‘Barbara’s Rhubarb Bar:’ German tongue twister goes global

A cabaret duo from Berlin has gained worldwide success with a witty rap that’s gone viral on Instagram and YouTube, and is a top trend on TikTok where users lip-sync and dance to the tune.

The musical cabaret artist Bodo Wartke and his collaborator, music producer Marti Fischer, were no strangers to social media within Germany.

But their tongue-twister rap, “Barbaras Rhabarberbar” (Barbara’s Rhubarb Bar), has broken global records and even knocked R&B queen Beyoncé off her streaming throne for a time.

Now one half of the duo, Bodo Wartke, himself is followed by nearly 900,000 people on TikTok — not bad for a local Berlin comic.

Making waves on Broadway

How the song was able to trigger such global hype remains — as with numerous other viral hits — an internet mystery.

The clip was discovered by two Australian music students who likely did not understand the catchy lyrics, but who imitated the original dance on TikTok before it was shared and performed millions of times all over the world.

“The two girls from Australia have taken our choreography to a whole new level,” Wartke told DW. “And I think that has inspired many people to imitate it, including the many dance influencers on TikTok — right up to choreographers from Broadway, which is completely crazy and of course a great honor.”

The melody of the German language

There are tongue twisters in every language, but the rap about Barbara’s delicious rhubarb cakes drew on a rich German tradition of single-word tongue twisters, in this case: Rhabarberbarbarabarbarbarenbartbarbierbier (Rhubarb Barbara Bar Barbarians’ Beard Barber Beer).

The song inspired by the tongue twister tells the story of Barbara from a small village who is known wide and far for her fine rhubarb cake, and who opens a bar where three bearded barbarians become regulars — and whose barber also visits and drinks beer with his pie.

Wartke has simply continued to play with syllables in his lyrics — and not for the first time.

The artist, who performs songs in his stage programs that are much longer than a 60 second clip, had been thinking about what he could do on social media.

A person in a blue shirt smiles while sitting at a blue table
Cabaret artist Bodo Wartke wants to ‘musicalize’ the German language Image: Jens Kalaene/dpa/picture alliance

“And then I came up with the idea of expanding German tongue twisters, rhyming the whole thing and adding beats,” Wartke explained. “And so I used that for my social media channels and — surprise — it worked!”

He and producer Fischer never expected “Barbara’s Rhubarb Bar” to become an international hit.

“I thought you have to understand German to have fun with something like that. But apparently many people like the sound of the language and the rhymes.”

Wartke says the melody and rhythm of the syllables, when rapped, can work in other languages, the comic comparing songs by US rapper Eminem.

“It’s a very special way of rapping and I like the music and the sound of the words, even if I don’t understand [them].”

Meanwhile, “Barbara’s Rhubarb Bar” is not the first international success with humorous German tongue-twister-like lyrics. In 2000, the German music producer Stefan Raab came fifth at the Eurovision Song Contest with “Wadde Hadde Dudde Da” (roughly translated as “What Do You Have There”).

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A mass Barbara dance-off 

Wartke is expanding on other German tongue twisters, too, that he turns into short witty songs with the help of Fischer.

Part of the comedian’s inspiration is to “musicalize” a German language that is more commonly known for its hard tones.

As for his Barbara ditty, which now has a sequel in which Barbara gets a girlfriend with whom she starts a family, Wartke has a special final wish for the song.

“I would love to see all the Barbaras from Berlin and everywhere else dance along with us,” he told DW.

“That could perhaps make it into the Guinness Book of Records — the whole world dancing with us to Barbara’s Rhubarb Bar — how great would that be!”

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This article was originally written in German.