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Sprechkäse: Your German Phrasebook


There are a wealth of phrasebooks out there, even a book on how to be German, which should be essential reading for most German language courses. It’s clear that for successful, or at least rewarding integration, the language will be required. But here in Berlin it remains a forgivable sin to bypass the language for the most part, leaving you to order your beer, coffee or Schorle in English without much friction.

What’s worse than speaking no German at all? Being in between: starting in German, then having to recede into the comfortable mother tongue.

Despite all this, once you’ve broken past the Danke, Bitte, and Tschüß, you can push yourself into more cultural events on offer, changing the face of the city entirely. To begin with, the fleeting side of Berlin dissipates; the meetings between you and those in limbo who don’t intend to stay become one thing, but not everything. (Of course, the line between the residents and visitors is more blurred than in other European capitals, and you’ll never find yourself forced to learn the language.) But it’s true, you moved to Berlin, not Germany, so make of it what you will.

Anxiety aside, here is a list of essential phrases for those who don’t want to read Death in Venice in it’s original voice, but would rather just provoke a smile (*DISCLAIMER* this is not guaranteed):

1. ‘Ich habe einen Koffer stehen lassen

Google translate says: ‘I left a suitcase

For the father.

This is a playful number best reserved for the closest ones because you’re insufferably polite. On having suspicion of someone bowels airing - because I’m insufferably polite - you could ask them: ‘Entschuldigung Sie, bitte. Hast du einen Koffer stehen lassen?’ There’s no equivalent beyond ‘that’s some heavy luggage you’ve left isn’t it?’ But it’ll work, trust me. The question remains for public spaces: is it more invasive to draw attention to a fart or to fart? The sooner you answer it the better.

2. ‘Hätte, hätte Fahrradkette

Google translate says: ‘Would have, could have, Bicycle chain

For the remorseful.

This is the candidate for best tote bag phrase, so you can carry your accumulated regrets around promoting the phrase ‘shoulda, woulda, coulda' to all who can hold attention for such things. Some may call it childish or offensive, but let it remain that you should probably say it about something you’ve failed to do shouldn’t you? What’s better, there’s no connection to the bike chain suggested in the phrase: it’s only for rhyme, which makes it twist even better. However, you should await the day your bike chain breaks for the opportunity to bring content to this phrase: ‘Hätte, hätte!

3. ‘Sprechkäse

Google translate says: ‘Speech cheese

For the hedonist.

Overwhelmed by the light of tomorrow you definitely haven’t slept into, you’re talking, and at quite a pace too. Most likely about nothing. Quatsch! But you really like it and you feel really good. Everything has that balance at last. Your friend turns to you and notices you’ve speech cheese. So they tell you: ‘Du hast Sprechkäse’. You realise that during your mind rattle there’s been white stuff spinning up in your oral commissures and the time has come to wipe it off, probably with that same tissue you’ll blow your nose with later because you won’t be leaving the house. Ultimately, this is a polite gesture and one you should pass on.

4. ‘Ist das Kunst, oder kann das Weg?

Google translate says: ‘Is this art, or can it be thrown away?

For the cultured.

It’s 1986, the caretaker of Kunstakademie Dusseldorf removes some Deutsche Markenbutter from the bin outside the academy. Previously, it sat in the corner of the famous Raum 3. Fettecke, or fat corner, was an ongoing demonstration of material to the students of the academy by the artist Joseph Bueys. The caretaker was Johannes Stüttgen, a former student of Bueys, and a legal case ensued concerning his right to the property after he found it disposed in the bins, but that’s no bother as Rhine-Westfalen gave him some Deutschemarks. Forward to 2011 and Mike Krüger, a German comedian, performs his new live show entitled: ‘Ist das Kunst, oder kann das Weg?’ to an audience of elders. It’s unclear whether the phrase was created or popularised by Krüger, but all the same it’s a neat gambit to impress your German, or not so German mates.

5. ‘Süßholzraspeln

Google translate says: ‘Sweet

For the sweethearts.

Raspeln is to grate or to rasp and Süßholz is liquorice. When you see that group with heart shaped irises you can say Süßholzraspeln. It isn’t derisive, but you could be mistaken for a green-tongued observer if said the wrong way. Maybe prefix it with an ‘awwwww’ to appear patronising instead of jealous. That’s much more forgivable.

6. ‘Alles hat ein Ende, nur die Wurst hat zwei

Google translate says: ‘Everything has an end, only the sausage has two

For the pensive.

These are said to be the last words of a somehow still unknown philosopher. When upon the slowing of his teutonic heart he realised the significance of the two ends. The philosopher was Stephan Remmler and he is neither a philosopher nor has he spoken his last words, but in his darkest Liebeskummer (heartache), he found insight in the impossibility of the Wurst. Who can blame him for ignoring the ambiguity. Recommended listening.

7. ‘Quatsch!’

Google translate says: ‘Nonsense

For everyone.

The verb Quatschen is the playful conversation we should all be having. Y’know, the banter, the crack or the craic, the shooting of the breeze and the shit, the chewing of the fat and the gab. All this is Quatsch reden and is vital for a good time. The noun Quatsch has the equivalent meaning though if you become aware of someone speaking genuine rubbish, simply say Quatsch! Nouns: balderdash, tommyrot, folderol, malarky, guff, taradiddle, nonsense, flubdub, and RUBBISH.

8. ‘Maurer decollté

Google translate says: ‘Mason’s neckline

For the homesick.

We end with the sight of the expanding city. The vision of someone somewhere financing construction. A builder’s bum.

By Tommy Pearson

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