Berlin. You’ve heard a lot about that magical place. All the cool kids are going there for vacation, and you have to listen to them coming back with a backpack of stories about the inspiring art spaces, rich history, juicy food choices, life-changing club scene and all the cheap deals in this capital city. And then the even cooler kids started moving one after the other to that rising metropole, leaving you behind in your oh-so-outdated town. Now you stalk them, ❤ those hashtags #dönermachtschöner #sundayfunday and retweeting First we take Manhattan, then we take Berlin.
Let’s face it, there is nothing left for you to do where you live (sorry, Liverpool, excusez-moi, Paris). You wipe the dust off your laptop screen and pack that old friend on top of your neatly folded pjs. In the blink of an eye, you’re ready to leave for Berlin, and for good. Yes, you absolutely need to get your piece of that town. No need to explain your strategical relocation to your friends — they’ll simply die of jealousy whilst you are on your way to becoming one of the 379,120 Berlin-based lifestyle bloggers.
But what do you really know about Berlin, that enticing place full of thrilling surprises just waiting to be discovered? Let’s keep it simple: Berlin is the capital of Germany, the country where German people live. And what do you know about German people? Yes, as you strongly suspect, German people have high standards meaning that they might be … well, not easily impressed. And how is your German? Nonexistent? Too bad for you, just another hot newcomer to Berlin, but don’t despair too quickly.
To really impress a German might seem daunting, but it’s far from impossible — succeeding depends on a careful formula that we’ve put together exclusively for you. All it takes is your shameless articulation of these seven German sentences that are so apt for everyday life in Berlin they’ll transform you into Kennedy 2.0 — Ich bin ein Berliner. Here we go:
1. Darf ich das in Papier eingeschlagen bekommen?
Translation: “Can you wrap this up in paper, please?”
Welcome to Berlin and all its Flohmarkts (flea markets) and boutiques have to offer. But beware, whatever you buy here — really, no matter what — you won’t get any plastic bags to store your souvenirs in. Sound stupid? Well, Berlin knows that plastic bags end up in the ocean, wrapped around some poor dolphin’s snout. So now that you’re on board with your environment, and you actually begin to appreciate the amazing variety of wrapping paper Berlin has to offer, you’re ready for the talking part. Just take these city survival sentences with you, and make sure to read this first sentence out loud to the cashier. Watch her startled expression as she tries to understand what just happened: you just wowed her.
2. Das Kind werden wir schon schaukeln.
- Literal translation: “We’ll swing this child.”
- Meaning: “No worries, we got this.”
Please don’t pick up any children in Berlin, and especially don’t swing them around in the air — it will cause a variety of problems (ironic considering that the actual meaning of this innocent sentence is: “This situation will not be a problem, trust me.”). So when your grumpy, slightly-older neighbor complains that he hasn’t slept for 17 nights because of all that techno you’re playing on a loop, just turn him into a purring cat by saying this sentence.
3. Mach bloß keine Fisimatenten.
- Literal translation: “Don’t you dare to pull a Fisimatenten.”
- Meaning: “Don’t come up with stupid excuses.”
Here is a useful sentence that you can throw at your lazy roommate Hans, whose deceased cat supposedly ate the whole package of toilet paper that he was supposed to buy. Or you can finally express your annoyance to that nosey teenager who always loiters next to your newly-purchased bike. And then there’s Anna, that friend you always worry about: Here’s a sentence you can shout as a goodbye as she runs to catch her train. Boom! Three conversations with just one sentence!
Now let’s take a close look at that exotic word Fisimatenten: It actually comes from the French expression visite ma tante, meaning “to visit one’s aunt.” Why this? Well, it used to be the common lazy excuse of soldiers getting in late after a night out: “Nah, I didn’t do anything, I just visited my aunt.” So if someone says this to you, you’d better be on time — or bring your aunt along.
4. In welchem Kiez sind wir hier?
Translation: “Which neighborhood are we in?”
If you find yourself lost in the maze of the Berlin metropolis, you can either give up and sit down to read Kafka, or you can fight the confusion by ignoring all street names and cardinal points — focusing instead on the most important element of orientation: the Kiez (Berlin slang for “neighborhood”). Use these simple six words to ask anyone you meet which Kiez you are currently in, and your chances of survival increase exponentially. Not only will you make it back safe and sound, but you will wow a whole Kiez with your on-point questioning strategy. In fact, they’ll admire you so much, you might find it hard to leave the neighborhood. Read on to find out why for Berliners, neighborhood is your identity. Use the sentence a few times, and you will soon be able to recognize whether you’re in artsy-broke, falafel-eating Wrangelkiez or in green and shabby-chic Bergmannkiez.
5. jwd (janz weit draußen), pronounce: [‘iot ve: de:]
- Literal translation: “very far outside”
- Meaning: “In the middle of nowhere”
Sooner or later, you need to pick your Kiez: In real terms this means your food choices, your friends — basically your lifestyle. Each Kiez in Berlin has its own flair and its own set of stereotypical inhabitants. It’s enough drama to write a whole opera when you try to sync with your friend Isi who lives in a different Kiez from you. Usually, this involves three weeks of frequent texting, doodling and drawing up different public transport connections to simply organize a diplomatic meeting place that is not too far away from either of your comfort zones. There are certain jokes you can pull during this never-ending game, like, “I will cook for you … but only if you come to my place,” or “I have the greatest gossip to share with you … but only if we meet around the corner,” or “Face it, you live so jwd, you need to come see the city.” Even if that’s just a plain lie, your friend Isi will be so speechlessly impressed by your Berliner Schnauze (authentic Berlin speaking style), that she will ride the train for 40 minutes to get to your Kiez.
6. Alles paletti, danke!
Translation: “All is great, cheers!”
Want to bring a bit of international optimism to Berlin but still keep the local street cred? There’s no better fusion of cheerleader spirit and authentic German written-in-no-textbook vocabulary than ending each conversation with this charming and sweet expression that someone new to Berlin might mistake for an Italian saying. So wrong! This, more than any other perhaps, is the phrase that will make you shine like a diamond in the eyes and ears of every German. Remember when you asked for wrapping paper back in that shop? You could have added “Alles paletti, danke!” after paying for the small paper thingy — and someone would have called local news because you just double-wowed a German.
7. Wo ist der nächste Späti?
Translation: “Where is the next Späti?”
You might not have reached that point in your post-Berlin-move existence yet, but there will come a time of day (usually 8 p.m., to be precise) when you realize that all the shops around you are closed, and you really really really need that bottle of red wine for your friend Isi after dragging her out to your Kiez for the seventh time. You wander down the canal, accepting that closing hours are a necessary social convention, making it possible for all workers to enjoy evening meals with their loved ones while simultaneously making it impossible for you to buy basic groceries in moments of great need.
Don’t let the thought that “Berlin might not be that great after all” cross your mind. There is a magical place called a Spätkauf, a wondrous kind of store open 24/7 and found on nearly every corner. So whenever you’re on the lookout for not only wine, but anything from toilet paper that Hans should have bought to mixed nuts or a bottle of beer, simply pose this question to anyone on the street. Yes, you might end up with a group of German people happily walking you to the next Späti while trying to figure out why you are such a pro in their language. But that’s life in Berlin, so live it.