Jokes in German: Your Guide to Understanding German Humor, From Puns to State Official Jokes
In German, Witze (jokes) can go a long way to lighten the mood.
Some German jokes are based on sentence construction, while others rely on wordplay or on the way that certain regions pronounce words.
All in all, learning German jokes is a fun(ny) way to get insight into language and culture.
You’ll also pick up some new, memorable vocabulary along the way!
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Bauernregeln Witze (Farmer’s Lore Jokes)
One classic type of German joke is the Bauernregeln Witze.
At first, these jokes seem like pithy sayings about farming or the weather, but then they devolve into punchlines or innuendo. They’re jokes disguised as proverbs.
Here are two examples of Bauernregeln Witze, taken from this list on an Austrian news site:
Wenn der Hahn kräht auf dem Mist, dann ändert sich das Wetter, oder es bleibt wie es ist.
If the rooster crows on the dung heap, then the weather will shift—or stay the same.
Herrscht am Abend Sonnenschein, wird er nicht von Dauer sein.
If there’s sunshine in the evening, it shan’t last long.
Despite these jokes being a bit old-fashioned, a lot of people still write their own versions and share them online.
Beamtenwitze (Jokes About State Officials)
Most cultures have jokes that make fun of “the man,” and German culture is no exception.
In German, there are plenty of jokes relating to business and bureaucracy. These jokes often refer to Beamte (state officials). You can get started with this list of 25 jokes, and even more can be found by searching for “Beamtenwitze” on Google.
Here’s an example from Witze.net, a joke aggregator:
Drei in einem Büro und einer arbeitet? Zwei Beamte und ein Ventilator!
Three in the office, and one is working? Two state officials and a fan!
Mantawitze (Manta Jokes)
German has a rotating staple of stock joke characters which appear frequently. Aside from the Beamte, there’s also the Manta driver, the butt of so-called Mantawitze.
A Manta is a type of German car, and the Manta owners in these jokes are notorious for being dumb and obnoxious. If you search for “Mantawitze” on YouTube, you can see this joke character in action.
An example of a Mantawitze can be found on WitzCharts.de:
Ein Mantafahrer hat auf seinem Beifahrersitz einen Papagei sitzen und das Fenster offen. Er hält an der roten Ampel neben einem Mercedes. Der Fahrer des Mercedes kurbelt sein Fenster ebenfalls runter und fragt: “Kann der auch sprechen?” Darauf der Papagei: “Weiß ich doch nicht!”
A Manta driver has a parrot in the passenger’s seat and his window open. He stops at a red light next to a Mercedes. The driver of the Mercedes lowers his window and asks, “Can that thing talk?” The parrot answers: “I don’t know!”
In German, puns are known as Wortspiele, roughly translated as “wordplay.”
German words can be punned in many different ways. For example, puns can be created by using the differing meanings of compound verbs. Sound-alike puns are also popular in advertisements, just like in the States.
For a fun list of German puns, check out this list of “Schlechte Wortspiele” on Bild.de, which includes this great example:
Egal wie viele CDs du hast, Carl Benz hat Mercedes.
Not matter how many CDs you have, Carl Benz has more CDs/Carl Benz has Mercedes; Mercedes sounds the same as mehr CDs (more CDs).
German punning is quite similar to typical English punning. However, simply translating a pun that works in English into German may not work due to German’s own grammar constraints and word meanings.
Actually, Germans have a special word for especially bad jokes and puns: Kalauer . This word is for the particularly face-palming types of wordplay.
Here are some examples of German puns for your entertainment!
Native German Puns
1. Wenn es Häute regnet, wird das Leder billig.
Translation: When it rains skins, leather becomes cheap.
Punny effect: Häute vs. heute
Ignoring the horrific image, this phrase is a play on the very similar-sounding words heute (today) and Häute (skin).
Without the clarification, you’d think the first half of the phrase translates to “When it rains today,” an innocuous start that makes the second half bemusing.
2. Warum sind Seeräuber so schlecht in Mathe? Weil sie Pi raten.
Translation: Why were the pirates so bad at math? Because they guess pi.
Punny effect: Pi raten vs. Piraten
While Seeräuber , which literally translates to “sea raiders” or “sea robbers,” equates to pirates, it turns out that they can also be referred to as Piraten in German. That leads to this pun.
Raten means “to guess,” which isn’t really the thing to do if you want to succeed in mathematics.
Punny effect: Ber- from Berlin vs. Bär (bear)
City names are also commonly pun-nified, though some can be more fitting than others. Bärlin can act as a pun for the German capital city of Berlin, and it works very well because Berlin’s flag features a black bear.
Bärlin, however, does not actually translate to anything. As you’d expect, this pun is popular; there are plenty of German businesses, merchandise and advertisements that make use of it.
4. Zwei Deutschlehrer treffen sich am Strand. Sagt der eine “Genitiv ins Wasser!” Sagt der andere, “Ist es da tief?”
Translation: Two German teachers meet at the beach. Says one, “Genitive in the water!” Said the other, “Is it deep there?”
Punny effect: Geh nie tief → Genitiv , da tief → Dativ
You probably already know about the four German cases, genitive and dative being two of them. This is a pun based on similar pronunciation. One may initially hear “Geh nie tief ins Wasser” (“Never go deep into the water”) making “Ist es da tief?” (“Is it deep there?”) a sensible response.
But the pun-ster may just as smoothly replace Geh nie tief with Genitiv (genitive) and da tief with Dativ (dative). The pun is a formidable one that may take a few seconds to get, and it’ll strike any German teacher’s funny bone.
5. Treffen sich zwei Jäger. Beide tot.
Translation: Two hunters meet. Both dead.
Punny effect: Sich treffen
Treffen is a verb that can either mean “to meet” or “to hit,” and you can imagine how it can lead to amusing phrases like this pun.
You may be concerned that you’d run into this double-meaning issue when speaking German, but don’t worry too much about it. As you can see from puns, context matters a lot.
6. Du hast / Du hasst
Translation: You have / You hate
Any fans of the German rock band Rammstein would know their iconic hit “Du Hast” by heart.
Besides being a song you must jam to, “Du Hast” is well-known for being an intentional wordplay of two German conjugated verbs: hast (have) from haben , and hasst (hate) from hassen . So, without any written context, one can hear Du hast (You have) or Du hasst (You hate).
It also helps that much of the song’s lyrics are simply “Du, du hast, du hast mich.” The clarification comes later with the line “Du hast mich gefragt” (“you asked me”), but the dark mood of the song makes either Du hast or Du hasst quite viable. Give it a listen and don’t resist the urge to rock out!
7. Wie nennt man eine Gruppe von Wolfen? Wolfgang.
Translation: What do you call a group of wolves? Wolfgang.
Punny effect: Wolfgang (Wolf + Gang ) vs. Wolfgang (classic name)
The word for “gang” is the same in German (die Gang ). Wolfgang is a common German name that fans of Mozart are surely familiar with.
The name Wolfgang appears to be a combination of Wolf (wolf) and gang (travel / path), so the name itself would mean something like “traveling wolf.”
So, this is a simple pun that might get a smile or an eye-roll out of any German speaker.
8. Arme haben Beine. Beine haben keine Arme; arme Beine!
Translation: Arms have legs. Legs have no arms; poor legs!
Punny effect: die Arme vs. arme
The phrase is nonsensical in meaning (arms don’t have legs) but its repetitive nature makes it quite fun to say.
Arme means “arms” but as an adjective, it means “poor” or “pitiful.” Without knowing that, you’d think the speaker was speaking some kind of magic spell about “arms legs.”
If anything, this phrase is a good reminder to be careful with German homonyms.
9. Egal wie dicht du bist, Goethe war Dichter.
Translation: No matter how thick you are, Goethe was a poet.
Punny effect: dichter vs. der Dichter
There’s a slew of German puns that follow this Egal wie (“No matter how…”) structure.
Turns out, there are a number of comparative forms of German verbs that sound like completely unrelated words. Like in English, many comparative forms of German verbs take on an –er ending. The innocent souls would assume that dichter (thicker), the comparative form of dicht (thick), was being said in this pun, but (der) Dichter translates to “poet,” which Johann Wolfgang von Goethe certainly was.
Bilingual German-English Puns
German-English puns are plentiful, helped by the fact that there are many cognates between the two languages.
Many punny German advertisements are actually English-German bilingual puns and incorporate some kind of English text. That’s because many German natives have good knowledge of English.
There are too many bilingual puns to count, so in an act of mercy, we’ll only present five.
1. “Kau, Boy!”
This is from a German-based McDonald’s that featured a Western sauce burger.
Kau means “chew” in German. Of course, the whole phrase sounds like the English word “cowboy”!
2. “We kehr for you.”
This is from Berlin’s waste management company, and it plays on the English word “care” and the German verb kehren (to sweep).
This clever pun expresses how the company looks out for citizens, as well as their actual duty of cleaning up the streets.
3. “No matter how kind you are, German children are always kinder.”
Kinder is German for “children,” so yes, they certainly are always Kinder!
To actually say someone is kind in German, you can use the adjectives nett or gütig .
4. “The Apfel doesn’t abfällt too far from the tree.”
This is a play on the famous saying “The apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree.” Apfel (apple) sounds quite like abfällt (past participle of the verb abfallen , to fall).
In German, the whole phrase would be Der Apfel fällt nicht weit vom Stamm ab .
5. “A German built a bathroom around his table. Bad um Tisch.”
This is based on the onomatopoeia for the drum sting: ba dum tss, well-known as the ending sound for a particularly bad joke.
In German, (das) Bad is “bathroom,” (der) Tisch means “table,” and um means “around.” So, Bad um Tisch suggests something like “bathroom around table.”
Reading comics is another entertaining way to learn German, and funny comics can specifically add that extra pizzazz to language study.
While you can search for comics to order on Amazon.de, there are plenty of German webcomic artists online who create “funny papers.” These comics often feature punchlines and one-liners that are jokes.
Here are a few webcomics worth checking out:
- NICHTLUSTIG – Translated as “not funny,” it’s much funnier than its name would suggest.
- Katz & Goldt – This features longer comics with deadpan humor.
Looking for more? Check out Webcomic-Verzeichnis, a German webcomic aggregator!
Memes and Humor Lists
BuzzFeed has a huge presence online–not only in English-speaking countries, but also in German.
Even beyond English articles translated into German, Buzzfeed has Germany-themed lists with jokes about German culture.
If you haven’t had enough of memes, just look up memes on Buzzfeed Germany, and it’ll bring up many, many image lists.
Of course, if BuzzFeed’s not your style, then you can always check out these other places to find German-language memes.
Getting to Know German Humor
Now that we’ve gone through different types of German jokes, you probably understand German humor a bit better!
Years ago, a comedian suggested in The Guardian that German jokes seem impenetrable to English speakers because of the structure of the German language.
That opinion piece was later called out in a Language Log post. They suggested that the cultural context and the foibles of wordplay instead dictate the difficulty of translating German jokes.
Luckily, whether it’s a matter of German sentence structure, wordplay or culture, jokes in German can be understood by students of the language.
All of these difficulties can be overcome.
At its core, a lot of German humor isn’t all that different from the humor of other countries and languages.
Germans like to laugh at silly mistakes, and self-depreciation is popular.
In Germany, there are satirical jokes, jokes that make jibes at specific people and even Dadaist jokes that are funny for their lack of humor (a la the English classic “No Soap Radio”). There’s a lot to discover in German humor.
If one particular type of joke doesn’t tickle your funny bone, you can move on to the next.
At the very least, even if it’s not your style of humor, you’ll get what’s going on when a German speaker tries to crack a joke during conversation.
Where to Find More German Jokes
You can find a great number of jokes just by searching for the name of the type of joke you’re looking for ion Google. If you type “Bauernregeln Witze” into Google, for example, you’ll see websites devoted to lists of these jokes—though be mindful that some sites might just offer weather advice!
Once you’ve exhausted your options on Google, don’t forget to search on other channels. “Witz,” “lustig” and other comedy-related terms can be searched on YouTube and TikTok, as well.
Even searching in English for “German comedy” can bring up practical joke shows, clips from German TV and even jokester YouTubers.
Another resource is FluentU. It’s a language learning program that teaches German using authentic videos featuring native speakers, like commercials, news clips and music videos. This can let you hear a range of German vocabulary usage, including real jokes and puns.
Plus, FluentU’s interactive subtitles in German and English translate the words used, including slang, to make these videos accessible for learners at all levels.
Check out this list of humorous online resources for more funny German hotspots.
How to Learn German with Jokes
So, German jokes are funny, but how are they helpful for language learners?
They can be useful in several ways:
1. Translate German jokes into English.
Firstly, is the literal translation funny?
Understanding why the joke might be funny to another culture is a task in and of itself. If you want to take things further, you can try and localize the joke—change it until it becomes something humorous in English. Bonus points if a non-German speaker chuckles at your translation.
For example, Bauernregeln Witze always rhymes—can you mimic this style with your translation and still retain the joke’s meaning?
2. Take note of sound-alike words when learning vocabulary.
Sometimes these are false friends, words that seem to be loan words but are instead wholly unrelated. Try using these to make up bilingual jokes. Here’s one famous German-English joke:
What would Freud say comes between fear and sex? Fünf!
3. Create your own jokes.
While writing a German knock-knock joke has its own appeal, try creating jokes within the bounds of typical German jokes. Maybe you can create your own Bauernregeln Witz about the futility of student loans or pun your way with a finely-crafted Wortspiel.
The German humor never has to end!
Keep laughing your way through German, and you’ll never get tired of your study routine.
Download: This blog post is available as a convenient and portable PDF that you can take anywhere. Click here to get a copy. (Download)