Knowing how to say happy birthday is an important part of learning German.
After all, birthdays are always going to happen, right?
As you progress through learning German, you’ll no doubt meet more and more native speakers. And these speakers will all have birthdays.
You may even be present at a birthday party for them, so you’re going to have to learn the birthday song.
To avoid that embarrassing feeling of not knowing the words while everyone around you is merrily singing away, I’ve written this article to guide you through German birthdays.
I’ll cover how to both say and sing happy birthday in German, as well as explore a few German birthday traditions and vocabulary.
Happy birthday in German 🎂 🇩🇪
Saying happy birthday in German is a little more complicated than you might think. While there is a general/common phrase, there are also a number of alternatives that may crop up, depending on who you’re talking to.
The main way to say happy birthday in German is Alles Gute zum Geburtstag!. Often, people shorten this to just Alles Gute!
You’ll find this plastered all over Facebook timelines and Instagram stories, so it’s certainly the most common form.
However, there are other ways of expressing happy birthday that you should be aware of.
The extended German phrase Herzlichen Glückwunsch zum Geburtstag is another way of saying happy birthday. In fact, its closest equivalent in English would be “many happy returns”.
It’s a little formal, but still fairly common among Germans.
If you’re a little late to the party, you might need to wish someone a happy belated birthday.
To do this, Germans simply add nachträglich.
For instance, both Herzlichen Glückwunsch nachträglich and Alles Gute (zum Geburtstag) nachträglich mean happy belated birthday.
Personal birthday greetings in German
Is the person with an upcoming birthday close to you?
Do you want to wish a happy birthday to a dear friend, relative, or partner?
For a more personal, familiar touch, there are a number of extended phrases that you can use.
Check out a few of them below.
Herzlichen Glückwunsch zum Geburtstag und viel Erfolg im neuen Lebensjahr!
Alles Liebe zum Geburtstag!
Verbringe einen wunderschönen Tag im Kreise deiner Lieben!
Ich gratuliere Ihnen zu Ihrem X. Geburtstag!
With all these messages, it’s important to remember to keep them among close friends and family.
They might sound a little out of place if said to a random coworker!
Birthday expressions from around Germany
Given the various regional dialects and accents around Germany, you might encounter a birthday wish which sounds slightly odd to you.
Don’t panic, it may just simply be a heartfelt message in a local dialect.
To make sure you’ve got all possible bases covered, here’s a short list of birthday phrases in a variety of regional German dialects.
All of them simply translate as “happy birthday”.
- Berlin: Alles Jute ooch zum Jeburtstach!
- Bayern (Bavaria): Ois Guade zu Deim Geburdstog!
- Köln (Cologne): Alles Juute zum Jeburtstaach!
- Friesland: Lokkiche jierdei!
- Hessen (Hesse): Isch gratelier Dir aach zum Geburtstach!
How do I sing the happy birthday song in German?
Many Germans have a good grasp of English, and as such the English birthday song has made its way unchanged into the German language.
But while it’s common for Germans to sing the English song, there is a version written in German that follows the same tune.
Zum Geburtstag viel Glück,
Zum Geburtstag viel Glück,
Zum Geburtstag alles Gute,
Zum Geburtstag viel Glück.
To really impress your German friends, take the time to learn the German version and whip it out at a party or showcase your language skills by joining in when others start singing it.
Luckily, it’s not too hard to learn (three lines are exactly the same!) so you shouldn’t have too much trouble with it.
You don’t even need to know the name of the person to sing it, perfect for if you’re a plus one to a German party full of strangers.
German birthday traditions
One thing you need to know about birthdays in Germany is that you never wish a German happy birthday before their special day.
Sounds obvious, but even stuff like “oh, happy birthday for Thursday” is bad luck for Germans, particularly those of an older generation.
Oddly, though, Germans still like to begin the birthday celebrations the evening before.
You might find yourself invited to a party for someone who’s birthday is the day after. When you arrive, don’t say happy birthday. Instead, wait until midnight.
Only then can guests wish the Geburtstagskind (“birthday boy/girl”) a happy birthday.
This type of celebration is known as reinfeiren, which means something like “partying into the early hours of someone’s birthday”.
As you can see, there’s no word for this in English.
Something that English speakers might find odd is that when it’s your birthday in Germany, you’re expected to bring the cake in for your coworkers.
While Brits, Americans, and other English-speaking natives are used to being treated by colleagues, it’s the opposite in Germany.
This goes for birthday meals too.
While it’s less common for the Geburtstagskind to pay for everyone, they must at least cover their share of the bill.
This behavior is typical in Germany, so if you have a birthday there, your friends aren’t being rude. They’re just being German.
Key German birthday vocab
To help you with your German learning, we’ve collected a few key words and phrases related to birthdays that will improve your subject knowledge.
Displayed in the table below is a list of birthday-related vocab in English, as well as the German translations of each word or phrase.
|When’s your birthday?||Wann hast du Geburtstag? (Informal)|
Wann haben Sie Geburtstag? (Formal)
|My birthday is…||Ich habe am… Geburtstag.|
|It’s a shame I can’t celebrate with you!||Schade, dass ich nicht mitfeiern kann!|
|birthday cake||der Geburtstagskuchen|
|ice cream||das Eis|
Wish someone a happy birthday next time you’re in Germany
So, now you’re all set to enjoy your birthday or wish others a happy birthday in Germany, or a German-speaking country.
Germany is a great country to visit, and it’s especially worth going if you want to improve your German language skills.
However you use your knowledge of birthdays in German, you’ll now be able to enjoy the day without worrying about miscommunicating heartfelt phrases.
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