Following on from my post on Rammstein, here is another sing-a-long special.
Kraftwerk are probably the most critically acclaimed and influential group to come out of Germany. They often released their songs in both German and English versions, and like most British people I have become familiar with the latter versions.
Here I will look at some of their German lyrics, focusing on the choruses and the pronunciation so you can sing along in authentic Deutsch.
This single from the “Man Machine” album has a simple chorus which sounds fairly similar in both languages.
Wir sind die Roboter
We are the robots
The letter ‘w’ becomes a /v/ sound in German, so Wir sounds a bit like We’re (the contraction of ‘We are’) but starting with a /v/.
The letter s at the start of a word becomes /z/, so the second word sounds like zint.
For roboter keep the ‘o’ sounds short and avoid the temptation to make an English ‘oh’ sound (I don’t think this exists in German). Also notice how the –er ending sounds quite similar to English, but it is formed slightly higher in the mouth.
So the chorus is something like: ve’re zint dee roboter
Or if you understand phonetic symbols: vi:ɐ̯ zɪnt di: ˈrɔbɔtɐ
SONG 2: AUTOBAHN (1975)
This song, Kraftwerk’s breakthrough hit, is one of the few that doesn’t have an English version. For many years I assumed they were singing ‘Fun, fun, fun…’, only now have I finally realised that they sing ‘Fahren, fahren, fahren…’. The verb fahren means to drive.
Wir fahren, fahren, fahren auf de Autobahn
We drive, drive, drive on the motorway
However, it does sound like ‘fun’ and I still think it is a reference to the Beach Boys song ‘Fun, Fun, Fun’ from 1964.
German has long and short vowels, but then so does English.
The short German /a/ is similar to the short English ‘a’ in ‘man’, but even shorter.
The long German /a:/ is similar to the long English ‘a’ in ‘car’.
If a vowel is followed by a (silent) h then it is long so ‘bahn’ sounds like ‘barn’.
Die Bahn can mean path, way or railway.
However, the diphthong ‘au’ sounds similar to ‘ow’ as in ‘cow’.
So die Autobahn sounds something like /Ow-toe-barn/.
Fahren, like the infinitive of all German verbs (except to be) ends in –en. However the e before the n is hardly pronounced. On the lyrics translate version it is actually written fahr’n to reflect this.
SONG 3: EUROPA ENDLOS (1977)
The English version of this song is called ‘Europe Endless’.
The German diphthongs ‘eu’ and ‘äu’ create an ‘oy’ sound like in ‘boy’.
The ‘o’ is long in Europa but short in Endlos, so the refrain sounds something like /oy-roh-pe endlos/.
Other words that include the ‘oy’ sound include: neu (new), ein Euro (one Euro) and Fräulein (Miss). Also Räuber (robber – remember this song?).
There is clearly potential to get confused between the ‘au’ (an ‘ow’ sound – see above) and the ‘äu’. Many German nouns change between these to distinguish between singular and plural.
Der Traum, die Träume – the dream(s)
Der Baum, die Bäume – the tree(s)
Die Maus, die Mäuse – the mouse (mice)
For more detail on German pronunciation I recommend this site: