Category Archives: Berlin

Danke, Duden

If you thought you were finally getting your head around the German language, I’m sorry to disappoint you – you now have 5,000 new words to remember.

Yes, the Germans, in their infinite wisdom, have added 5,000 words to the Duden, the official dictionary of the German language, first published in 1880 by Konrad Duden. Back then, there were only 27,000 lovely entries you had to remember. Fast forward to 2017, my intrepid language learners, and you will have to get your head around 145,000 of the tricky “little” blighters. Or I guess you could just go around shouting “DOCH!” at people all the time instead, something I’m considering doing.

DOCH!

For anyone still convinced that the Germans are all about simplifying processes for the sake of efficiency, the Duden is now in its 27th edition, comes in at a whopping 1,264 pages and is published in 12 volumes, which include Die Deutsche Rechtschreibung – The German Spelling Dictionary, Die Grammatik – Grammar, and Das Synonymwörterbuch – Synonym Dictionary. Yes, it’s simple alright – simple German-style.

It’s enough to make you want to throw your knickers in the toilet.

However, for native English speakers, the news isn’t all bad as a lot of the new words come from the English-speaking world. Consider, if you will, some new German verbs – facebooken, taggen, tindern and liken (to “like” or “heart” something on Facebook). What gives me some comfort, and amusement, is that Germans are just as likely to be confused by the changes as foreigners.

Jochem: So, what did you get up to last night? 

Jochen: Oh, you know, not much. I facebookt for a while. Wait, facebookt? Facegebookt? Gefacebookt? 

Jochem: DOCH! 

Duden.de reliably informs me that the correct form is “gefacebookt”, which sounds more like a horrible condition than a fun way to spend an evening. They also, helpfully, give a few examples of how to use this new horror-verb:

  • es wurde die ganze Nacht gefacebookt
  • sie facebookt und twittert über das Leben in Japan
  • facebookst du?

In a weird way, this actually makes life easier as you no longer have to worry about pesky prepositions. Am I bei Facebook? Auf Facebook? Who cares!? Now you can just say, “ich facebooke” – genius.

German spelling also just got easier with the disposal of, well, the German spelling of certain words. “Majonäse,” “Ketschup” and “Anschovis” are now simply mayonnaise, ketchup and anchovies.

Laptop, Selfie, Tablet, Emoji and Hashtag have all made the cut – a sad day for fans of the word “Klapprechner”. The official German word for Brexit is… Brexit. Post-truth is post-faktisch, cyber war is Cyberkrieg. It’s all starting to sound a bit Denglish, right?

Still, some German German words are also in. Here are a few of my favourites:

Kopfkino – (literally “head cinema”) meaning to daydream. 

Die Wutbürgerin – An angry female citizen. The male version, der Wutbürger, had already been added but I guess now women can officially be angry citizens too. 

rumeiern –  (literally “to egg about”) meaning to amble aimlessly around and not really get anything done

ick – how Berliners pronounce “ich” (I). I have, in the past, been lectured for saying “ick” but now it’s official; ick can ick away to my heart’s content. 

So, what do you think? Likst du the new additions or do they make you want to be a Wutbürger(in). Ick just can’t decide…

 

 

 

Advertisements

I speed-dated a European

With most of Germany being on holiday, my work schedule is pretty light at the moment. As a result, I’m spending much more time than I should scrolling through my Facebook feed. Still, every now and then, a little gem pops up that makes a bored blogger’s heart skip a beat. In this case, it was a post by Pulse of Europe called Speed-date a European.

Having read that it wasn’t a romantic thing, and assuming that there would be no touching involved – I’m still scarred from the Cuddle Party – I decided to ask my Irish friend, Gay, along for the ride.

Gay: What is it? 

Me: I have no idea.

Gay: It sounds a bit mad. In. 

Everybody needs a friend like this.

With the event kicking off at 2 p.m., we decided to meet at 1 for a confidence-boosting glass of wine. Well, come on, we are Irish…

Despite being billed as a “meetup with a twist, a fun way for Europeans from various countries to meet, ask questions, fight bias and smash boundaries”, we still didn’t really know what to expect. But, brave souls that we are, we sat down on the steps of the Konzerthaus, making our Popos comfortable on “I speed-dated a European” cushions.

Happy Popo

If the first surprise was how many people were there, the second was the average age. In my cynical way, I had anticipated the place being overrun with irritating hipsters in their 20s, but no, it was pretty much a sea of grey hair. I actually felt young.

(Photo by Piotr Spierewka)

In light of recent events – Brexit (BOOO!), Trump (BOOOOOOOOOOO!) and Marine le Pen (phew!) – it seemed like the perfect time to get people from different cultures together. The atmosphere was jolly, people waved various flags around and the organisers took to the stage. The opening, by a German girl and a French man, in German and English, was a little Eurovision-y for my taste but that’s why bringing a friend to these things is always a bonus. Eye-rolling and chuckling done with, we settled in for an intro to what Pulse of Europe is about and how the event would work.

Ms Eurovision: By now, you’ll all have red or blue sheets of paper.

Gay and I exchanged confused glances and looked around to see that everyone else had, in fact, got red or blue sheets of paper. He hastily got up and went to remedy the situation. Red sheets were for non-Berliners and blue were for Berliners. The idea was that you had to talk to someone with the opposite colour for five minutes, with three switches taking place during the hour. The words to Ode to Joy were printed on the sheets (in German) but I didn’t give that much thought at the time.

Mr and Ms Eurovision called out various “get the conversation going” questions for each round, but I’ve never needed much help in talking the ear off someone so they were largely ignored. My first victim was a German lady in her sixties and we chatted away happily for the first five minutes. The gong rang and we were supposed to move but, well, sitting… so we chatted away for the next five minutes, too. I could now add “speed-dating a sexagenarian” to my ever-growing list of odd things I’ve done in Berlin.

For the third round, a German man in his sixties sat on the other side of me – next victim ensnared. After a little political stuff from the stage, I spend round four in a sexagenarian threesome. The “prompt question” this time round was “what are your cliches about my country?” I’ve always thought that Ireland was pretty easy to stereotype so I was a bit surprised when my new man date came out with “sheep”.

Me: Sheep?

Thoralf: Yep, sheep.

Me: Anything else? 

Thoralf: Umm… 

Me: Wow. OK. 

Frauke: Wait, it’s green. 

Me: Yes.

Frauke: Oh, oh, RED HAIR! 

Thoralf: (looking at me a bit suspiciously) You don’t look very Irish. 

Me: Nope, I guess I was just born lucky. 

Thoralf: So, what are your cliches about the Germans?

Me: Socks and sandals, putting beach towels on sun loungers on their way home from the pub, beer, sausage, Lederhosen…

Thoralf and Frauke: THAT’S NOT US! THAT’S THE BAVARIANS!

Me: Yes, yes, I know. (I glanced down at my sheet of paper) Um, do we have to sing at the end of this? 

Thoralf: Oh yes, it’s wonderful. 

Me: It might not be so wonderful for you with me singing in your ear but OK. 

And so we did. With Bernd playing Beethoven on a banjo, hundreds of voices filled Gendarmenmarkt square as Beethoven probably spun in his grave. It was great.

Bernd plays the banjo

All that was left to do was for everyone to hold hands and dance around the square but with my “no touch” policy still firmly in place, this was my cue to leave.

No hand-holding, please. I’m Irish.

Taking our free cushions with us, Gay and I made good our escape. Still, I have to say, it was a lot of fun and a very well-organised afternoon. Pulse of Europe runs similar events in cities all over Europe on the first Sunday of every month so if you fancy some talking, singing and maybe even a little dance, I suggest you check them out.

Now, once more for Europe, all together please, with feeling:

Freude, schöner Götterfunken,

Tochter aus Elysium,

Wir betreten feuertrunken,

Himmlische, den Heiligtum…

 

 

 

 

Today was quite the day

I’m not normally one to complain (ahem) but today really took the piss. It actually started yesterday with monsoon-like rain all day, which instantly flooded the city causing major traffic delays, flooded U-Bahn stations, knee-deep water in some buses, building evacuations and, because it’s Berlin, people swimming down major streets and being pulled along in dinghies while drinking beer.

I’m not exaggerating

A storm in German is “Sturm” or “Gewitter” – a really bad storm is called “Unwetter” which, in English, would be unweather. Obviously this makes no sense at all as it’s actually ALL the weather in one go and not even remotely unweather. But hey, German…

This morning, expecting delays, I set off for my lesson a bit earlier than usual, grimly plodding through the drizzle. The bus showed up and dropped me off at the U-Bahn station. What should have been a simple ten-minute ride was made impossible by the fact that around six stations along the way were closed due to flooding. This was one of them.

So I travelled two stops, got off, got on the replacement bus and waited while another 100 people squeezed their soggy selves in. The problem with that is that the doors don’t close when people are in the way of the sensors so other passengers were yelling at people to get off at each stop; one man’s beer belly held us up for a good five minutes.

The BVG (Berlin Transport Company) representative had “reliably” informed me that the bus was going all the way to Zoo, one stop past where I had to go. But no, the driver stopped at another U-Bahn station along the way claiming that the U-Bahn was running again. She kicked us all off, down we went and no, stupid cow, the U-Bahn was not running.

By this time, I was already half an hour late so I had no choice but to cancel my lesson. I waded across the road and actually managed to squeeze into a replacement taxi. Yes, things were so bad that the BVG were transporting people using TAXIS. Then it was back on the U-Bahn, back on the bus and, finally, home. It had taken me almost 2.5 hours to achieve absolutely nothing and end up back where I started.

I wrote a scathing email to the BVG and consoled myself with the thought that I had a nice evening with my friend to look forward to – preferably with excess amounts of whiskey. Shortly afterwards, he messaged to say that he wasn’t feeling well and had to cancel. My opera singing neighbour started up and I contemplated justifiable homicide.

Still, I had to calm myself down as I had another lesson to go to this afternoon. I had carefully checked to make sure that the S-Bahn was running normally and set off. I got to the station right on time only to see the three words that every German dreads – Zug fällt aus. My train had “fallen out” and the next one wasn’t until 11 minutes later.

Argh!

A torrent of swear words, a bit like the torrents of rain, ensued. I sent my student a message telling her I’d be a few minutes late. She was actually happy enough as she’d ordered cake and would now have time to eat it. Nothing makes a German happier than coffee and cake.

After walking up the stairs (because of a broken escalator) and being accosted by a rude beggar, I eventually made it to the lesson. While I spoke flawless German, the barista insisted on answering in English – which resulted in him receiving a von Grady growl. It started raining halfway through the lesson and by the time I left, it was more unweather.

The town that I’d left just a couple of hours earlier was now a swimming pool. My boots weren’t quite up to the challenge and I squelched my way home, as engulfed in misery and self-pity as my feet were in water.

How it looked when I was swimming home
How it looked 30 minutes after I’d got home…

Grrr.

Manfredas: Hey, do you fancy dinner at the Surf Inn? 

Me: Yeah, sure. 

Manfredas: As long as it isn’t flooded. But I guess then we could “surf in”.

Me: Too soon…

Talking shit. Literally.

On Monday, I got rained into a bar – my worst nightmare, as you can imagine. However, I really did mean to stay for just one but then the heavens opened. Google had (oh so reliably) informed me that there was a 0% chance of precipitation that day, so I’d set off in a summer dress and flip-flops, without any of the all-weather paraphernalia the Germans are famous for.

While a lot of people might look at this as a fail on my part, these people clearly do not know me very well. First of all, it was a chance to confuse a whole new set of Berlin pub regulars with my intoxicating Irish accent. Second of all, a trip to the bathroom provided unexpected gold. (“Really, Linda? Toilets again?” I hear you groan.)

Gold.

Now, I’m all for “WC” signs throughout the establishment directing me towards the floodgate unleasher, but never have I seen a “WC” sign directly above the loo. Maybe this was the kind of pub where people got so drunk there was a chance they might mistake the sink/floor for the toilet? Or maybe the local clientele just weren’t that bright to begin with? There were no signs over the bin or the sink but I guess it’s not so important if you miss those…

Anyway, I figured out from the clever signage that the WC was, in fact, the toilet. I’m a smart cookie…

As I approached, I noticed the little picture on the toilet lid. I rubbed my eyes. Nope, the glass of wine hadn’t gone to my head – it really was a poo in a speech bubble. But what could it mean? I started coming up with some ideas:

  • Feel free to talk shit here?
  • Let your poo do the talking?
  • If I were a turd, what would I say…?
  • Poo has the right to freedom of speech?
  • A poo is worth a thousand words?

The only talking poo I’d ever seen was on South Park so this was a bit of a mystery to me. I’m shit out of ideas so does anybody else have any? Is this some kind of German thing I’ve never heard of? Answers on a postcard (i.e. in the comments below).

 

Germany – where formal is normal

Last week, as I was arriving for a lesson, I met the Managing Director of the company on the way in.

Me: Hey, how’s it going? 

Bertilda: Frau Schmittendorf and Frau Ottovordemgentschenfelde will not be in the lesson today. 

Me: OK. I have no idea who you’re talking about. So, how are you? 

Bertilda: Fine.

Me: (makes mental note to do a lesson on small talk)

That day, however, the lesson was to be on “Greetings and Introductions”. Only four women work in the office, two in their mid-forties and two in their mid-twenties. With the absence of Frau Schmittendorf and Frau Ottovordemgentschenfelde, I only had two students – the MD and her assistant. After establishing once again that Germans are protective of their personal space in business (and pretty much all other) situations, we moved on to the discussion questions.

Me: How do you address the other person? Mister? Ms? First name?

Bertilda: Always Mister or Ms. Never first names. 

Ediltrudis: Yes, never first names.

Me: Never? Not even after you’ve known the person for a while and have a good working relationship? 

Bertilda: NEVER! 

Me: OK. But surely in the office you call each other by your first names? I mean, there are only four of you…

Bertilda: We use Frau plus surname.

Ediltrudis: Yes, always.

Me: So, as soon as you leave this room, where you’re Bertilda and Ediltrudis, you switch back to Frau such-and-such and Frau such-and-such?

Bertilda: Yes, of course. Immediately.

Ediltrudis: Immediately. 

Me: Wow. How long have you been working with Haduwig? 

Bertilda: 16 years. 

Me: And you still call her Frau Ottovordemgentschenfelde?

Bertilda: Yes, of course. 

Me:Frau Ottovordemgentschenfelde, could you pass the stapler, please?” Wouldn’t it be easier and faster to just use her first name?

Bertilda: (shoots me a look that suggests that the words “easier” and “faster” are not in her vocabulary)

Me: Is it weird for you that I call you by your first names? 

Bertilda: A bit but we are get used to it. I think it is different for English speakers. 

Me: Getting. Yeah, I’ve worked in America, Australia, New Zealand, England and Ireland and I don’t think I ever called anyone by their surnames. 

Bertilda: (disapproving sniff) 

Ediltrudis: (obviously trying to throw me a bone) Our Azubis (trainees) – they mostly work in another office – they call each other by their first names and use “du”.

Clearly this was news to Bertilda.

Bertilda: (lowering her glasses and picking up her pen) They do?

Ediltrudis: Well, I mean… I think that… sometimes they might, yes…

Bertilda: (scratching angrily in her notepad) I think we need to have a meeting. 

I knew I should probably wrap it up here but I was enjoying myself far too much.

Ediltrudis: Well, you know, they’re young and…

Bertilda: It is a sign of respect. Using surnames and “Sie” is our office culture. 

Me: Oh, but in Berlin it’s so hard. Almost everyone immediately switches to “du” and uses first names. Even my Hausmeister told me to call him Burkhard the first time I met him and he’s in his fifties. (gleefully waits for response)

Bertilda: (flatlines) 

 

Oh, let me be your teddy bear

If, like me, you’re about as cuddly as a cactus, then a rather different way to spend four hours of your Saturday evening is to go to a cuddle party. “A cuddle party? What’s that, Linda?”, I hear you ask… Don’t worry, I’d never heard of the concept either – that is, until the lovely Jenna sent me an article about them. Sufficiently weirded out but curious at the same time, I toyed with the idea of going.

Me: I’m thinking of going to a cuddle party on Saturday. 

Simone: I think I’d rather have my uterus extracted through my nostrils. 

That decided it – I was going.

Kuschelabend...
Kuschelabend…

I located the building easily enough, got into the rickety lift and ascended to the fourth floor.

Holy mother of...
Holy mother of…

Despite the rather crumbly exterior, the room was really nice. As I paid my €20 (I know…) and got a sticker with a little heart and my name on it (eye roll), I looked around. Colourful mattresses were laid out in a circle on the floor and candles and warm lighting made the space look cosy. The thing that surprised me most, however, (apart from the fact that I was there) was how many people in Berlin were in need of a cuddle. There must have been around 50 people there and there was very little room left on the mattresses. A few people were younger than me but most were in their forties, fifties or sixties, with a roughly 3-1 ratio of women to men. A quick glance at the refreshments table confirmed the worst – no wine. I was diving headfirst into the weirdness stone cold sober.

I squeezed into a free spot just as proceedings started. After a brief introduction, Gottfried, the “Cuddle Trainer” passed the “Cuddle Elephant” to the person beside him. (I swear I’m not making any of this up.) We had to say our names and why we were there.

“I just really like giving cuddles.”

“Cuddling makes me feel good.”

“I was feeling really sad today and thought that cuddles might give me some comfort.”

Heilige Scheiße.

When it came to my turn, I said that I’d seen an article online and was curious. This got a scathing look from Gottfried which became outright hostile when I said I’d seen the article on thrillist.com. Clearly he doesn’t put thrills and cuddles in the same category. I passed the “Cuddle Elephant” along. When all of the introductions and freaky reasons were done, Gottfried ran through the rules. There was a lot of blah blah about knowing your boundaries and not being afraid to say NEIN! He pointed out the “safe mattress” at the back of the room where you could sit for a while if you felt overwhelmed. Kissing was VERBOTEN and touching boobs, crotchal regions and arses was also out.

Once the mattresses had been stowed at the back of the room, Gottfried put on some airy-fairy, shite music and we all had to dance around a bit. I shook off the pressures of the outside world by shuffling awkwardly with my hands by my sides, while other people looked as if they were undergoing some kind of demonic possession. The next song started and this time we had to move around the room, making eye contact with the other lunatics. The third song got the touching bit started. We could hold hands, feel hands and stroke hands as we moved around but, unfortunately, nobody HOCH FÜNFed anyone. People were already starting to sweat and the smell of B.O. was overpowering. I half-heartedly touched a few moist hands.

Next we had to dance with each other, choosing a different partner every so often. I ambled around, getting increasingly freaked out by the glazed, blissed-out eyes and serene smiling. If these people weren’t high on life, they were definitely high on something. One guy, who looked like he’d be at home with Jack in the Cuckoo’s Nest, started trippily waving his arms around in my face. Another caught me around the waist and started to sway with me.

“How close is too close?”

As I didn’t know how to say “If I feel an erection, then you’re too close and you’re going down”, I just mumbled that where he was was fine. Presently, we had to find a partner to hand grope. A middle-aged woman caressed my hands and gazed at me lovingly. I watched the seconds ticking by on the wall clock. Each pair found another pair and then there were four people mauling each other. I found my head sandwiched between braless boobs. Then the four had to find another four and engage in a group hug.

I looked a bit like this guy:

Image from jezebel.com
(Image from jezebel.com)

After unsticking my face from a man’s back, I had a time out behind the refreshments table. Ah, a solo exercise. OK, back in. We stood with our eyes closed (mine were open) as Gottfried talked us through a load of nonsense about feeling the energy come up through the earth into our stockinged feet. As the cuddle party took place in Hasenheide, one of the dodgiest areas in Berlin, I didn’t even want to think about what my feet were absorbing. We raised our arms and started walking forward until we were one massive, 50-person cuddle. I checked to make sure everyone’s eyes were closed and ran. I had lasted an hour and twenty minutes. Pretty impressive, I thought. I couldn’t even imagine how they were going to fill another two hours and forty minutes but I had a feeling it would probably end like this:

Yup, I want no part of that.
Yup, I want no part of that.

I washed my hands repeatedly and left the building. Safely back in my local bar with a large glass of wine in front of me, I achieved a level of relaxation that cuddling fifty strangers could never give me.

I’m sure the lingering stench of B.O. will wear off any minute now…

Wine, words and wankers

Every now and then, an event comes along that you think is going to be right up your street. In my case this was “Wine and Words”, which took place last Friday.

It looked fantastic on paper (or on screen, rather):

“Wine lovers and word fanatics, you are in for a treat!”

All good so far…

“Together with Wine Club Berlin you will be able to ask all the questions you have about the magic grape juice while tasting a range of carefully selected treasures.”

Yes to that…

“Followed by brave readers and their stories, there will be live music with a range of ukulele, violin and live-looping combined with soulful harmonies – what better way is there to start your weekend?”

Damned if I could think of one.

I arranged to meet my English friend Bea there, and she brought along her German friend, Gerlinde. We were all set for a wonderful, cultural (if slightly boozy) start to the weekend. The free wine tasting started at 7pm and I don’t think any of us were quite prepared for the scrum that ensued. However, being the hardy Irish chick that I am, I managed to shove my way in. I discovered that there’s also something quite satisfying about hip-checking hipsters.

The barman proceeded to pour a dribble of wine into the glasses of the lucky few who had battled to the bar, all the while extolling the virtues of the drop that had barely wet my mouth. Still, I could taste enough to know that it was awful.

Round two.

Gerlinde: Hmm.

Me: Hmm. I’m sensing undertones of vinegar.

Gerlinde: It smells a bit like pineapple. But the canned kind, not the good stuff.

Me: Hmm. It smells a bit like paint-stripper. 

Poor Bea hadn’t had the heart to ram her way through hipster-hell so she missed out.

She didn't miss much, to be fair.
She didn’t miss much, to be fair.

 

I managed to taste a drop of rosé and a drop of red before giving up and paying for a proper glass of wine. €4.50 for 125ml – utterly outrageous. I could get 23 bottles at LIDL for the price of one bottle there; it’s debatable which is preferable – dying of shock at the price of one bottle or dying from drinking 23 of them.

We managed to find a table and people-watching commenced. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen so many tossers in one place. I wondered if all of these people who try so hard to look so different from everyone else, with their craaaaaaaazy hair and craaaaaaaazy clothes, realise that they simply look the same as everyone else who’s trying to look so different. Deep, right?

Needless to say, it was a total selfie-fest but special mention has to go to “the wookie in the wife-beater”. First of all, anyone who wears a wife-beater in January can’t have all of their cups in the cupboard (as we say in German). Secondly, any man who aims to draw attention to himself by displaying his mammoth amount of back and shoulder hair in public should be sent to a galaxy far, far away.

It was almost enough to put a girl off her wine, but not quite. I got another glass.

Me: Where are the words? It’s after 8.30 and not one word! 

Bea: Hmm, not sure. Maybe they’re getting organised. 

Me: Well, I’m not sitting here drinking overpriced plonk all night. There’d better be some words soon.

Bea: We could just leave. Go to a normal bar? 

Me: NO! I came to hear words and hear words I will! 

Finally, a girl got on stage and introduced the first act – a violinist. Everyone clapped uproariously now that things were finally getting started and we settled in to enjoy the show. After a pretentious nod to the audience, he commenced to play the most mournful dirge I think I’ve ever heard in my life. Way to get the party started.

As I squirmed with boredom, I chanced a look around me at the other guests. Slack-jawed and glassy-eyed would be a fairly accurate description. One guy poured the rest of a bottle into his glass as another fell asleep. After around three minutes, the caterwauling ended and someone started clapping enthusiastically – probably in relief. But no, it was just a brief pause; he played on for another six hours, or maybe it just felt that way.

Me: Jesus. 

Bea and Gerlinde: …

The next act was introduced – a reader, finally. Now, I know how hard it is to get up in front of a roomful of people so I’ll be charitable.

I have never, EVER, heard such unadulterated, self-involved drivel in my life.

Me: Right, that’s it. I’m done. 

We put on our coats and walked out.

Bea: Never invite me to anything again. 

Me: But it sounded so good on paper! 

This was actually the inaugural “Wine and Words” evening. Next time, if there is a next time, I’d suggest that they call the event “Self-obsessed twats listening to self-obsessed twats talking twaddle and drinking dribbles of crap wine” – it would save people getting their hopes up.