8 Popular German Nursery Rhymes with English Translations (+videos)

German Nursery Rhymes with English Translations TW

Learning Kinderreime (nursery rhymes in German) can serve several purposes. Both children and adults find them useful.

Bilingual parents can help children adopt German culture and language using nursery rhymes, while adults can gain important insight into German vocabulary and cultural mentality. 

Few children, whether native speakers or learners, are unfamiliar with rhymes like Eins, Zwei, Papagei and Hoppe hoppe Reiter. Rammstein used the latter as inspiration for their hit song “Spieluhr” (Music Box).

In this article, we will go through some of the most popular German nursery rhymes. 

Eins, zwei, Papagei

There are many variations of Eins, zwei, Papagei for children. It’s even been made into hit songs. German pop bands Mo-Do and S.W.A.T. have used the version Eins, zwei, Polizei.

Eins, zwei, Papagei (parrot)
drei, vier, Grenadier (grenadier or infantryman)

fünf, sechs, alte Hex' (witch)
sieben, acht, Kaffee gemacht (make coffee)

neun, zehn, weiter geh'n (go on)
elf, zwölf, junge Wölf' (young wolf)

dreizehn, vierzehn, Haselnuss (hazelnut)
fünfzehn, sechzehn, du bist duss. (duss = dumb = you are dumb)

You can listen to the rhyme below.

Hoppe Hoppe Reiter

The words to Hoppe hoppe Reiter aren’t a whole lot lighter than the Rammstein hit. What is more, this is no exception. Some German nursery rhymes are on the dark and violent side, as are many German fairy tales.

Hoppe hoppe Reiter (Bumpety bump, rider)
Wenn er fällt, dann schreit er,

When he falls, he screeches
fällt er in den Teich,

if he falls in the pond
find't ihn keiner gleich.

Nobody will find him soon.
Hoppe hoppe Reiter

Bumpety bump, rider
wenn er fällt, dann schreit er,

when he falls, he screeches
fällt er in den Graben,

if he falls in a ditch
fressen ihn die Raben.

The ravens will eat him.
Hoppe hoppe Reiter

Bumpety bump, rider
wenn er fällt, dann schreit er,

when he falls, he screeches
fällt er in den Sumpf,

if he falls in the swamp
dann macht der Reiter... Plumps! (Kind "fallen lassen")
then the rider goes... splash! (reader "drops" child)

Have a listen to the rhyme below.

Admittedly, Spieluhr’s lyrics are somewhat darker. Here’s an excerpt:

Ein kleiner Mensch stirbt nur zum Schein, wollte ganz allein sein.
A little person died only seemingly, he wanted to be completely alone.

Das kleine Herz stand still fur Stunden
​​​​The small heart stood still for hours

Man hat es für tot befunden
It was assumed dead.

Es wird verscharrt in nassem Sand
It was buried in the wet sand.

Mit einer Spieluhr in der Hand.
With a music box in its hand.

Chorus excerpt:

Nur der Regen weint am Grab
Only the rain cries at the grave

eine Melodie im Wind
a melody in the wind

und aus der Erde singt das Kind
And the child sings from the earth.

When someone heard the music box, they discovered the child was alive.  

Germany has its fair share of dark bedtime stories too. These include Struwwelpeter, a child who continues playing with matches despite multiple warnings and ultimately burns to death.

There is a story about a child whose thumbs are cut off because he won’t stop sucking them. There is also one about a picky eater who starves to death. 

The most notable are those in Max und Moritz: A Rascals History in Seven Tricks by Wilhelm Busch. The collection is full of cruel and brutal “tricks”. 

In the 4th trick, some boys break into their teacher’s home and put gunpowder in his favorite pipe. When he lights the pipe, he’s knocked unconscious by the blast, which burns all his hair and blackens his skin. The story ends thus:

Mit der Zeit wird alles heil, nur die Pfeife hat ihr Teil.
Time that comes will quick repair; yet the pipe retains its share.

In the sixth trick, The Baker, the title character catches two children trying to steal pretzels from his bakery and bakes them in his oven wrapped in delicious dough. They manage to escape by eating through their crusts.

Check out the 7th and final trick, The Farmer, for a bedtime story so terrifying it could rival any 18+ horror film.

Alle meine Entchen

On with our nursery rhymes. Alle meine Entchen (all my ducklings) is another popular one. There’s also a techno version for grownups.

Alle meine Entchen
All my ducklings

schwimmen auf dem See
swim in the lake

Köpfchen in das Wasser,
Heads in the water

Schwänzchen in die Höh'.
Bottoms raised up high

Alle meine Täubchen
All my doves

sitzen auf dem Dach
sit on the roof

Klipper, klapper, klapp, klapp,
Clapperty clap clap clap

fliegen übers Dach.
Fly over the roof.

Ri ra Rutsch
Ri ra slip

Wir fahren mit der Kutsch'
We travel on the coach

Wir fahren mit der Schneckenpost,
We travel with the snail mail

wo es keinen Pfennig kost'
​​​​It doesn’t cost a dime.

Ri ra Rutsch
Ri ra slip

Listen to the rhyme below.

Himpelchen und Pimpelchen

I get the impression you can’t hear anything because Himpelchen and Pimpelchen died. Maybe it’s just me. Do you agree?

Himpelchen und Pimpelchen,
Himpelchen and Pimpelchen

stiegen auf einen Berg.
Climbed up a mountain.

Himpelchen war ein Heinzelmann,
Himpelchen was a household spirit

und Pimpelchen war ein Zwerg.
and Pimpelchen was a dwarf

Sie blieben lange da oben sitzen
They stayed up there long

und wackelten mit den Zipfelmützen.
Wagging (shaking) their nightcaps

Doch nach fünfundsiebzig Wochen
75 weeks later

sind sie in den Berg gekrochen,
they crawled into the mountain

schlafen da in guter Ruh,
Sleeping there tranquilly

seid mal still und hört ihnen zu!
Be quiet and listen carefully!
(Schnarch, schnarch...) [sound of snoring]

Listen here.

Pitsch und Patsch

Also known as the Penguin song, this rhyme is dedicated to the ceaseless German rain.

Pitsch und Patsch!
Pitsch and Patsch!

Der Regen macht die Haare nass.
The rain wets the hair.

Tropft von der Nase auf den Mund
Dripping from the nose down to the mouth

und von dem Mund auf das Kinn
and from the mouth to the chin

und von dem Kinn dann auf den Bauch.
And from the chin to the tummy.

Dort ruht der Regen sich jetzt aus
Yet, the rain subsides

und springt mit einem großen Satz
and with a giant leap

auf die Erde. Patsch!
reaches the earth. Patsch!

Have a listen below.

Fuchs, du hast die Gans gestohlen

There has been an interesting recent development around this popular rhyme, which introduces the concepts of crime and punishment to children.

After a vegan woman's persistent complaining, the German town of Limburg took the song out of rotation in the city hall's belfry. The anonymous woman, who worked in the area of the mechanical carillon (a set of bells), submitted a complaint to the mayor of the town. 

According to the "Frankfurter Neue Presse", the woman was distressed by the words about the hunter getting the fox with his gun. However, the mayor of Limburg denied this, saying she was simply annoyed about having to hear the chimes a few times a day, every day.

Fuchs, du hast die Gans gestohlen,
​​​​Fox, you've stolen the goose

Gib sie wieder her!
Give it back!

Sonst wird dich der Jäger holen
If not, the hunter will get you

Mit dem Schießgewehr,
With his gun,

Sonst wird dich der Jäger holen
If not, the hunter will get you

Mit dem Schießgewehr.
With his gun.

Seine große, lange Flinte,
His big, long shotgun

Schießt auf dich den Schrot,
Will fire a shot at you,

Schießt auf dich den Schrot,
Will fire a shot at you,

Daß dich färbt die rote Tinte,
You’ll be colored red,

Und dann bist du tot.
And then you’re dead.

Daß dich färbt die rote Tinte,
You’ll be colored red,

Und dann bist du tot.
And then you’re dead.

Liebes Füchslein, laß dir raten:
Dear little fox, let me advise you:

Sei doch nur kein Dieb,
Don't be a thief,

Sei doch nur kein Dieb,
Don't be a thief,

Nimm, du brauchst nicht Gänsebraten, 
Don't take the roast goose, you don’t need it

Mit der Maus vorlieb.
Be content with the mouse.

Nimm, du brauchst nicht Gänsebraten, 
Don't take the roast goose, you don’t need it

Mit der Maus vorlieb.
Be content with the mouse.

Listen to the rhyme in the video below. 

Es war einmal ein Mann

This is the story of a man who was never satisfied with anything. Read about his quest for happiness. How will it end?

Es war einmal ein Mann,
There once was a man

der hatte einen Schwamm.
who had a sponge.

Der Schwamm war ihm zu nass,
The sponge was too wet for him,

da ging er auf die Gass'.
So he went into an alley.

Die Gass' war ihm zu kalt,
The alley was too cold for him,

da ging er in den Wald.
So he went into the woods.

Der Wald war ihm zu grün,
The woods were too green for him,

da ging er nach Berlin.
So he went to Berlin.

Berlin war ihm zu voll,
Berlin was too crowded for him,

da ging er nach Tirol.
So he went to Tirol.

Tirol war ihm zu klein,
Tirol was too small for him,

da ging er wieder heim.
So he went back home.

Daheim war's ihm zu nett,
Home was too nice for him,

da legte er sich ins Bett.
So he went to bed.

Im Bett war 'ne Maus,
There was a mouse in his bed,

'drum ist die Geschichte aus.
And that’s the end of the story.

Alternate ending:

Im Bett war eine Maus -
There was a mouse in his bed -

das Weit're denkt euch selber aus!
Make the rest up yourself!

You can listen to children singing and reciting it.

Ringel, Ringel, Reihe

Our final choice is the German version of "Ring Around the Rosie". An oriental-themed song with the same title is on the soundtrack of Underground, the groundbreaking film by legendary Serbian filmmaker Emir Kusturica.

Ringel, Ringel, Reihe,
Ring around the rosie

Sind wir Kinder dreie,
A pocketful of posies

Sitzen unterm Hollerbusch,
"Ashes, ashes"

Schreien alle husch, husch, husch!
We all fall down!

Literal Translation
Ringlet, ringlet, row

We are children three
Sitting under the elderberry bush
All yelling shoo, shoo, shoo!

Listen to the rhyme below. 

Thank you for reading our article about German nursery rhymes and their translations. We hope you found it informative and enjoyable. Anything special pique your interest? Please let us know in the comments section down below!


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About the Author Daniela Kirova

Daniela Kirova is a German and English language teacher, translator, and copywriter. She finished school in the US and holds degrees in English / German linguistics and psychology.