Behind the Meaning of Wayne Newton’s German-Inspired Hit “Danke Schoen”

Videos by American Songwriter

Videos by American Songwriter

German big band leader, multi-instrumentalist, music producer, arranger, Bert Kaempfert composed the music for a number of well-known songs, including “Strangers in the Night,” and “Moon Over Naples,” and “Danke Schoen,” the latter he originally recorded as an instrumental in 1959 and later released, with lyrics by Kurt Schwaback and Milt Gaber under the title “Candlelight Cafe” for his album Living It Up! In 1962.

Though the song made a minor dent when it was released by Kaempfert, “Danke Schoen” gained international fame when a baby-faced young singer named Wayne Newton took a swing at it, releasing his American rendition of the song, with English lyrics also translated by Gabler—who produced Billie Holliday’s 1939 protest song “Strange Fruit” and Bill Haley and the Comet’s 1954 hit “Rock Around The Clock”—in 1963. 

Just 21 at the time, Newton’s version reached No. 13 on the Billboard chart.

German Translation

“Danke” means “thanks” in English, while schön (schoen) means “nice,” “lovely” or “pretty,” which translates the phrase as “thanks nice,” or more clearly “thank you very much.”

Meaning Behind the Song

The English lyrics of the song reveal happier memories of going to picture shows, strolling through Central Park, and walking down lover’s lane with a long-lost love.

In the song, the singer is saying “thank you” to their old love for all the good times.

Danke schoen, darling, danke schoen
Thank you for all the joy and pain
Picture shows, second balcony 
Was the place we’d meet
Second seat, go Dutch treat, you were sweet

Danke schoen, darling, danke schoen
Save those lies, darling don’t explain
I recall Central Park in fall
How you tore your dress 
What a mess, I confess, that’s not all

Danke schoen, darling, danke schoen
Thank you for walks down Lover’s Lane
I can see hearts carved on a tree
Letters intertwined for all time
Yours and mine, that was fine

Danke schoen, darling, danke schoen
Thank you for seeing me again
Though we go on our separate ways
Still the memory stays for always

Bobby Darin

Originally, Capitol Records wanted Bobby Darin to record “Danke Schoen” as a follow-up to his 1950 hit “Mack the Knife,” and “18 Yellow Roses,” released in 1963. Darin passed the song on to Newton after hearing him perform at the Copacabana. Darin believed that Newton should record the song instead of him so strongly that he even threatened to never record for Capitol again if they didn’t release Newton’s version.

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off 

“Danke Schoen” is played in one of the most memorable scenes of John Hughes’ 1986 teen comedy Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. In the film, Ferris lip sync’s to the Newton classic while riding atop a float in a parade.

Newton’s version has always been featured in films Meet the Parents, Vegas Vacation, Fools Rush In, Matchstick Men, and the French-American comedy Crime Spree as well as a 2015 commercial for Bank of America and the trailer for the video game Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus in 2017.

Photo by Archive Photos/Getty Images

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