Know Before You Go – Berlin Slang You Should LearnJuly 27, 2017 10:00 am
Be like a berliner and brush up on the lingo ahead of your visit with our guide to Berlin slang you need to know!
Berlinerisch, Berliner Schnauze, Berlin slang – if you have any intention of making friends in the German capital, a smattering of this vernacular will go a long way. Many Germans are happy to converse in English (around 50%, according to Eurobarometer ), but to get a true feel for the culture of the city and its inhabitants, learning German is the way to go.
Berlin is a multicultural city that has experienced big influxes of migrants, both from other German regions and abroad, over several centuries. Add to this the city’s status as the capital of creativity and youth culture, and consider the impact of reunification after the fall of the Berlin wall, and you get a sense of the pace of change. Language tends to keep pace with general developments in society, which means that young Berliners may speak very differently to the older generations. However, there are a few speech patterns that generally apply to all:
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As a visitor to the city, we’d suggest that the most important thing is to understand people when they speak to you, rather than attempting to master the pronunciation yourself. That would take years in any case, so standard German pronunciation is the way to go if you’re not actually from Berlin yourself. Here a few pronunciations you may not be familiar with:
‘Ich’ (pronoun for the first person singular) becomes ‘Icke’. In 2017, this form was even added to the Duden dictionary! It’s also the nickname of former German footballer Thomas Häßler, who famously gave TV interviews in his native dialect.
Also, the hard ‘g’ sound (like English ‘guard’) often becomes a ‘j’ sound (like English ‘yes’) at the start of a word. Another recent addition to the Duden, ‘jwd’ (pronounced jott-ve-de) comes from the Berlin expression ‘janz weit draußen’ (meaning ‘really far away’). Finally, the ‘er’ syllable is converted to ‘a’, for example ‘azehl’n’ (meaning ‘erzählen’, to tell or recount).
Needing to eat during your stay clearly means that food-related vocab is a priority when it comes to picking up the local lingo. Bread rolls, usually called Brötchen, are known in Berlin as ‘Schrippen’ – a delicious German breakfast with freshly baked rolls is a true delight.
Also, doughnuts, which Germans usually call ‘Berliner’, are known in Berlin as ‘Pfannkuchen’ (pancakes). And pancakes? ‘Eierkuchen’ (egg cakes). Luckily it’s all delicious, so you can’t really go wrong.
You may also wish to try Buletten – another word for meatballs, from the French boulettes. ‘Ran an de Buletten’ is however a figurative phrase meaning ‘let’s go’, rather than an invitation to get stuck in at the barbecue.
Enjoy a taste of the city with our guide to the top traditional dishes you must try when in Berlin!
Another important topic for visitors, it’s worth getting your head around the many abbreviated place names (abbreviations being pretty essential considering the length of many German nouns). Here are a few to get you started:
Kötti – Kottbusser Tor
Görli – Görlitzer Park
F’shain – Friedrichshain
XBerg – Kreuzberg
Kudamm – Kurfürstendamm
The word ‘Kiez’ is also commonly used instead of the more standard ‘Stadtviertel’ to refer to Berlin neighbourhoods. And ‘Späti’ is another very useful word, referring to corner shops that open later (später) than normal supermarkets.
Berliners also have a number of humorous names for different landmarks and facilities, such as the Telespargel (literally TV asparagus, ie. the television tower).
In the German media, Berlin slang is often associated with coarse humour, choice insults and word play. So if someone asks you if you were born in an S-Bahn train (‘bist wohl in de S-Bahn jebor’n?’), they’re really jokingly asking you to close the door or window, as the train doors close automatically.
Have you caught the bug for Berlin slang? If you’re particularly taken with the city, you may wish to announce that ‘Janz Berlin is eene Wolke’ (‘All Berlin is a cloud’, meaning that you’re on Cloud 9). Wishing you a good trip!