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German idioms made in heaven

Dagmar Breitenbach
December 14, 2022

Why would heaven hang full of violins? Discover German-language expressions relating to the heavenly spheres.

Baroque painting 'The Ecstasy of the Magdalen' (1616/1620) shows three angels, one of them is playing the violin.
'The Ecstasy of the Magdalen' (1616/1620)Image: Heritage Art/Heritage Images/picture alliance

Heaven hangs full of violins?

That's the literal translation of the German idiom "Der Himmel hängt voller Geigen," and it describes a state of ecstatic happiness. It is believed to be inspired by Baroque paintings of angels playing the violin and other heavenly instruments.

The expression has been found in writings by Martin Luther, as well as in a 17th-century collection of German folk poems and songs edited by Achim von Arnim and Clemens Brentano, "Des Knaben Wunderhorn: Alte deutsche Lieder" (The boy's magic horn: old German songs).

Later, a 1912 hit operetta by Austrian composer Leo Fall, "Der liebe Augustin" (Dear Augustin), contributed to popularizing the idiom, as one of the highlights of the work used the expression too.

As our picture gallery shows, there are several very common German sayings that use images of the heavens.

Inspired by heaven, around the world

International writers, too, have gone down in history with quotes about heaven. 

Henry David Thoreau, a 19th-century US poet and philosopher, is quoted as having said, "Heaven is under our feet as well as over our heads." Also in the 19th century, US humorist and writer Mark Twain had the maxim, "Go to heaven for the climate, hell for the company." He also figured that there is "no humor in heaven."

Almost 300 years earlier, English playwright William Shakespeare suggested in "Hamlet" that "there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy."

English writer Virginia Woolf is famously quoted as having said, "Sometimes I think heaven must be one continuous unexhausted reading," — while Austrian poet by the name of Ernst Ferstl has no doubt that "Heaven and Hell are different for everyone."

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