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“Herzschläge” – Übersetzgesungen Episode 4: Mickey covers José Gonzalez covering The Knife Posted by on Apr 15, 2014 in Music, Practice

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

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?

  • “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!


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About the Author: mickeymickey

Mickey was born in 1987 in Chicago, IL. He plays the oboe and loves Calvin & Hobbes. His favorite Beatles song is "Something", but his favorite Beatles album is A Hard Day's Night.


  1. Herr Foust:


    Thanks for a little insight on your translation process. I had a question about the line “A night full of magical rush”. You had translated it “Eine Nacht voll magischem Rausch.” Typically, when ‘full of’ is being indicated by ‘voll’, doesn’t ‘voll’ get added on the end of the adjective or noun? Would it be wrong to say, “Eine Nacht magischvollem Rausch” ??

    Or, is it just a matter of preference?


  2. Name (required):

    To answer your question Herr Foust, I don’t think you can say “Eine Nacht magischvollem Rauch”. There is no such adjective like “magischvoll”. If you want to use the suffix -voll, you will have to use the noun “die Magie” and turn it into something like “magievoll”, although in this instance I would prefer the suffix -reich, “magienreich” (I am a German native speaker). “Magienreich” could be used, still sounds a bit funny and complicated to me. It’s just more natural to express the “full of” meaning with the preposition “voll” or “voller” which both take the genitive (more common) and the dative: “voll magischen Rauchs” is the genitive version or “voll magischem Rauch” the dative one. Hope that helps.