When I was learning German at your age we didn’t get stamps, we got a slap on the wrist and a week’s homework. Now sing the bus song, for the love of Pete.

Vorsicht: Kuh.

I’m not a religious person; I don’t believe in God, or heaven. But I do believe in hell. I have been there. In my Monday morning Kindergarten, to be precise.

The Monday Morning Kindergarten is the worst place in the entire world. Every time I go there I wish with every step towards the door that it will be unexpectedly locked like the time the kids came down with swine flu, but then the noise of shrill screams first touches my ears like the very very tip of a razor blade and I know with a sinking heart that the regularly scheduled lesson is unfortunately about to take place. Entering the building, the entirety of which is about the size of a dentist’s waiting room, there is always a scene of chaos and riot to greet me. No matter what the children are doing that morning it is sure to be messy, loud, and involve most of them sitting on the floor howling and covered in snot. This morning I arrived to find every child in possession of a huge ice-cream cone, each topped with a huge Kugel of chocolate (which we all know is the most smeary and sticky flavour). At ten in the morning. These childminders clearly knew that English was coming soon and clearly love to mess with me; they also always tuck my shoes in the cranny behind the door when it’s left open on hot days and wedge it in position with an unmovable brick-thing so that they are impossible to reach, despite moving all the other pairs of shoes by the door to a practical and accessible nearby mat. This morning my English children were still halfway through their mountain of ice cream and were completely covered in it, while the walls, floor and toys in the room had also been smeared with a thick gluey slick of sweetly reeking brown. They came gloopily into the English room and spent the following hour whining and hitting each other or being stepped on by the baby. When I finally came out of the lesson the rest of the children had been cleaned up and were all crying hopelessly while the Erzieherinnen played them a loud song about trains on the stereo and sang along flatly with blank eyes.

There was, however, in the middle of all this throat-closingly horrific kidtastrophe of a morning one single moment of joy, and that came when the kids were singing “The Wheels on the Bus”. They momentarily broke out of their despair when I came to the verse where the people in the bus go ‘bumpety bump’. Apparently ‘bumpety bump’ is the most wonderful phrase in the English language, and having heard it the children joyfully bounced around the room repeating it over and over again as if they liked the taste of simply saying it. This is a magic phrase for every group I teach; no matter how terribly the lesson is going, the ‘bumpety bump’ verse can restore the moment to a state of giddy glee quicker than lemonade and pokemon cards. I like this. Learning a language really is fun sometimes simply because the things you learn sound so great that it’s a treat to say them. 


And this is one huge reason why I am so sad to be moving out of Berlin in a month’s time. When you live in a new country, you don’t just inhabit the place, you’re also living in the language. As I’ve got to know German from the inside, a chance I never had before, I have found so many lovely chunks of it which I enjoy every time I use them and which I will miss so much when I go back to my standard English dialogues.

– I will miss all the words which tell you what they mean in how they are put together. “Wasserhahn” means “tap” because an old-fashioned tap looks a bit like a rooster (a Hahn) with a beak and a comb. “Maultaschen” are ravioli but means ‘bags for your gob’ (Maul is a coarse/animalistic way to say mouth). Stew is “Eintopf” because you make it in one pot. “Verrückt” means crazy because you have been shoved or pushed (rücken, i.e. to move something hefty like furniture) out of place (ver is a prefix describing something being ruined or made wrong/negative). Isn’t that great?

– I’ll miss how many sweet little standard phrases are necessary to social interaction. You have to say “Guten Appetit” before you all start eating, you always give your friends dearly meant greetings – “Liebe Grüβe” – even in texts, and there’s more friendliness and politeness involved in giving and receiving than in even the English language. You ask for something with a ‘bitte’, it is given to you with a “bitte schön”, you thank them kindly with a ‘danke schön’ and in return you get yet another “bitte schön” or even “gern gescheh’n”.

– I will miss the brilliant way that you can tell someone you “wish them a good evening” or “wish them a lovely holiday” without sounding greetings-card corny or derisively ironic. Wünschen is simply a more accepted word in German; people wish things for each other all day and in bakeries and shops people ask you “noch ein Wünsch?” rather than the boring “anything else?” as if you were a old duke rather than a boring customer. It always sounds sweet and kind to my hardened ears.

Umlauts. Umlauts are such a beautiful noise and it makes one happy just to say them. They sound like a vowel said with a smile. Add an umlaut and –chen to any word to make it small and adorable: “Mäxchen”; “Häuschen”; “Gummibärchen”; “Urlaübchen” (well ok, that last one I recently made up to describe my minibreak to the Ostsee but anything goes in German, the LEGO of languages).

–  I will miss all the things that I have here rather than being them. In German I can have hunger, thirst, right and wrong, and best of all I can have or not have Lust and Bock. I suppose you might translate these words as ‘desire’ or possibly just ‘a hankering’ and “Lust haben” or “Bock haben” simply means to want to do something, but the fact that one word comes from the idea of proper yearning lust and the other from a trestle and a type of goat is just plain great.


– I think I will miss “gern” most of all. It works like “happily” or “gladly” in a sentence to express preference, but in German it does so much more. You use it to show someone how much you like their company – “Ich hab dich gern” – or doing something for them – “das habe ich gerne getan”. It pops up when people do each other favours or do things with each other or offer things beyond the traditional call of friendship-duty, and generally is just a bit of a cuddly word. 


Finally, we must give a brief mention to the German sounds that I won’t be making anymore. “BOAAAAHHHH” is a wonderful grunting hooting word which is like saying “woaaaaahhhhh” but sounds even heftier and heavy-metally. “Juhuuuu!” is an even cuter version of “woohoo!”. “Hè?” is a fun way to say “what the heck?” with just one syllable to perfectly accompany a single raised eyebrow. “Nööö!” is like no or nein but oddly sassy and melodious. And, of course, there is the excellent word “krass”, which in fact means nothing but is just an expression of anything being extremely…something. “I just kicked a baby penguin.” “Krass.” “I just travelled ten thousand years back in time.” “Krass.” “I just had a biscuit.” “Krass.”


Oh, and the best word of all? Schweinerei.

 

Rose T

Jill of all trades: writer, illustrator, designer, editor, web designer, craft maniac

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