“Happy Birthday” in German: Festive Words and Expressions for Celebrating Like the Locals!

Did you know that Germans actually started the modern birthday celebration?

Back in the Middle Ages, bakers realized they could make money selling cakes (with candles) for children’s birthdays. The rise of the Kinderfest began then spread all over the world.

Today, there are several important words and expressions for saying happy birthday in German, which I’ll show you in this article.

I’ll also explain how to sing the German “Happy Birthday” song!


How to Say Happy Birthday in German


1. Alles Gute zum Geburtstag!

Meaning: All the best on your birthday!

This is hands-down the most standard of birthday wishes. It’s the one you’ll see and hear the most often and is also sometimes shortened to simply Alles Gute

You can’t go wrong using this one across the board when wishing friends, family, neighbors and colleagues a happy day. If you choose just one phrase to remember, this would be it!

2. Herzlichen Glückwunsch zum Geburtstag!  

Meaning: Heartfelt congratulations on your birthday!

This birthday wish sounds a bit warmer in nature but still a good standard for most birthday recipients. Herzlich literally means “heartful.”

It’s slightly more formal than the previous one, and is one you’d probably use with an acquaintance or your employer—in general, with someone you aren’t extremely close to. 

3. Nachträglich alles Gute zum Geburtstag  

Meaning: Happy belated birthday

Even the most thoughtful of us can miss out on wishing someone a happy birthday. German rules nevertheless do allow you to send good wishes post-birthday and, thankfully, no bad omens are attached to this one.

If you have a closer look, you’ll notice that for this one, all you have to do is add Nachträglich at the beginning of the very first phrase we covered. 

4. Viel Glück zum Geburtstag!  

Meaning: Best of luck on your birthday!

This is an easy, breezy birthday wish that can also be spread far and wide to anyone. There’s a bit more of a casual tone with this one, so it’s a safe one to use for someone from work, for example. 

You will notice that this is the phrase that is used in the German version of the happy birthday song (see below)! Viel Glück means “good luck,” which is another useful phrase to remember in general. 

5. Alles Liebe zum Geburtstag  

Meaning: Much love on your birthday

This birthday wish is a bit more personal. I suspect the word Liebe (love) probably clued you into that. For this one, all you have to do is replace Gute from the standard phrase to Liebe

Reserve this one for your family, partners, spouses, close friends and for those you love the most. 

6. Von Herzen alles Gute zum Geburtstag  

Meaning: From the heart, all the best on your birthday

Anytime the heart is involved, you can believe this wish comes from someplace personal. 

It is a warm and sincere birthday wish, so you don’t have to be best friends or lovers, but do reserve these birthday wishes for someone you care about.

7. Ich wünsche Ihnen ein gesundes und erfolgreiches neues Lebensjahr!

Meaning: I wish you a healthy and prosperous new year of life!

This formal birthday wish is something you’re likely to find on a birthday card—like the one you and your colleagues decided would be good to sign and give to your boss. 

You’ll notice that this is also the first phrase to deviate from the zum Geburtstag pattern, so if you decide to use this one, it’ll take a bit more to remember. 

8. Es lebe das Geburtstagskind!  

Meaning: Long live the birthday child!

This phrase is typically reserved for the young and something you’re likely to hear from Oma (Grandma) and Opa (Grandpa) when celebrating your day.

There’s even a popular song with these exact lyrics, which might help you commit this phrase to memory. There are a couple of versions, one by Manuela and one by Tony Marshall

9. Viel Gesundheit, Glück und Zufriedenheit dem Geburtstagskind  

Meaning: Much health, happiness and contentment for the birthday child

This phrase is also often used among family members.

However, it can come in handy for good friends who sense you might be having a rough time with aging another year… and are looking to bring in some added good cheer.

10. Alles Juute zum Jeburtstaach!  

Meaning: All the best on your birthday!

Oh, and by the way, there also happen to be regional, specific ways to wish someone a happy birthday in Germany.

I live in Köln (Cologne), therefore I’m delighted to share with you how the diehard Kölners like to say happy birthday. It’s spoken in the regional dialect known as Kölsch (which, by the way, also happens to be the name of the local beer).

11. Alles Gute zum [Nummer] Geburtstag   

Meaning: Happy [number] birthday

As you saw above, the main phrase for saying happy birthday is Alles Gute zum Geburtstag.

So when congratulating someone on a particular birthday, or when you want to add their age, you add the ordinal number in dative form between zum and Geburstag

This would be the formula for it:

Alles Gute zum (number/(s)ten) Geburtstag. 

For example:

Alles Gute zum zehnten Geburtstag.
Happy 10th birthday.

Alles Gute zum siebenundzwanzigsten Geburtstag.
Happy 27th birthday.

More Birthday Vocabulary in German


We’ve covered a bit of ground here when it comes to wishing someone a happy birthday in German. But that’s not all you need to know for the celebrations!

Here are some important German nouns and verbs for a great birthday party.

For German words such as these birthday words, it would be helpful to hear how they’re actually used in context by native speakers. 

One way of doing this is through FluentU.

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The Happy Birthday Song in German

It goes without saying, but no birthday would be complete without singing the official “Happy Birthday” song.

The Germans, interestingly enough, often defer to the English version of the song. However, for a truly traditional German birthday experience, it’s a must to learn how to sing it in the local language:

Zum Geburtstag viel Glück! (Happy birthday to you!)

Zum Geburtstag viel Glück! (Happy birthday to you!)

Zum Geburtstag lieber [masculine]/liebe [feminine] _____ (Happy birthday dear _____)

Zum Geburtstag viel Glück! (Happy birthday to you!)

Celebrating Birthdays in Germany


German Birthday Traditions

Globally, Germans have quite the reputation for being “the life of the party,” and birthday celebrations are indeed no exception.

Avoid cultural faux pas by taking note of some German traditions around celebrating one’s birthday:  

  • Superstition prevails—refrain from early birthday wishes. From my American perspective, I’ve been known to give a pre-birthday wish to friends and colleagues who I suspect I might not see on their actual birthday. This is considered a big no-no in Germany. Best to keep those pre-birthday wishes to yourself, lest you be deemed the one to blame should hard luck befall the Geburtstagskind (birthday child).
  • But feel free to start partying the night before! Germans have a little tradition called Reinfeiern (to party into) where you celebrate your birthday the night before and party into its official start. This is serious business, as the Geburtstagskind and all of the guests diligently watch the clock until midnight strikes, at which time they’re allowed to inundate him/her with all sorts of warm wishes for the coming year.
  • Pick up your own birthday tab. Many of us are accustomed to being treated as a guest on our birthday, meaning that friends or family will often cover the costs for birthday celebrations, like the restaurant bill. In Germany, birthdays are your treat. To avoid any potential awkward situations, be sure to bring along enough cash as your friends and family will expect you to pick up the bill!
  • And bring your own birthday cake to work! An office birthday celebration can be quite the affair in Germany. Be prepared for those colleagues you know well (and even those you don’t) to go out of their way to wish you well on your special day. Special note on this one: be sure to show up with your birthday cake in hand—it’s expected and guaranteed to be consumed.

Birthday Milestones in Germany

Like in many other countries, Germany also has some important birthday milestones and also traditions associated with certain birthdays. Here are just a few!

  • 16th birthday — In Northern Germany, you might get flour poured over your head by your friends so you need to run for cover. When you turn sixteen, you can also purchase and drink beer and wine. 
  • 18th birthday — For this birthday, you might find an egg cracked on your head on top of the flour! This is also the birthday when you can purchase liquor, drive and vote, as you’re now legally an adult. 
  • 25th birthday — If you’re single by this birthday, then you might be in trouble. For men, their doors are covered in a garland of socks to indicate that they’re an alte Socke (an old sock) or a bachelor. For women, their doors are laden with all sorts of boxes to show that they’re an alte Schachtel (an old box) or an old maid. 
  • 30th birthday — And if you’re single on this birthday, the trouble continues. If you’re a man, you have to sweep the courthouse steps until a stranger agrees to kiss you (on the cheek is fine). If you’re a woman, you’ll end up cleaning doorknobs of public places until a stranger kisses you as well. Plus, when your friends are extra pranksters, it might be in a silly costume as well!


So now you have all the ins and outs on not only how to wish someone a happy birthday in German but also all the other essential details associated with celebrating the day.

Commit it all to memory and then the only thing you have left to do is have one heckuva time!

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