Beatles’ “Blackbird”

Posted on 26. Mar, 2014 by in Language, Music


Hallo Freunde!

After receiving a few requests to do something by the Beatles, I decided to give “Blackbird” a try for this week’s episode of Übersetzgesungen. The Beatles are no strangers to Germany or the German language. When the band started, they performed sets in Hamburg almost every night for a span of about two years. They even went on to release singles auf Deutsch

Translating “Blackbird” into “Amsel” once again gave me a new perspective on a song I thought I had already known pretty well. Until now, I hadn’t really thought of the song as actually being sung to a bird. It’s almost as if Paul is being kept up by a bird chirping all night and wrote this song to encourage the bird to go away so he could get some sleep. In my early version of “Amsel”, I actually began by singing “An die Amsel, die singt, mitten in der Nacht:”as though it were a letter written to the bird.

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Fun fact! Amsel is one of the first words I learned upon arriving in Germany. It’s my friend Carl’s favorite kind of bird.

  • “Blackbird singing in the dead of night” – “Amsel, die da singt, mitten in der Nacht”

It was hard for me to alter the rhythm of one of the most famous opening lines to any song, but I had to do it in order to fit ten syllables into the place of nine. After practicing it, however, I kind of like how the Am- of Amsel is pushed in front of the guitar. I’m not sure how well it works when I change the emphasis of the word, though. I also opted for “middle of the night” instead of “dead of night”, not having found a good translation for “dead of night”.

  • “Take these broken wings and learn to fly” – “Nimm diese gebrochnen Flügel, lern zu fliegen”

This line was fairly easy to directly translate. Flügel is a pretty good word, isn’t it? Also, you may have noticed that “gebrochnen” is missing an e. Sometimes in poetry you just have to squish words together to get them to work!

  • “All your life” - “Dein Leben lang

A more direct translation would have been “Alle dein Leben”, but that didn’t sound as nice to me as “Dein Leben lang”, which literally means “Your life long”, but sounds less clunky in German.

  • “You were only waiting for this moment to arrive” - “Hast du drauf gewartet, dass dieser Moment kommt”

Here I decided to omit Sir Paul’s “only” in order to fit with the rhythm. Otherwise this translated smoothly. Of course there’s a comma in the German translation, as pretty much any time a second verb comes into play, the grammar of the sentence needs to get more complex. Note that this line finishes the sentence started by the preceding lyric, just like in the original.

  • “Take these sunken eyes and learn to see” - “Nimm diese versunkenen Augen, lern zu sehen”

Again this sentence translated nicely. I just needed to bump up the word “Nimm” to place “diese” on the beat where Sir Paul sings “Take”.

  • “You were only waiting for this moment to be free” – “Hast du drauf gewartet, endlich frei zu sein”

Here I added the word “endlich”which means “finally”. My translation literally means “You waited to finally be free.” Unfortunately I had to get rid of any mention of “this moment” in order to keep with the rhythm. I think it still works though!

  • “Blackbird, fly” – “Amsel, flieg”
  • “Into the light of the dark black night” - “In das licht der dunklen schwarzen Nacht”

Surprisingly, this line translated smoothly with the cunning use of the genative case. In case you’re unfamiliar with the Genativ, that “der” actually indicates possession, allowing the “licht” to belong to the “Nacht”, which is, of course, “dunkel” and “schwarz”.

Danke und auf Wiedersingen!