Berlin in and its languages

Compared to other exchange students, I have the advantage that I don’t have to speak a foreign language. As a native German speaker, it was easy for me to find my way around in Berlin, linguistically speaking. Especially the German students are often surprised when I tell them that I come from Switzerland. At the beginning, they often can’t understand why a Swiss German comes to Berlin for an Erasmus exchange semester. But when I explain the reasons to them, of course they can understand me.

Germany was divided into the GDR (DDR) and the FRG (BRD) between 1949 and 1989. Berlin was also divided for many years. The famous Berlin Wall divided the cosmopolitan city into West and East Berlin for 28 years. During this period, both halves of the city were governed by different political systems. This had, among other things, a great influence on the language. Even today there is an East Berlin dialect and a West Berlin dialect, although this is decreasing from generation to generation.

Some time ago, I had an exciting conversation with two young women who were already born and raised in Berlin. We discussed many different topics concerning Berlin, including the Berlin dialect. The two told me that the difference between East and West are partly still very big today. Many people are still prejudiced, and these prejudices include language as well. Older people in particular react to certain terms that were (formerly) said differently in the East and West. In the East, for example, people say “frühs” and in the West “morgens”.
The Berlin dialect, called Berlinerisch, is sometimes very difficult to understand because they simply swallow certain letters and do not pronounce them. In the three months I’ve been in Berlin, I haven’t met many people who spoke a really pronounced Berlin dialect. However, there are numerous (funny) examples to be found on the Internet.

The people of the capital are known for being a bit cheeky. This is often referred to as the “Berliner Schnauze”. There are some very funny linguistic expressions like “Dit is mir schnurz piepe!” (I don’t care), “Pass ma uff Keule!» (Watch out my friend) or “Wat sind Sie denn für een Blaffke?” (What a fine gentleman they are! – in an ironic way). The Berliners use also very different words and expressions like etepetete, Husche, schnuppe and Stulle. How you named the famous pastry is also very funny and special at the same time. In Switzerland we call the pastry with jam in the middle “Berliner”, but the Berliners call this “Pfannkuchen”.
Another exciting topic is the dialect of the Swiss. The Swiss are known for having a strong Swiss accent in their High German. In addition, they often use words that do not exist in German. I try to speak a “nice” German without the extreme Swiss accent. Thus, many Germans have already told me that they don’t hear that I am Swiss. Of course, this makes me very happy.

As you can see, there are many linguistic subtleties, which are insanely exciting from my point of view. At first, I didn’t think it would be very interesting from a linguistic perspective to choose Berlin as a destination for an exchange semester. But when you spend some time in the German capital, you notice many small and big stories in linguistics. Berlin has many terms that differ from rest of Germany. However, you have to keep your eyes and ears open for that. Moreover, it is always exciting to talk to other people and also to exchange ideas about languages and dialects.

Micha Kuchen

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