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I've seen a couple different translations of this song (trying to make the English rhyme). I think the rest is more straightforward but I'm unsure about the main verse with its changing personal perspective (er - du): "Weil er lacht, weil er lebt, Du fehlst."

https://songtextes.de/songtexte/herbert-groenemeyer-mensch

Can anyone help translate literally and interpret the meaning?

5 Answers 5

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To give some further context, this song (released 2002) deals with his grief about the death of this wife Anna who died in 1998 due to cancer.

He mentions all the characteristics he saw in her, some are good (fighting, hope, love, forgiveness) and some are mixed (being mistaken, forgetting, suppressing). Ultimately these are all characteristics of what being human is all about.

He concludes each segment with Du fehlst (You're missing/absent/gone), addressing his passed wife directly. This can also be seen as an ellipse of Du fehlst mir (I miss you).

Und der Mensch ist Mensch (and a human is human)
[...]
weil er lacht, weil er lebt (because he laughs, because he lives)
Du fehlst

4

Und der Mensch heißt Mensch,
Weil er vergisst, weil er verdrängt,
Und weil er schwärmt und stählt,
Weil er wärmt, wenn er erzählt,
Und weil er lacht, weil er lebt,
Du fehlst.

All the instances of "er" refer to "der Mensch" (meaning any human).

"Du fehlst." leaves the contemplation on what constitutes a "Mensch", and goes back to the personal perspective of the first lines of the lyrics of the song ("Momentan ist richtig...."). It is also grammatically a new sentence, even though they set a comma before it in the transcription. They probably did that because the melodic line supports a strong connection between "Du fehlst." and the contemplations about "der Mensch".

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  • I completely disagree. This is a guy desperately trying to get past a big loss in his life. The loss is so traumatic that it only can be mentioned by throwing two words into the lyrics: Du fehlst. There is a you-sized hole in my heart.
    – gnasher729
    Jun 5, 2023 at 9:59
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    @gnasher729 I agree with your interpretation. I wrote an answer about the language, mostly grammar and referential connection, not about the interpretation. You basically added an interpretation for why it is written that way. I don't see the contradiction. What specifically do you disagree with?
    – HalvarF
    Jun 5, 2023 at 10:14
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That Du fehlst. marks the end of his contemplations. He cannot think straight any more about poetry or songs. He looks around and the room is full of silence because his wife has died.

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  • That's so true, it made me drop a tear.
    – Olafant
    Jun 7, 2023 at 14:57
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He tries to be happy, mostly by avoiding reality (building dreams on sand). But all his efforts are in vain, because someone is missing (in his life).

I'd translate "Du fehlst" as "You are gone".

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Herbert is a little bit strange in every of his songs.

As a native german speaker i can say that his segments begin with poetry, but the "du fehlst" is a cut(break/crack in the structure) and is something like a direct reference to reality, where he want to express that she is missing. But he does not specify who is missing her. It could be a "du fehlst mir/uns/jedem", but when you express this in german (du fehlst) it is more an expression of a feeling.

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  • Hallo Matthias, du brauchst dich für dein Englisch nicht zu entschuldigen. Deine Expertise in Deutsch ist hier gefragt!
    – Olafant
    Jun 7, 2023 at 14:53

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