How well do you know German proverbs? In these exclusive illustrations by Antje Herzog, DW presents a collection of wise old sayings that you’ll still hear regularly in Germany today.
Watch Antje Herzog at work in this time-lapse video of one of the illustrations in the series, which is updated weekly with a new proverb.
Do you know which proverb she’s drawing in the video? If not, you’ll find it in the gallery above.
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Permalink Media Go behind the scenes of DW’s illustrated proverbs project
Did you know that there are about 250,000 proverbs in the German language, and that each proverb averages seven words?
Renowned expert Wolfgang Mieder spoke with DW’s Kate Müser about what differentiates a proverb from a slogan and why his very favorite English expression would never work in German. Here’s the interview.
Click on the audio links below this article to listen to the pronunciation of eaach proverb, as spoken by voice artist Stephan Kaiser.
We asked you to share your favorite German proverbs as well, and here’s what you sent.
No, not everything that glitters is gold. That even applies to shiny yellow garden gnomes which may have been subjected to embarrassingly cheap production methods. While this specimen seems to be saying, “Screw clichés,” traditional proverbs, on the other hand, hold timeless wisdom. And no matter how wise this particular gnome (sculpture by Ottmar Hörl) happens to be, he’s still not made of gold.
Indeed, it’s better to have a sparrow in your hand than a dove on the roof, according to this German proverb. In other words, be happy with what you’ve got, even if it’s not that spectacular. Like many proverbs, this one contains a vague reference to the Bible, which states in the book of Luke: “You are worth more than many sparrows.”
Germans are known for being punctual. But this proverb takes that trait a step further: “Five minutes ahead of schedule is a German’s punctuality.” It’s true: Many in Germany do tend to overdo it. If you go into a shop five minutes before closing time, you might not get served.
In English, practice makes perfect. In German, it makes you a master. Which would you prefer to be? If you’re running a marathon, it doesn’t matter, as long as you take first place.
“Whoever digs a pit for others will fall into it themselves,” according to this classic proverb. Here’s another Bible-based saying (Proverbs 26:7) that reminds us to treat others the way we would like to be treated. If not, you may not find anyone who’s willing to heave you out of the pit – or scrape you off the floor.
Though the proverb “Don’t throw pearls to the pigs” became widespread in German with Martin Luther’s translation of the Bible in the 16th century, the saying may date back to Antiquity. In the Byzantine Modern Greek churches, pearls were considered a synonym for the holy communion bread. In any case, the bottom line is: Don’t waste the good stuff on those who don’t appreciate it. Oink!
Author: Kate Müser
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