Food Can’t Sing…

…but singers can crave. In no other opera do the thoughts of the characters revolve so fiercely around food and eating than in Hänsel und Gretel. Learn its vocabulary in this excerpt of my book Die Frist ist um—Navigate the Language of 10 German Operas.

Singers of Hänsel und Gretel! Rent a venue, decorate it in part as a witch house, in part as a forest, and on a long table lay out all the foods we find mentioned in the libretto. If there is still space, have a piano and a stool for the accompanist, have the singers perform Hänsel und Gretel, have them sing and act out the verbs of devouring. After the performance, open the buffet and invite the audience to help themselves. It will be a feast.

What Hänsel and Gretel and their parents dream about

Butterwecken m = wedge-shaped roll baked with wheat and butter

Eierfladen m = pancake. Here, the emphasis lies on Eier (eggs, sing. Ei n) indicating that we are well-off when eggs are available to us.

trocken Brot n = dry bread; slices of bread without any butter, sausage, or cheese on top. This term reveals that we are not well-off right now.

Kümmel m = caraway

Leiblikör m = favorite liquor, Leib m = body

Rahm m = cream

Sahne f = whipped cream

Speck m = bacon

Wurst f = sausage, pl. Würste

Sweets at the House of the Knusperhexe

Dattel f = date, pl. Datteln

Johannisbrot n = carob, fruit of a Mediterranean tree

Jungfernleder n = an herb

Kuchen m = cake, e.g., Lebkuchen (gingerbread), Zauberkuchen (magic cake)

Rosine f = raisin

Teig m = dough

Torte f = rich cake often filled with whipped cream, also mentioned as Kuchen, gefüllt mit süßer Sahn’.

Zucker m = sugar

Verbs of Preparing and Eating Food

knuspern obs. = to munch

nagen = to nibble

naschen = to snack, mostly sweets and in secret. Naschen implies something fun. When you discover a little finger-mark running through a creamy cake, you ask your child, Wer hat hier genascht? (genascht: past participle of naschen)

schleckern = to suck on candies, to lick ice cream

schlucken = to swallow

schmecken = to taste

verschlecken = to eat all candies, all ice cream

Verbs of Eating with Incredible Enjoyment

ergötzen refl. = to take great pleasure in food; the preposition is an.

laben refl. = to refresh and enjoy oneself with good food and drink; the preposition is an. Ich labe mich an Schokoladentorte.

schmausen = to feast

Phrases Related to Food

am Hungertuch nagen = to starve; Hungertuch n is a decorated cloth that covers the image of Jesus in churches during Lent.

Ich habe dich zum Aufessen lieb = I love you so much I could eat you. Today, we say, ich habe dich zum Fressen gern. (fressen = to eat [for animals], to gorge oneself)

Du schmeckst nach mehr = You are so tasty that I want more.

Die Frist ist um
Navigate the Language
of 10 German Operas

by Bernd Hendricks

ISBN 978-1-008-908529

379 pages

$ 28.80

Available at: and bookstores

Published by


Bernd Hendricks. Born in Duisburg, Germany. Based in Berlin. Writer, German Language Educator. I was six years old when I went to the opera for the first time. My Grandma took me to Hänsel und Gretel at the Deutsche Oper am Rhein in Duisburg. The first time I met an opera singer personally was during my time as foreign correspondent in New York when at a Christmas party a baritone pelted me with questions about the language of Zauberflöte. He was preparing for his role as Papageno. After my return to Berlin in September 2010, I have been giving German lessons to singers on their audition tours. My workshops in Berlin, Vienna, and London are based on my widely read book Ach, ich fühl’s—German for Opera Singers in Three Acts: Studying, Speaking, Singing. My latest book, Die Frist ist um—Navigate the Language of 10 German Operas, takes you on a journey through the language of the most popular and often performed operas in the German-speaking countries. I am also the author of several non-fiction books and two novels.

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