Sunday, July 26, 2015

Berlin photo dump, Days 2-4


On our second day in Berlin, Stefan headed off to the Technical University to give a talk, and Elias and I walked through the Tiergarten to the Siegessäule.

The bottom part of the column is covered with detailed mosaics.

It's 285 steps to the top (295 if you count the steps on the outside). Can you see Alexanderplatz in the distance?

We continued through the Tiergarten, pausing at a robust German playground (built for lots of climbing, jumping, and what Americans might call "death trap" opportunities). Then on to the Spree, past government buildings, all the way to the Hauptbahnhof. The Hauptbahnhof is an arabesque of glass and steel. Note the Ritter Sport chocolate add running up the staircase.

We took a train to the Dahlem-Dorf stop, with Hanna and two dogs expertly joining us en route on the train. We left Elias with friends and went for a walk in the Grunewald, a huge wooded park on the southwest side of Berlin. There, polite dogs walk off-leash alongside their look-alike humans. The dogs nod their heads to one another as they pass, with very little barking or disorderly conduct. Along the lake, they neatly line up to chase sticks. As this often involves running into the lake, most of the polite off-leash dogs are wet.

Candace belongs to Hanna's roommate.

Ninja belongs to Hanna.

These two dogs dressed very much like their human, except their human was not wet.

Hanna and I met up with Stefan for dinner at a vegetarian restaurant (Seerose) near the Südstern U-Bahn station. Afterward, we took a walk through the neighborhood, which provided fodder for blog posts on puns and Berlinerisch.


Stefan headed back to Steinebach in the morning. I took the subway to Friederichsstrasse. Heading to the Museumsinsel, I passed a store that had lined all of its windows with antique sewing machines. Unfortunately, the store was still closed, so I could only take a photo from the outside. Liebe Schwester, this photo is for you.

A view of the Pergamon Museum...

And the Dom...

I met up with Elias and friends at the Pergamon. Among other items, the Pergamon houses the ca. 575 BCE Ischtar Tor, the 8th gate to the inner city of Bablyon. It remains one of the most amazing things I've ever seen. I couldn't get very good photos of it, but the Wikipedia link has some good images.

Some of the pieces in the Pergamon are ~2600-2700 years old.

2600-year-old glaze. Looks like some test tiles I've seen...

If you ever feel sad, like you've got a hole in your heart, know that people and deities have been feeling the same way for millennia.

Pile o' tired boys.

Our group of seven (two moms, 5 kids) had lunch together near the New Synagogue.

After lunch, we all took a hot hot train to Potsdam. Have I mentioned yet that Europe was dealing with a crop-destroying heat wave while we were there? No AC, no ceiling fans, no window screens, and millions of gleeful mosquitoes. (The mosquitoes weren't bad in Berlin, but they were awful in Steinebach and environs). There's a killing to be made in Germany with ceiling fans and screens. 

The real attraction in Potsdam is Sanssouci, Frederick the Great's summer palace, but we didn't make it that far, opting instead for a boat tour that left from near the old market square. The square is in the process of being renovated. It was remarkably dead the day we were there. Note the mix of stately classical architecture and depressing Soviet-era utilitarian buildings.


Elias and I had most of Saturday to spend in Berlin before catching our train back to Steinebach. We started off by checking out a flea market near our Tiergarten hotel, then walking a few km to Schloss Charlottenburg (17th & 18th c.) to see the gardens. Charlottenburg and the abundant country residences we had seen from the boat the day before in Potsdam made us wonder whether governing was mainly a recreational activity to keep monarchs occupied between building projects.

By the 18th century, the monarchs had figured out that expansive grounds required an expansive tea house, so they added Belvedere beyond the carp pond.

After leaving the gardens, we walked to the Jungfernheide U-Bahn station. Each station has its own distinctive art.

Elias had nobly put up with a lot of boring grown-up touristy stuff, so he got to choose our last stop in Berlin. Thus we went to the Legoland Discovery Center in the Sony Zentrum at Potsdamer Platz. There, he discovered that he has outgrown Lego Discovery Centers.

Here is the fall of the Berlin wall, dramatically depicted in Legos. Watch all the way to the end for the full effect.

The Sony Center has a dramatic glass ceiling. It is the place to go if you want to be surrounded by American tourists.

With a little time left post-Legos, we took the U-Bahn to Friederischsstrasse and walked back toward the Hauptbahnhof.

Snazzy windows at the Pharmakologisches Institut.

Saving the whales.

The Reichstag. Government happens here.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Berlinerisch, ick liebe dir


When we arrived in Berlin, I found myself unable to understand most of what people were saying. At first I thought I just needed an hour or two to shake off the Bayerisch and get the local accent in my ear, but the problem persisted. Stefan handled speaking and translating, but I was confused. Were people just speaking too quickly for me? Had I forgotten hoch Deutsch? Or was Berlin such an international melting pot that other accents were creeping in?

Soon it hit me. People were speaking Berlin dialect--Berlinerisch. (Yes, yes, I hear you proud regional speakers, "it's a language, not a dialect.")

Thus to a Hugendubel bookstore we marched, in search of both a guide to Berlin and a guide to its dialect.

In Hugendubel, we made our way up to the third floor, where both guidebooks and language books could be found. Stefan went off in search of a WC when a salesperson honed in on me.

"Blah are blah looking blah?" she asked auf Deutsch.

"Umm..." I wasn't confident enough with my German to engage in a conversation with someone I was sure I wouldn't understand, so I said "I'm just looking."

"What blah blah blah looking?" she persisted.

"Umm...Are there books on the dialect of Berlin?" I ventured.

"No. Any books blah Berlin blah in the Berlin section," she said, pointing to the left.

I continued to scan the books on languages. When Stefan returned from the WC, she tried again.

"What book are you looking for?"

Stefan replied that we were looking for a good guidebook to Berlin.

"Berlin guidebooks are over here," she said, pointing again to the section she had already pointed to. "What kind of guidebook do you want?"

"Umm," we said.

"What do you want to do in Berlin?" she prompted. "How long will you be here?"

"Four days; not the typical touristy stuff,"

She handed us her favorite guidebook, then decided if we were only staying for four days, a cheaper one would do. "But really, the best way to see Berlin is with an evening boat tour on the Spree. Good. Do you need any other books?"

"Do you have a book on Berlinerisch?" Stefan asked.

"No. We Do Not Have Any. It would be in the section on Berlin, but We Do Not Have Any."

The next day, Stefan headed to the Technical University to give a talk, Elias went to visit friends for a sleepover, and I went for a long walk with our niece Hanna, who is a horse vet in Berlin. After our walk, she took me to another bookstore, Dussmann, so I could continue the quest for a Berlinerisch book. I had to swoon first over the music scores section, but €120 later, we focused on our primary goal.

The employee we approached at the checkout desk on the first floor at Dussmann was more typical of the German service industry than the employee at Hugendubel. She looked at us, raised an eyebrow, and said "Was." (She probably meant "Was?," but the question mark was too heavy to lift.)

Hanna said auf Deutsch, "My aunt is looking for a book on Berliner--"

"Berlin section. Over there," the woman said, pointing.

"No, not on Berlin, on Berlinerisch," said Hanna.

"Berlin section," she said again, waving us away. "Over there."

We looked in the Berlin section but found only guidebooks, joke books, city maps, souvenir card games, and an umbrella with a map of Berlin printed on the inside.

I felt like I was disobeying the rules when I suggested we go up to the fourth floor to browse the language books. Hanna agreed, but on the escalator she told me that if we couldn't find a book, I'd have to buy the Deutsch/Berlinerisch concentration game to play at dinner.

On the fourth floor, we struck gold. There were dialect books galore: books on Bayerisch, Hessisch, Ruhrdeutsch, Plattdüütsch, Hamburgisch, Wienerisch, Fränkisch, Kölsch, Sächsisch, Schwäbisch, and...wait...what? No Berlinerisch?

No Berlinerisch.

We inquired at an info counter.

"My aunt is looking for a book on Berlinerisch," said Hanna auf Deutsch.

"Berlin section, main floor," the woman said.

"No, not on Berlin, on Berlinerisch," said Hanna.

"Everything we have on Berlin is in the Berlin section."

I jumped in. "Even Berlinerisch? You have Bayerisch, Hessisch, Hamburgisch up here--every other German dialect is in the languages section. Shouldn't Berlinerisch be there too?"

"No. Everything we have on Berlin is in the Berlin section."

Hanna said, "We checked the Berlin section and couldn't find anything."

"If we have it, it's in the Berlin section."

I asked, "Could you, how does one say, 'look it up on the computer'?"

"Oh! Certainly!" She looked on the computer, found two titles, showed us photos of them, and observed they were in stock. Downstairs. In the Berlin section. "Look near the window. Berlin humor is usually near the window."

We headed back downstairs where, at last, we found what we were looking for: Berlinerisch--das Deutsch der Hauptstadt.

Now I understand that in Berlinerisch,
pf -> pp (Apfel -> Appel)
endings -> +e (Bank -> Banke)
ch -> ck (ich -> ick/icke)
k -> ch (Markt -> Marcht)
e -> ö (elf -> ölwe)
i -> ö/ü (Kirche -> Kürsche)
ä -> ee (sägen -> seejen)
The list goes on and on: r tends to get dropped, g tends to be replaced with j and assorted other mutilations, rst turns into hscht, assorted hard sounds become soft and soft sounds become hard.

On top of that, contractions abound. Elias and I couldn't make sense of schwömmnknstje until Stefan explained it as "Schwimmen kannst du, ja?" ("You can swim, right?")

And then there are case shifts. What should be accusative (e.g. mich/dich) becomes dative (e.g. mir/dir), as in ick liebe dir. An example of convenient simplification, or a betrayal of the obsessive precision of German grammar?

In sum, Berlinerisch does a bunch of things I can't catch as they fly by sounding like gibberish. So much to learn and so little time. I guess we'll just have to go back to Berlin.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Puns in German

German is not a language for puns.

For the record, the OED dryly defines "pun" as "the use of a word in such a way as to suggest two or more meanings or different associations, or of two or more words of the same or nearly the same sound with different meanings, so as to produce a humorous effect; a play on words."

My favorite pun is bilingual:
Why do the French only eat one egg for breakfast? --Beacuse one egg is un oeuf
See? One sound, double meaning: one egg = un oeuf = enough.

Here's another favorite:
A Freudian slip is when you say one thing, but you mean a mother.
Get it? Another? A Mother? Freud? Funny, right?

In German, puns operate more like this American English device:
Get it? It's a truck stop called "TruxTop." The letters XT make the same sound as CKST, but a play on spelling rather than meaning does not a pun make.

Now behold a pun from Berlin, auf Deutsch:

Farschule B-Standen. "Traffic School B-STANDEN."

B-STANDEN is the name of the traffic school. In English, it means "B-Stood." Stefan and his niece say it's a funny name because "B-STANDEN" sounds like "Bestanden," which means "Passed." Get it? "Traffic School Passed." Like, you go to this traffic school, and you pass. But instead of calling it "Traffic School Passed," they call it "Traffic School PAS-sed." Or maybe "Traffic Skool Passed"? Or "Traffic School P-Assed" (which is a little more passive-aggressively funny in English than B-STANDEN is in German). It's hard to translate, but in any case, it's about as subtle and clever as TruxTop--which is to say, it is neither subtle nor clever.

I have tried making up puns in German, but Germans are linguistic literalists, and they simply stare at me with blank faces. Think there's potential to do something with Abfall/Apfel (trash/apple)? Nope. One means trash, the other means apple, and the words don't sound remotely similar. How about Mutter/Mutter (mother/screw nut)? No, the meaning is clear from context. And who would call their mother a screw nut anyway? (See? That's already funny in English.) Perhaps in Bavaria, pining for spring, one could wistfully sigh, "ja Mai"/"ja mei" (yes May/oh my)--but it probably wouldn't be funny.

Of course, I'm a non-native German speaker, with limited exposure to the nuances of the language. Know a pun in German that's actually funny? As funny as un oeuf or a mother? Please share it in the comments section!

Berlin photo dump, Day 1

As usual, living life got in the way of blogging, so I'm resorting to photo dumps.

We took a side trip to Berlin last week. We set out late Tuesday night on the overnight train. If you're looking for an uncomfortable night's non-sleep, then the night train is for you! Here's a photo of E on the jungle gym ladder up to the top bunk. He's climbing up backward, because I'm occupying the rest of the space.

We happily arrived, bleary-eyed, in Berlin at 8am. After dropping our backpacks off at our hotel, we enjoyed a tasty breakfast at Brot & Butter, with some impressively confident sparrows who earned every crumb we fed them.

Berlin is a mix of beautiful old buildings interspersed with newer ones, presumably largely a function of where bombs did and didn't land during WWII. This magnificent Jugendstil door was near the intersection of Herderstrasse and Goethestrasse.

A friend's book auf Deutsch on the first floor at a Hugendubel bookstore. We already have a copy auf Deutsch, so we went for a Berlin guidebook instead.

The Stolpersteine project began in Berlin.

The Kaiser Wilhelm Church, built in the 1890s, was bombed in 1943. It remains as a memorial; a new church, edging into the right in this photo, was built in 1959-63.

The mosaic ceiling inside the remains of the Kaiser Wilhelm memorial church are stunning.

Wikipedia says the new church has 21,292 stained glass inlays. During the day, from the outside, the church looks gray; at night, it's lit from the inside and glows blue.

The 1962 organ, designed by Karl Schuke, has ~5000 pipes.

The manhole covers let you know you're in Berlin.

We took a bus to Alexanderplatz, then meandered back toward the Museumsinsel. Here's the obligatory photo of the Alexanderplatz TV tower (built 1965-69). We didn't go up.

We took a look inside the Rotes Rathaus (Red City Hall).

Here's a sign out front, pointing people with disabilities to another entrance. Stefan says there's no story here, as the entrance can't help that it's located on a street called "Jews' Street" (Jüden is middle high German for Juden; the street and the street name date to the 13th century). The sign makes me think of Holocaust atrocities anyway.

Stained glass turkey in the Rotes Rathaus.

Our path took us through the Nikolaiviertel. Here's the Nikolaikirche, where Johann Crüger served as cantor for 40 years.

Lutherans, name that tune.

This impressive dragon is being slaughtered in the Nikolaiviertel by St. George and St. George's impressive steed. The statue was built in 1863 by August Kiss.

A plaque featuring Marx and the revolutionary Volk, across the bridge from the Berliner Dom.

The Dom (Protestant) is large and imposing. We didn't have the energy to wait in line to go inside.

No lines at the Antiquities Museum, so we went inside there instead.


Stefan and I have had a framed postcard of this statue in our bathroom for about 20 years. We thought it was "Young Boy on the John Examining His Athlete's Foot," but it turns out it's "Statue of Boy with Thorn." Boys with thorns in their feet were a popular Hellenistic sculpture motif dating from the 3rd century BCE. The one in the Antiquities Museum is a Roman copy from 150 CE.

Proof that fleas have been around for millennia.

The first time I visited Berlin was in 1991 with Stefan. For me, it was no big deal to walk through the Brandenburg Tor. For him, it was a momentous change. Twenty four years later, it's normal.

The highpoint of our first day in Berlin was the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. An info center underground provides cold stats and puts human names and stories to faces, while visually echoing the stelae forms above.