German in 50 Memorable Phrases -13

January 31, 2016

13. Die Apotheke

This is something which I thought I knew a long time ago, and moving to Germany has confirmed it: Germans are obsessed with their health!

“What?!” I hear you cry. “In a country renowned for its beer, beer festivals, Christmas markets and sausages – among other things – people are obsessed with their health?!” They are, but probably not in quite the way in which one might imagine.

For me, when I hear the term ‘health fanatic’, the image which my mind has been conditioned to conjure up is of a man or woman, probably at least partly clad in lycra, sipping on suspiciously green smoothies, looking surprisingly well rested, and waxing lyrical on the benefits of their latest fitness routine. If not this, then maybe it’s some vegan in a glorified nappy, wearing an almost unnatural state of relaxation while contorting their body in all sorts of weird and, to some, wonderful ways…Neither of these are examples of what I mean when I say that the Germans are obsessed with their health.

No, instead what I mean is that Germans are obsessed with the ointments, tablets, creams, lotions and potions which can contribute towards the easing of their illnesses and ailments. You see, a German may not think much at all about how much Schweinefleisch (pork meat), Würstchen (sausage), mayonnaise-heavy Salats (salad!) and Kuchen (cake) they are easing down their gullets; they may not have any idea about whether or not they are getting the right amounts of fresh food in their diets. But they certainly will know the location and walking distance, possibly to the nearest metre (!), of their nearest Apotheke (chemist). Thankfully, they can be found on almost every street corner in built-up areas – they are also among the few shops with opening hours on a Sunday.

God bless die Apotheke.

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German in 50 Memorable Phrases – 11-12

January 13, 2016

11. schönen Tag oder schönen Abend

While formality and efficiency remain important to life in Germany, German customer service isn’t highly regarded, even by the Germans themselves. Any who have left the beautiful Vaterland and travelled west – don’t forget that the Germans, while frustrating us all with their propensity to reserve the sun-loungers, are some the keenest travelers you will find anywhere in the world – are likely to have noticed the rather sunnier way their trolley full of Brot (bread), Kartoffel (potato) and Fleisch (meat) is received by the disengaged worker paid to run it through the till. In spite of this, most people employed in the customer service industry in Germany will at least do you the courtesy of wishing you a good day, ‘schönen Tag’, or a good evening, ‘schönen Abend’. In response to this you should of course smile, and, to offer them a little positive reinforcement, reply ‘Gleichfalls’ (Gleich-fals) – same to you!

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12. Bis…

I’m constantly surprised by how many shop signs, advertisements, and even till receipts I see written in English throughout Germany. This is not to mention the music scene where, disappointingly, many German performers will shun their native tongue in the hope of wider recognition and international success. In Berlin, a great international city, the wide use of English is not wholly unexpected, but it is evident in towns and cities all over the country where the opportunities to converse in the language are quite limited. Just today I was watching a television advert for the ‘I make you sexy Kochbuch’.

 

I am a Brit, and in my country foreign languages are regarded by many as artsy, not particularly important subjects which might be worth persuing if you either enjoy them or see them as an easy way to achieving a high grade. The latter is, of course, unlikely, as learning a language is a great challenge of intellect, memory, bloody mindedness and stickability.

 

Fortunately, the Germans are rather better linguists. For them, learning languages, particularly English, is regarded as an important element of their time in education. Indeed, I have lost count of the number of Germans who have apologised to me for their ‘school English’, and then gone on to lead an insightful discussion about international affairs, or educated me on the history of the British Royal family. Where I’m going with all this is that even if you have a German vocabulary limited to one hundred words or less, you will probably still be able to have conversations with Germans, and hopefully even make German-speaking friends.

 

So, you’ve met someone at a party and arranged to go for a Kaffee with them later in the week…You can impress them and show them that you are at least trying to gain a handle on their sometimes inaccessible language by using ‘bis’. ‘Bis später’ – see you later; ‘Bis Monntag’ – see you Monday; or, if you’re feeling particularly ambitious, ‘Bis Morgen Abend’ – see you tomorrow evening.

 

 

 

German in 50 Memorable Phrases – Phrases 9-10

December 20, 2015
  1. Einsteigen oder Aussteigen

Don’t believe what you hear…Not every bus, train, and tram in Germany runs perfectly on time. Sometimes you will find yourself waiting impatiently for a bus which never arrives; sometimes the seven minute intervals printed on the timetable become more like twenty. Of course, Germans are extremely dissatisfied by such occurrences, and you should be too. Don’t compare the situation to your home country and brush off the inconvenience with ‘this happens every day at home’ or some other inappropriate flippancy. The German people pride themselves on punctuality and efficient use of time and you should too if you want to fit in.

Two words will be invaluable as you begin to negotiate the maze of underground (U-bahn), over-ground (S-bahn), tram (Metro) and bus routes: einsteigen (board, get in) and aussteigen (get off, exit). These may sound simple enough but remember you are in Germany, where thorough preparation is the key to success. Don’t expect a friendly Metro driver to open the doors if they’ve closed while you’ve been mulling over which particular Würst, potato and cabbage combination you will be preparing when you get home. And if you get caught in a crowded bus or carriage with aussteigen having already been announced then take the German approach: refer to phrase one (Entschuldigung) then push and elbow your way mercilessly toward the door…

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  1. Links oder Rechts

We implore young, and sometimes not-so-young children to know their left (links) from their right (rechts). I do, at least, being a teacher in a Grundschule (primary school). So it is certainly important, when finding your way around any German speaking part of the world, that you know yours. Remember, if you hear the words ‘Aussteigen, links’ (refer to phrase 9) then this means in the direction that the train, tram or metro is travelling. This is, of course, obvious, but your inability to navigate and coordinate yourself through such simple tasks may not be considered to have the same comedic value that you are used to. If you have been brave enough to ask for directions (Wo ist… – see phrase 4) and found one of the many Germans who can communicate effectively in English, then don’t be surprised if some of the words they say to you are in their native Deutsch. Try and at least meet them part of the way by knowing your links from your rechts.

 

 

German in 50 Memorable Phrases – Phrases 7-8

December 6, 2015

7. Ohne oder mit?

It’s a surprising phenomenon, but Germans really do love their fizzy drinks. In fact, I don’t think it would be going too far to say that it is almost not a proper drink in Germany without the addition of a bit of fizz! How else can be explained the popularity of Schorle, a beverage often served with too little fruit juice (Saft), and way too much sparkling water to be in any way palatable…? This means that the words ohne and mit take on a great significance. When you’re stocking up on crates of bottled water – heaven forbid that you should drink from the tap – you’ll need to check carefully on the bottle to find out whether it’s ‘ohne Kohlensäure’ (without CO²) or ‘mit Kohlensäure’ (with CO²). When you’re ordering your Kaffee und Kuchen, you’ll need to say whether you want your coffee ‘mit Milch/Sahne’ (milk/cream) or ‘ohne Milch/Sahne’. If, however, you should be offered something ‘mit Liebe’ (love) or ‘ohne Liebe’…Well, think very carefully about that one!

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                                                        ‘Mit oder ohne Sahne?’

 

8. Das ist alles or Das war’s?

I can picture the scene now…You’re at the bakery on a Saturday morning stocking up on Brötchen in preparation for a long German breakfast. You hope that you’ve ordered just a few Biere at one of the many festivals. You fancied some Brot with Mett for an afternoon snack – of course, you had no idea when buying it what Mette actually was. You’ve used ‘ich möchte’ and ‘für mich’ and now you’re hoping to end your order in triumph rather than a whimper of misunderstanding. The person serving you will look up at you expectantly. They may even say to you ‘Ist das alles?’(all) or ‘Das war’s?’(That’s it?). Don’t hesitate. Either continue your order, or, if it’s complete, reply confidently ‘Ja, das ist alles’, or ‘Ja, das war’s’ (Yar, das vars).

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                                                         Anyone for Mett?

German in 50 Memorable Phrases: Phrases 4-6

November 22, 2015

Chrisfarnen's Blog

4. Wo ist…?

You’re exploring. You’re lost. You’ve over-indulged on sausage, potatoes, cabbage, and beer. You’re looking for one of Germany’s astonishingly few cash points (der Geldautomat). For any of these scenarios, and many more, you will certainly need to know this phrase, which simply means ‘Where is…?’ After that you might have to hope that the person you have addressed speaks English, or you might find yourself having to go through a potentially embarrassing session of acting out what you require.

This phrase may not get you exactly what you want, but at least people will realise that you need help of some sort…

 5. Mochten Sie den Bon?

This is a little bit of a wildcard, but it has certainly helped me out in the simple and rather crucial act of buying food in Germany. You’re in the shop or supermarket, and you’ve avoided buying too…

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German in 50 Memorable Phrases: Phrases 4-6

November 21, 2015

4. Wo ist…?

You’re exploring. You’re lost. You’ve over-indulged on sausage, potatoes, cabbage, and beer. You’re looking for one of Germany’s astonishingly few cash points (der Geldautomat). For any of these scenarios, and many more, you will certainly need to know this phrase, which simply means ‘Where is…?’ After that you might have to hope that the person you have addressed speaks English, or you might find yourself having to go through a potentially embarrassing session of acting out what you require.

This phrase may not get you exactly what you want, but at least people will realise that you need help of some sort…

 5. Möchten Sie den Bon?

This is a little bit of a wildcard, but it has certainly helped me out in the simple and rather crucial act of buying food in Germany. You’re in the shop or supermarket, and you’ve avoided buying too many salats and odd looking meats soaked in brine. You’ve acknowledged the cashier, seen the total amount appear on the computer – you may even have mastered your numbers by now. You’re rejoicing in the success of your mission when the cashier turns to you and says…‘Möchten Sie den Bon?’ You look at them blankly. There is an awkward pause when they realise that you’re not a native, before they dangle the receipt in front of you. Don’t make the same mistake I did. Reply confidently ‘Ja, bitte’ or ‘Nein, danke’.

6. Für mich…

A neat little expression which can be overheard quite regularly in restaurants, bars and cafes in Germany. Für mich (F-or mi-ccchhh). It’s succinct, simple, and can help to free up a little space in your brain for the greater linguistic challenges that it must overcome to help you to communicate your order effectively. Meaning, as I’m sure you’ve realised, ‘For me…’, it can be used either at the beginning or at the end of your order. So, even if the rest of your pronunciation is a disaster, even if you have to resort to pointing after this, don’t worry. Just say ‘Für mich…

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German in 50 Memorable Phrases: Phrases 1-3

November 15, 2015

Let me confess it now…The German language scares me. And it’s not just one thing about it, it’s everything: the astonishingly long words, the complex grammar, the impossible pronunciation. And while many Germans, especially in Berlin, have some proficiency in English, their preference, quite rightly, is to conduct their day-to-day business in their mother tongue.

The solution, of course, is a simple one: if you want to live comfortably and happily in Germany, or if you want to get the most out of a visit, then you must learn some German. However, this won’t happen overnight. So was born the idea for this blog – a place where a German language novice can share with you some of the words and phrases which have helped him to get by, while also giving a small and sometimes humorous insight into the people and customs of the wonderful country of Germany! Ready? Zip-up that Jack Wolfskin coat, and pull-on your all-weather trousers and some sensible shoes. It’s time to get started…

1. Entschuldigung

Ent-schul-di-gung. Say it again for me. Ent-schul-di-gung. Now let’s try and blend that strange collection of phonemes together. Entschuldigung. Practice it a few times before you head out into the streets and keep it in your head at all times. The word, meaning simply ‘sorry’ or ‘excuse me’ can make up, at least to some extent, for all of your future blunders. Use it when trying to get off a crowded tram or train. Use it when you accidentally walk in front of a crazed cyclist. Use it to apologise for your poor grasp of German. Say it one more time…Now, use it!

2. Tschüss

Right, you’ve apologised away, and found a friendly German who has been willing to help you. You’re feeling, probably, at least a little on the silly side. Now is the chance to redeem yourself, to look like you’ve been there and done it before. Ready? Simply turn to that person, and casually give one of the most over-used words in the German language. Say Tschüss (ch-ou-ss). They will smile at you, probably only out of politeness, but they should smile. You’ve just said goodbye, good day, and a multitude of other things in one succinct phrase. Say it often. Say it whenever you can. Tschüss.

und-tschuss-license-plate 3. Ich möchte…

A really simple but effective phrase. It means ‘I would like…’ Use it in a café or restaurant. Use it in a bakery or Apotheke (pharmacy). Use it at a train station, if you’re that brave. The Germans often won’t use it, but they’ve got all sorts of other weird and wonderful words, phrases, and sentences to use. It sounds polite, it’s simple to remember and it lets the person know straight away that they’re dealing with an Ausländer and therefore may need to switch languages very soon!

So concludes the first installment of this new blog. I hope you’ve learned something (maybe), been entertained (just a little?), and are waiting with baited breath for more. Any Germans who feel the need to Klugscheissen this post, please go right ahead! Until next time…

Losing Myself in St. George’s English Bookstore

November 8, 2015

When it slowly dawns that the idea of a life away from your familiar surroundings is no longer just an idea and might actually have some legs, people seem to compelled to remind you about everything you will give up. For me it was driving on the left side, Sunday roasts, Marmite, the British sense of humour…To those I answered reliable public transport, Schweinebraten, almost any of the wacky, spreadable salats on sale in the supermarkets, and…many Germans also have a great sense of humour.

The reason that I mention these things is not with the intention of lauding over people the happiness of my situation in Berlin. Instead it is to highlight the one thing that I thought I would miss – bookshops with a well-stocked English section…I needn’t have worried. In fact, my accessibility to a plethora of reasonably titled volumes has actually improved here in Berlin, as I’ve had the good fortune to rent a flat in Prenzlauer Berg, just a stone’s throw away from St. George’s English Bookstore!

St. George’s, which can be found on Wörther Strasse 27, was founded in 2003. The store boasts, I’m sure correctly, to have the largest store of new and English language books in Berlin and possibly in Germany.

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As a book-loving new arrival in Germany this, for me, is the perfect place. A place where I won’t have to apologise for my primitive grasp of the German language. A place where everything makes sense. A place where I’m more likely to be right than wrong. And what a place it is…

A long, narrow room. Vintage leather sofas. Ladders reaching to the heavens. Syncopated, haunting jazz rhythms emanating from somewhere behind the payment desk. And, most importantly, shelves and shelves fit to bursting with beautiful books.

For any lover of reading the English language this can be this is the perfect venue for a long browse, a heavenly shelter in which to escape the cold of the impending winter, or a venue in which to meet a fellow book lover.

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I’ve only been here a few weeks, and, while I’m currently getting by on a fairly tight budget, I confess I’ve already made three purchases: two Hemingway novels, both in seemingly brand new condition, and the first novel by Kazuo Ishiguro, used, but showing few signs of wear. For the many hours of adventures, laughs, and pleasures which lie ahead of me, I parted with just 19 Euros!

St. George’s, I’ll be back for more…

The Bright Lights of Berlin

October 24, 2015

After a couple of botched attempts, having endured the ardor of finding a job and renting a flat, having battled through the inquisitions of stern, joyless city officials,  I‘ve finally made it to my new city of residence and possibly the city of my dreams…Berlin!

I’ve come here to learn, to live, to work, and to write about the sights, sounds, people and places I hope to discover in my adopted city.

The time for procrastination is over…On my desk lies only a glass of water and an untidy, handwritten scrawl on a scrap of paper – ‘Don’t leave this room!’ It’s time to write! With such a city at my disposal, I should never want for material.

It was with this blog in mind that I dragged myself out of my flat on a dark, drizzly Monday night. My destination: The Berlin Festival of Lights. For the last ten years, October has seen some of the major buildings and monuments of Berlin lit up by the glowing and imaginative light projections of international artists. This year I was going to be a part of it!

Having marched through the wind and sat through the listless hypnotism of an evening journey on the U-Bahn, I arrived at my first illumination: Gendarmenmarkt. A small crowd had gathered around the building, with a few more serious spectators assembling some rather nifty looking camera equipment. The scene was pleasant, the beautiful, old building imaginatively illuminated by the different shades and colours of the light projected onto them…I could have stayed quite happily for half an hour watching the lights move and change, but with the time and the weather against me, I lingered for only ten minutes before ducking below ground to head towards my next destination.

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I arrived at Potsdamer Platz with high expectations. The area is usually well-known for its night time illuminations, particularly the tall DB building and the roof of the spectacular Sony Centre. Therefore, what I was confronted with was a little disappointing. Some less spectacular light shows, projected onto a couple of the buildings, and a flashing house of cards. If I’d happened to be walking past and seen this then I might have been quite pleasantly surprised. But having made a journey especially I felt a little underwhelmed. I stayed for a couple of minutes while I tried to persuade a rather loquacious lady that I didn’t actually speak much German, and then headed for the nearest transport which would take me to the Brandenburg Gate.
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The area around the world famous Brandenburg Gate had already become one of my favourite spots in Berlin. It may be crowded and noisy and full of over-priced restaurants and coffee shops, but being there always makes me feel very Germanic. And as I walked up the steps on my way out of the U-bahn station, I knew I was in for a treat. And indeed I was. In fact, I don’t think I would be going too far to say I was privileged to be there among the crowd while the Gate displayed the five best entries for the Festival of Lights 2015: New Dimensions. At some points the Gate was transformed into a priceless work of art. At others it appeared to be on fire. Whatever the illumination, it was wonderful. It was truly one of those moments where the world seemed to stand still, where all worries were set aside, where you could forget all the awful things going on in the world and just enjoy its beauty, where…Maybe that’s enough for now…

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I set off back to my flat cold and tired, but happy. No longer will my whole week be ruled by work. Instead I am going to immerse myself in the places, people, and beauty of my new surroundings. There may be no better city in which to do it!

Turning German – Teil Funf

August 13, 2014

Some of you may have suspected it, and now I can officially announce it: I’m taking a short sabbatical from German. Not from learning the language, of course, that would never do; for I know that to be more German, improving my speaking, reading and writing of the language are pivotal. Instead I’m having a break from blogging about my grammar and pronunciation difficulties to write about other things German – in this case, the confusing (at least for me!) matter of the German national anthem.

Now, anyone who read my World Cup post knows how much I enjoyed that tournament. And, one of the highlights from a German perspective was undoubtedly that semi-final thrashing of the hosts, Brazil. But what will have got almost as much attention from any German viewers of the BBC coverage of that match were the words of one BBC commentator who, first at three nil and later at six nil, announced that the Germans in the crowd could be heard singing their anthem “Deutschland uber alles”. “Disgraceful” and “embarrassing” were words that immediately sprang from my girlfriend’s lips. At this moment, I had only a vague idea of what she was talking about. What had been said that was so wrong?

I mentioned that at the time I had only a vague idea of what she was talking about, and I meant it. For just before the beginning of the tournament I’d had the grand plan of trying to learn the German national anthem. Now, I say ‘grand plan’ but in reality it was just a pipe dream, for while I may have mentioned it a few times to my better, German half, I actually did very little about it. In fact all I really did, as I tend to do for anything I don’t know how to do these days, was type ‘German national anthem’ into YouTube, and clicked on the first thing that came up. “Deutschland, Deutschland uber alles…” sung out over the familiar tune on my laptop. “You can’t play that”, she said to me. “That’s the forbidden one!”

Now, I have noticed during the four years that I’ve spent with my beautiful German Frau that there are rather differing attitudes among Brits and Germans to the country’s unfortunate past. For we Brits, Hitler and the rise of Nazi Germany is rammed down our throats pretty much as soon as we get to secondary school and sit in our first history lessons. In fact, as newbies to the school, we don’t even get time to de-wedgy* ourselves first. And while we may make the odd disparaging remark about Germans as juveniles, usually following the inevitable spanking my die Nationalmannschaft on the football pitch or the latest holiday invasion of the sun loungers, we generally think of this as a dark time, caused to a great extent by the supposedly great thinkers of Britain, France and the U.S., and now look admiringly towards Germany as a country of great beer, fantastic cars and beautiful landscapes. But for Germans there are many things that they would prefer were now never seen, said or repeated. This was a terrible time both the word and their country, and they are born with a share of the national guilt. In fact, until recently, any form of national pride has been largely taboo.

As Germany completed their opening games at the World Cup 2014 I felt like I’d my adopted country down by not knowing the anthem – those fantastic players all clad in black and white clearly needed me. For while the famous tune reverberated around the packed stadiums, probably only around half of the German players made any attempt to sing along. Being from Wales, I’m used to watching the Welsh team, albeit the rugby team, link arms around waists and belt out ‘Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau’ at surprising volume with tears of pride collecting in their eyes. A few years ago, a bloke in New Zealand told me that it was dream to watch the Welsh rugby team at the Millennium stadium in Cardiff because he’d heard that the whole stadium sang the rousing anthem together, completely in-tune. While there may be only a certain amount of truth to this, he’d obviously heard what a big deal the anthem was to the people of Wales. And yet here stood the Germans at one of the biggest sporting events in the world, mumbling, whispering or sulking their way through their anthem. Did they not know the words? Were they embarrassed to promote their German-ness? Or was a verse of ‘Das Deutschland lied’ just too much to manage?

Let me pause here to say that the intention of this piece is by no means simply to criticise BBC commentators – apparently some of the best in the world – or German footballers – definitely the best in the world at present. Instead, as I’d prefer to try to offer a few explanations for their actions. Therefore, an exploration of the history of the anthem would seem appropriate.

It was on August 26th 1841 that the poet August Heinrich Hoffmann von Fallersleben wrote ‘Das Deutschland lied’. The music had been written over forty years earlier by Austrian composer Joseph Haydn. In 1922 the first President of the Weimar Republic, Friedrich Ebert, officially announced ‘Das Deutschland lied’ as the national anthem.

Its fall from grace came after the Nazis took power. For, during the terrible years of the Third Reich, the first stanza was used heavily, its opening lines of ‘Deutschland, Deutschland uber alles, Uber alles in der Welt’ (Germany, Germany above all, Above all in the world) becoming synonymous with Nazi barbarism and ruthless ambition. This had certainly not been Hoffmann’s ambition, for these words were written at a time before German unification, and had therefore been intended by their writer as a rallying cry for a united Germany. Unfortunately, it was the Nazi association which stuck, and it is easy to understand why Germans might be a little sensitive about the incorrect naming of their anthem, particularly as the words to the opening stanza are rarely sung or spoken in modern day Germany.

Once World War Two came to an end, the newly founded Federal Republic of Germany was at a loss for what to do on the question of a national anthem. It wasn’t until 1952 that then Chancellor Konrad Adenauer asked President Theodor Heuss to “designate the song by Hoffmann and Haydn the national anthem. At state functions the third verse should be sung.” Meanwhile, East Germany adopted its own anthem, ‘Auferstanden aus Ruinen’. Maybe, for the West Germans and now Germans, a new anthem would have been more pragmatic? For, ever since, the Germans have been singing the third stanza, but, with the exception of the 2006 World Cup, with a distinct lack of gusto.

So, finally, a few suggestions. For BBC commentators, while you may have spent many of your early history lessons recovering from the horrors of mass wedgying*, it is still expected that you show foreign countries and cultures due respect by doing your research. For die Nationalmannschaft, I watched the 2006 World Cup and saw some rousing performances of ‘Das Deutschland lied’; your football has reached even greater heights since then, so there is no reason for your singing to deteriorate so drastically. Finally, for all you lovely Germans, yours is a country of great resilience that has surfaced from the depths of post-war depression and the Berlin Wall to build an enviable infrastructure, the strongest economy in Europe and a reputation for great organisation, hospitality and beauty. It may not suit you to be loud, but you should certainly be proud; and if you are proud then, please, SING UP!

*The wedgy – the process of yanking another’s underwear in the upwards direction, causing them discomfort and sometimes pain