Germany's eight finished third in its pool Friday and moved into the final of the blue-ribbon event at the rowing world championship.
But the defending champions did not see themselves as the favorites this time for the gold medal.
Germany's boat finished behind first-placed Canada and Britain, who also appear to be the top contenders for the title in Sunday's race.
Canada was already three seconds ahead at the 1,000-meter mark and the British boat overtook the Germans with 300 meters remaining.
"We have enough experience and we are not going to worry too much now," said German crew member Bernd Heidicker. "But this third place did leave a bitter taste."
All six finalists secured berths at next year's Beijing Olympics.
Canada had the fastest time of both groups, finishing in 5 minutes, 30.88 seconds. The United States boat won the other semifinal in 5:35.29.
Mads Rasmussen and Rasmus Quist of Denmark stayed on course to defend their lightweight double sculls title by winning their semifinal.
Marcello Miani and Elia Luini of Italy, silver medalists last year, also advanced by finishing second in their group.