Guten Morgen Grammar: German Adjective Endings and the Magic Saucepan

Guten Morgen Berlin is broadening its horizons, ladies and gents! As well as the usual occasional quaint ramblings about goings on in this fair city, we’ll now also be featuring lessons in German language and grammar on the site for anyone who is looking to improve their German, revise an important topic or simply loves thinking about the intricacies of cases and word order. That third group of people are truly kings among men. My other readers needn’t fear – there will still be plenty of tales of me falling over and showing my knickers in public to keep you happy in between. And as you can see, all these German language posts – under the oh-so-branded title of Guten Morgen Grammar (oh it’s happening, ladies and gentleman) can also be found neatly categorised in a separate page in the top tabs. Check it out!

And now for our main scheduled program:

grammmm-01

It’s hard for me to come up with a set order that these lessons should come in, particularly since some will cover whole ideas in German, whereas others will be more about specific nuances or details of the language. So I decided to start with a topic which I love, partly because no-one else does, and partly because I used to be one of those people until one long summer, I decided to sit down and figure the whole thing out until I knew it all off by heart. It’s amazing what the pressure of finals will do for your motivation.

Let’s be clear about our terminology here: an adjective is any word which is singly doing the job of describing a noun. They can float in a sentence without a noun, like this:

I feel really sick today.

Man, your dad is so stingy!

This makes things easy in German, because you just whack the adjective in there just like you would in English, no bells or whistles:

Ich fühle mich total krank.

Man eh, dein Vater ist sooo geizig!

Alternatively, adjectives come plonked right in front of the noun they are describing, just as in English:

The big cow = die große Kuh

A crazy dude = ein verrückter Typ

Delicious coffee = leckerer Kaffee

German adjectives are tricky because they add an extra ending on there when they are coupled with a noun to help show the gender and case of a noun (gender and case will be future lessons too!), and unlike in French, we’ve got three whole genders to play with and FOUR cases! Our cup runneth over!

Take a look at the tables in the image at the beginning of this post. Those are the endings that you jam on the end of the adjectives in different situations. Let’s look at the weak ones first.

‘Weak’ adjective endings are the ones which you use on the end of the adjective when you are using the noun with der, die or das – the definite articles. I like to think that they are weak because they are so pathetically uninteresting. grammmm1-01This all sounds complicated and boring, but it’s actually dead simple: if you are using a noun, like ‘crisps’ (Chips) and you are using it with the definite article (die Chips) then you just take whichever ending corresponds to the gender of the noun – in this case neuter – and the case the noun is in – let’s say nominative – and shove the ending on there.

The cheap crisps are actually the best ones!

Die billigen Chips sind eigentlich die Besten!

Or even:

Did you eat the whole bag?!

Hast du die ganze Tüte gegessen?!

 

The best thing is how easy it is to remember these endings. You see that table up there? See that shape drawn in yellow? Notice how all the endings inside that shape are just -e, and all the ones outside the shape are -en. Now notice how the shape kind of looks like a saucepan. I’ve drawn it in for you. It’s the magic saucepan. It is my guaranteed trick to remembering your adjective endings. The rule is, if it’s outside of the magic saucepan, it takes -en. Always and forever.

The ‘mixed’ endings get a bit more wild. As Mr Potatohead is demonstrating here nicely.

mixed-01

‘Mixed’ endings are the ones we use when we are using the noun in question, let’s say ‘possum’ (Beutelratte) with ein, eine or ein  – the indefinite article (eine Beutelratte). Different article, same process: just find the right gender, and the right case – let’s say accusative – and whack that ending on there.

I saw a dancing possum in my bedroom!!

Ich habe eine tanzende Beutelratte in meinem Schlafzimmer gesehen!!

Or even:

Did you kill it with a heavy book?

Hast du sie mit einem schweren Buch getötet?

Easy peasy. And look – there’s the magic saucepan again! This time, every adjective ending inside the saucepan is just following the ends of the definite article (der, die, das etc), and as always, everything outside the saucepan is -en. Outside the saucepan, it’s always -en. Inside the saucepan is where the magic happens. Magic Saucepan.

Ok, now we come to the ‘strong’ endings. These are the endings that you use when the noun in question stands alone, not using either the definite article or the indefinite article (neither ‘der’ nor ‘ein’). In the weak and mixed endings, we had an article there which did some of the grammatical heavy lifting – it was there to provide information about the gender and case of the thing we’re talking about. But when we don’t have an article there to help out, the adjective has to do all the grammar work itself, so the strong endings are more varied between cases and genders:

grammmm3-01

These are the endings we use with expressions like ‘good wine’ (guter Wein), ‘fresh milk’ (frische Milch) or ‘adorable puppies’ (niedliche Hündchen), which stand alone without a ‘the’ or ‘a’. Often these are nouns talking about something that is a substance which doesn’t come in discrete amounts, like ‘chocolate’ or ‘fungus’. So, if we decided to use a masculine noun like ‘coffee’ and use it in the accusative, we just look at the table above and do the usual matchy-matchy:

‘I love good, strong coffee with breakfast.’

‘Ich liebe guten, starken Kaffee zum Frühstück.’

Or even:

‘But breakfast is better with expensive champagne and fine caviar.’

‘Aber Frühstuck ist viel besser mit teuerem Sekt und feinem Kaviar.’

Now, the Magic Saucepan is unfortunately not mighty enough to have power over the Strong adjective endings, but there are still some tricks to remembering them without having to memorise that whole table. See the nominative and accusative endings? They follow the endings of ‘der’ exactly, because they are giving the same grammatical info as ‘der’, so that’s easy pease. Genitive is easy because there are only two endings, same for masc and neut and same for fem and plural. And dative is the best one, because if you put all the endings together you get ‘M R M EN’: MR MEN. Mr Men. Not gonna forget that now, are ya?

I bet you all enjoyed that and are raring to practise your strongs, weaks and mixeds (and I just realised how much the adjective endings sound like cocktails…). Well generous as I am, here is an activity to help you practise! Download here. And come back to this page soon for the answers!

Whistle while you gherk

Possibly my proudest achievement of my life so far

Ok, so perhaps my ‘heimatsickness’ for Germany is going a little too far these days, but when I was shopping in my local LIDL a few months ago I spied a little packet of gherkin seeds for a meagre 50p and just couldn’t resist it. Suddenly I had an opportunity to   combine two of my greatest loves: growing veg, and Gewürzgürken (pickled gherkins). The cute little things grew lovely, lime-green shoots by my kitchen windows, then perked up in the polytunnel to ridiculous spiny triffids which were soon completely festooned with tiny, black-sprigged gherkins that looked like fat little hairy caterpillars. Unlike every other plant in the garden, which in this squelchy damp weather have been savaged by marauding armies of slugs as BIG AS YOUR THIGH (RIP cavolo nero, purple sprouts, pak choi, mint, chinese radishes, fennel, pattipan squash, cucumbers, runner beans…) the gherkins seem to be repulsive to those undulating bastards, presumably because their leaves feel horrendous: they are covered in a stubbly five o’ clock shadow of minuscule spines and feel very raspy indeed. We fed them and watered them and loved them like our children. 

Then, one day, I opened the polytunnel to discover pendulous, bloated sea-cucumber-like things hanging from every branch and realised that if I didn’t do something with these babies soon they would probably grow and thicken even more and snap their branches, rolling down the hill and crushing myself and the house like the Indiana Jones boulder. It was time for another one of my favourite experiments/hobbies: pickling.

I’ve been jamming (bop shoo wah wah wah) since I was quite young, as we used to have a colossal blackcurrant tree which would yield great bushels of rich indigo berries which made enough jam to coat entire acres of toast. But as I get older and my hair goes – well, not grey, but certainly more yeti-like – I have developed a crazy, insatiable obsession with pickled and sour things like gherkins, onions, picallili, sauerkraut, all kinds of erroneous veg as long as they are soaked in delicious vinegary juices. Now my family simply have to sigh and put up with it when instead of filling the house with sweet fruity aromas the entire place suddenly clouds with mists of choking boiling acid. It is very, very worth it.

There are three methods for pickling: hot, cold and fermented. Fermented pickles, like sauerkraut or kosher dill pickles or kimchee (did someone say kimchee?! Quick, get me my neon wayfarers and retro pullover!) need  to be left in a warm place in a brine, so that all the ‘good’ microbes can process the food and create the vinegar solution as part of their growth process. The reason why I avoid this method like the plague is that it is exactly as gross as it sounds. Huge frothing jars of warm, gently rotting produce, people. They can get carried away and explode or overflow into your clean, linen-smelling airing cupboard, or you might have an exciting batch that develops toxins! Frankly, leaving questionable and marshy-looking tubs of fermenting organic material around the house is my grandmother’s job and she does it very well without even trying, so I leave it to her.

Cold pickles on the other hand are how things like pickled onions are made and I don’t tend to use this technique either, because you simply drown the stuff in your vinegar mix and then wait for MILENNIA while the flavours infuse and mellow. Now, no offense, but no small sour onion is worth three months of waiting; I could easily die before I ever get to try the darn things. So hot pickles is the one for me: you just have to pour your hot infusion over the produce, which partially blanches it, and then they’re ready in two weeks. Yes, it involves boiling a vat of hot salted vinegar which sizzles into your eyes, nose, ears and any other vulnerable mucous membrane, but it is quick and most importantly creates delicious and crunchy pickled goodies. Mmmmm…

 

What could be more satisfying than growing, picking, processing and finally eating something from the very beginning of the flowchart? I urge you all to try jamming or pickling, making your own chutneys or ketchups – it is so easy and there is nothing better than garnishing your dinners with condiments that you know have never even seen a factory. It’s like living in the stone age, man!! It is sustainable living on a tiny scale, but you have to start small to get bigger, and these gherkins are like a sour, pungent symbol of the dawning of a new age – of that I am certain. They came out deliciously; sweet, tangy, spicy and ultra-crisp. Hoorah! Have a go at my recipes and get your own specimens going!

To prepare your jars for pickling, you need to sterilise them by putting them in an oven and heating it to about 140C – but don’t put them straight into a hot oven as the quick temperature change will make them shatter.

Basic delicious balsamic pickle (good for sliced red onions, shallots, peppers, or any crunchy veg) – makes 2-3 large jars, so you need enough veg to fill them
500ml white wine vinegar
100ml balsamic vinegar
1/2 tbsp salt
70g white sugar
1 tsp black peppercorns
350ml decent-tasting water

1. Bring the ingredients to a boil in a saucepan, stirring to dissolve the sugar.
2. Let bubble gently for 5 mins – meanwhile, chop your veg into chunks about 1cm thick.
3. Take a hot jar out of the oven and wrap in a towel or teacozy to prevent it getting cold. Quickly pack in the veg, then pour over the hot juice until everything is covered. 
4. Repeat this with more jars until you’ve used up all your produce. Let any air bubbles come to the surface, then screw the lids on before the jars get cold.

Dill pickled gherkins/cucumber (makes 3 large jars)
6 medium gherkins or 1 1/2 regular cucumbers, quartered lengthways and sliced into 2-inch-long sticks
1 large white onion, thinly sliced 
3 cloves garlic, peeled
1 tbsp black peppercorns
2 tsp mixed pickling spices or spice of your choice
2 tbsp salt 
750ml cider vinegar
500ml decent-tasting water
big bunch of fresh dill
200g granulated sugar
1 tsp fennel seeds

1. Sprinkle some salt on the gherkin sticks and leave in a colander to drain a bit.
2. Bring all the ingredients except the gherkins, onion, garlic and dill to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. 
3. Let bubble for 5 mins.
4. Arrange the gherkins, a few slices of onion, about 1/3 of the dill and a clove of garlic in a hot jar, and pour over the hot juice. Repeat with all the jars.
5. Same as above; leave to settle, and then lid up. 

I hope to smell your vinegary gases on the horizon, loyal reader. Enjoy your pickles in exactly a fortnight from now!

Doing the Deutsch

Hi, can I get a Quorn Bratwurst in a quinoa tortilla please?” “Bugger off.”

This is Bratman. (Dunnanunnanunnanunnanunnanunnanunnanunna…) He is the new Bratwurst seller on Cornmarket Street. The only Bratwurst seller on Cornmarket Street. I think probably the only one in the country. This is jarring to those of us who are used to seeing five or ten of these guys on every street corner even at 7am, filling the morning air with the warm, damp, porky mists of the morning Brat. I first encountered Bratman when I was meeting with my German tandem partner who immediately made a beeline for him as if he were selling kittens made of gold. His Bratwursts are made to a real German recipe and even the Brötchen (bread rolls) are the real Schrippen of my year abroad, made to a German recipe! (A Schrippe is a small and stiff snow-white roll that costs about fifteen cents at most and therefore seems to contain only ground newspapers and bleach, with the nutritional value of a plastic model of a ricecake.) One can only hope that Bratman represents the foetal stage of a nationwide revolution in open-air sausage consumption.

One of the few things that keeps me going here in Oxford and prevents my nonetheless inevitable plummet into mania is that the city contains a small, quiet, but persistent German underground who doggedly keep German values alive even within the dreamy British spires. There are quite a lot of them drifting around, if you know what to look and listen for; I can pick up the intonation of Germans chatting from a good few metres away and usually have to restrain the impulse to skip over to them and beamingly demand “Wie geht’s???” because for some reason when you know someone else’s language you suddenly feel like you have an unspoken kinship with them. It’s probably the same phenomenon as when you assume you know someone like a brother the minute you find out their birthday is two days after yours. There aren’t many of us here who have done the German thing and have come back to what should by rights be nothing but wall-to-wall tweed, but for those of us that have, it’s a pleasure to know that there are still a few places to get your fix of Germaction.

For a start there’s the Oxford Uni German society. Granted, the members of the German society are almost exclusively vaguely disconcerting business/law students from Germany who are here to find the quickest, directest and most ferocious route to riches and a glossy glass-clad executive office. I distinctly remember the one German I spent the entirety of the first meeting ‘chatting’ to: a very tall, gangly young man who looked like a young Jim Carrey and thought it was devastatingly hilarious conversation simply to force me to try to guess his name and age for about sixteen hours. Because of the target demographic, the events tend to err towards pleasing the masses and so they generally tend to be speeches from politicians, lawyers and generic business sharks, like Jack Donaghy without the knee-weakening voice. Sometimes, however, they really pull one out of the bag; a talk from the chief editor of Bild, Germany’s version of our shameful Sun newsrag, was deliciously brilliant. He oozed forth rhetoric like an ancient Greek, claiming that Bild was not only not reprehensible but also contributed to the educational and cultural foundation of Germany oh and by the way we would never do phone-hacking you philistines. Things like that – or the excuse to make a pair of Lederhosen out of Primark tat and wind my hair into plaited buns for a German-themed bop (“Alle meiner Entchen!!”) – make the membership fee worthwhile.

There is also the German Baker Man, a guy with a truck who comes to Oxford every Friday at an unjustly early hour to sell real German bread to people who appreciate that a real loaf is not a squashy cuboid of carbo-foam but should be dark mahogany, the size of a house brick and weigh two kilos. I haven’t been yet because Finals, but the first thing I’m going to do on that Friday after exams are over is run there and buy a real, soft, German pretzel. Oh god pretzels. Ihr fehlt mir so.

A brilliant ‘Typ’ called Golo (which is incidentally going to be the name of my firstborn child) has been organising a Stammtisch for the past year for all of us who want to speak in a more crispy language for an evening, and I have been one of its most devoted attendees. It’s great language practice, but more than that being at the Stammtisch is a bit like sitting cross-legged in the middle of your bedroom and getting out all your old cuddly toys just to squish them and look at them. It’s comforting and wonderful to be surrounded by a language I miss so much, to still be learning new and fantastic words and reminisce about things we share like missing Mehrkornbrot, lamenting how expensive booze is here and discussing weird things we’ve noticed about German television. I feel that in some way I can make a contribution in return, namely by informing them that Lidl does sell real black forest ham and reiterating how much I adore their country no matter how embarrassed or modest they might be about it.  

Germany is missing to me so much that I find ever more tiny ways to inject a little German-juice back into my days. The Co-Op did a sale on pickled gherkins lately and I am ashamed to say I did not hold back; I listen to Berlin radio every morning (“InfoRadio mit Irina Barbovsky – WOO!! WOO!! MONTAGSALARM!! – und jetzt das Wetter…”); I wrap my teabag around the spoon like they do, hell I even have my Kaiser’s trolley token still hanging on my keychain. My long-suffering college friend gets texted a German Word of the Day every day depending on what I’m revising whether she likes it or not. And now, of course, we also have Bratman. The Germans underground is gradually spreading overground, Oxford, and there’s nothing you can do to stop us…

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.

 

Crucial cultural experience. Also, booze.

Discerning wine tasters.

This weekend was the last weekend of the Baumblütenfest, a fruit wine festival which takes place every year in Werder and is, so I am told, the second biggest Volksfest in Germany. A couple of friends and I thought it was about time for a bit of adventure and an Ausflug, and as the daughter of a wine connoisseur whose obsession borders on psychopathic I simply couldn’t wait. If you’re English, a wine festival is a wonderful opportunity to taste some delicate and rare vintages from charming local producers whilst listening to light jazz and swing music wafting over from white marquees sponsored by Waitrose and some four-star hotel. There are hog roasts and organic quinoa salad buffets and everything is so expensive it makes your wallet leak something which chemically resembles tears. Naturally this was not what I was expecting when I was told that this particular festival is more like a second Oktoberfest, but I still had no idea what on earth was over in Werder waiting for us.



The Baumblütenfest is simply wild. On the one hand, it’s rather rural and very sweet; farmers sell their fruit wine from alchemical-looking glass jars whilst wearing straw hats and there’s a Baumblütenkönigin (queen) who is chosen for her beauty and ability to represent a two-week festival of getting completely sloshed. But there’s the rub, to put it pretentiously: the wine costs 2 euros a cup at its most expensive, 1 euro per cup if you’re going for the rough stuff, and is so sweet it’s like drinking alcoholic jam. Thus the majority of people who attend the festival are party-hungry youths who chuck the stuff down their necks and have fights with each other. The stalls that don’t sell wine are flogging (apart from the essential Wurst selection) brilliantly tacky festival accessories like flower necklaces and comedy hats, the ‘live music’ is good old-fashioned German power-dance music and one can participate in all kinds of wonderful vomit-inducing activities like fairground rides and bungee-jumps. 

Yes, it’s intense and the heat made it feel like being inside a cheerleader pompom someone had stuck under a grill. But I had the most brilliant time. I am a country lass, not particularly experienced in the world of festivals that don’t involve ‘best cow’ competitions and live sheep shearing, and that Saturday afternoon this lucky girl got to see real fights and for the first time heard a real, genuine, hearty Berliner accent (‘juuuuuuuuuuut!’). We were approached by an ancient taxi driver and his entire circle of friends and relatives; his skin looked like old leaves, he had clearly already had a good few bushels worth of wine and he chatted us up like an old pro. The wine is sweet but delicious, in particular the dark purple varieties which are so sugary and thick your mouth will pucker up and your tongue will sizzle. Traditional German food is at these times just the ticket, and my giant pretzel was as big as an elephant’s ear. To buy, the wines are incredibly cheap – just £6 a bottle – and would be a great gift if you are sick of forking out for Lebkuchen and fake Lederhosen to keep your friends’ lust for genuine German trinkets satisfied; I particularly recommend schwarze Johannisbeer and Rhabarber-Pfirsisch flavours. You should definitely, definitely go. And when the festival isn’t on, go to Werder. Under the thick layer of drunken crazies, retina-searingly bright knick-knacks and grilled sausage it’s a charming town which seems almost Grecian with its leafy cobbled streets and corny-looking restaurants. As my time here trickles slowly away I am glad to have done this truly German thing, and who knows; next time I might crank it up a notch and have a good old hearty fight.

Ok, Basti, can you say “release form”?

A couple of days ago I received a frantic little collection of emails in my inbox from an international toy company I occasionally work for.  The words ‘translation’ and ‘German’ and ‘next week’ were bandied around and before I knew it I was signing up to translate a wad of corporate and legal documents into German in just over a week and a half. What was I thinking? I ask myself that same question.

Except not really, because since then I have been devouring these translations; after months and months of my current job, where the greatest challenge is to see how many different ways you can make kids look at the same six flashcards every single week without breaking into a violent rampage, to finally do work which requires thought and consideration and a bit of a mental challenge is like finally being given a big juicy steak to chew on after months of eating nothing but mashed potato. Translation, although not specifically my forte, is one of the most interesting things you can do as a linguist because there are so many different facets of the stone you have to polish before you can send it off to be set. All at once you have to think about what the original language is actually saying, how it is trying to say it, what it is hoping the reader will get out of it, how you will knead all of this into the other language and how you will then make sure that the end product seems like none of this process ever happened in the first place; the ideal translation would be a text that doesn’t seem like it was ever in another language at all. It is very difficult, and it is even more difficult to do well

What makes it so endlessly interesting, however, is that you are forced to examine your own language and the target language with an electron microscope, and like fixing a microscope upon the end of your own nose you find that what looked like normal skin from a distance is actually a disgusting oozing landscape of gaping pores and oily craters. 

Firstly, you find out that English is a heck of a smarmy language. We use buzz-words and jargon like other languages use definite articles, and if you are foolish enough to try to translate them you will be disappointed to seconds later discover that Google thinks better of all that; most of the jargon and buzz-words are simply lifted over into the German in the clunkiest way possible, leaving you with terrible phrases like “einloggen” or “wie haben Sie das Customer Service gefunden?” There seem to be no rules as to which of these terms you should simply lazily allow to dribble straight from the English into your translation and which you should actually translate into German, however; there is in fact a complex spectrum of Germification which ranges from pure transplantation (“das Feedback”, “das Online-Shop”) to pure translation (“das Nutzerkonto”, “die Verbraucherbefragung”) and a good deal of cringy inbetweeny compromises (like the famous American president’s “die Inauguraladresse”). I spent good hours musing over how to translate the phrase ‘online experience’ because where English company-speak bandies the word ‘experience’ around as a comfy little linguistic cushion to smother over any areas where they don’t quite know what they themselves are trying to say – “How was your dining experience? Enjoy your sitting experience on that sofa. Please rate your holiday experience!” – German only has two ideas of experience, one of which is the kind of world-weary ‘experience’ we are talking about when someone has worked as a teacher for fifty-seven years and the other is a close-to-epiphany type moment which genuinely moves you somehow. There is no such thing as an ‘online experience’ because nothing that moving or self-moulding has ever happened to anyone simply bumming around on the internet. Which is why if you try to translate it any real German will simply tilt their head like a curious dog.

If that wasn’t enough, this is legal German that I am supposed to be writing. The idea of ‘Vertragsdeutsch’ scares native Germans so much that the sheer mention of the word makes them do that ‘oo-err’ face and I have to admit that if I found it in the least intelligible then I may not have so gaily signed my life away at the start of this year. I still resent being contractually forbidden from practising Scientology.

Translating legal documents is genuinely scary because in this case, should something get lost in translation there is always the vague worry that that one little thing will allow an innocent orphan to be sued or contractually bind someone into carving their own kidneys into Babushka dolls. I have nightmares of those scenes in TV shows where the lawyer finds the one tiny loophole in the contract and uses it to bring down X or Y party; the fact that one of these loopholes could arise simply out of me falsely translating the word for ‘liability’ is enough to make me need to breathe in and out of a paper bag. Legal German suffers from Thomas Mann syndrome in that the sentences are long, wordy and so dense that by the time you get to the end you need to read the beginning again to figure out what is going on. My flatmates advised me to chop the English sentences up to make intelligible German sentences, and while this works nicely we then have the issue of style; a contract almost needs to be wordy and convoluted in order to be ‘real’ and ‘serious’, just like a shampoo advert needs to be full of puffy nothing-words like ‘Maximising volumerific pro-diamantine-capsules’ in order to be sufficiently persuasive. I am worried that my finished contracts read like a legal version of the Mr Men books.

There is, however, one shining beacon that has gleamed out from my browser the whole time I have been working, and that is Linguee. Linguee.de is a website which is a standard one-language-to-another dictionary with one difference, that being that it searches for your term all over the internet where there is an equivalent part of that website in the target language. For example, you might search for ‘technical fault’ and be given the identical but translated English and German versions of Firefox’s FAQ to compare, as opposed to some stranger’s overconfident entry to one of the many iffy online dictionaries. This search function gives you that one thing any other search lacks: context. You can see how your term is being used and when, and crucially also for what audience. You can tell when one term is appropriate for a legal document and when another only suits slack-jawed advert-targeted customers. With this and my wonderfully helpful, wonderfully German flatmates I am getting there. Slowly but surely. Langsam aber sicherlich.

Spring Awakening

An old abandoned brewery, a huge graffiti mural and a startling blue sky. Now that’s what I’m talking about.

We have had sunny skies for more than three days in a row, there are people on the streets wearing shorts and all the cafés now have tables and chairs outside as well as inside. All signs would point to this officially being the start of Spring, or rather the end of the longest and most gruelling Winter of my life. I headed over to my afternoon’s lessons to find the school unexpectedly shut and as echoingly empty as an abandoned amusement park and thus found myself with a whole glorious afternoon in Berlin all to my disposal. In celebration I immediately went to the nearest shopping centre, bought a pair of sunglasses (in itself this was a risky manoeuvre as every pair of sunglasses on the market makes me look like an electron microscope image of a fly’s face) and went marching around the city in the manner to which I have become partial. 


The minute the sun shines on this city it truly does metamorphose; suddenly the grey concrete blocks surrounding you are no longer imposing but exciting in their sheer bigness, the graffiti seems like a wild anarchic doodle as opposed to a gritty rejection of society and the people begin to be softer, kinder, more spirited. On the S-Bahn a terrifying-looking gangster man with a trucker hat perched atop his scalp, an array of gangsta accessories splayed on the seat next to him and drinking from a bottle of beer which itself managed to be threatening in being covered with German flags and nationalistic slogans, was taking up the only free seat on the train with his flotsam and jetsam. Being exhausted and dizzy I eventually plucked up the courage to ask if I could use the seat he was using as a cloakroom and was delighted when he turned to me and with a huge and glittering white smile gently uttered ‘Auf jeden Fall’ and cleared his things away. And sure, so he then kicked his beer bottle along the train aisle before he left the carriage, but you could tell that even this man was fundamentally a Good Egg.



My wander took me past old people drinking espressos on the street, past young people sitting on a bench which was actually an old bathtub missing one side, an abandoned brewery basking in the afternoon sun like a big elephant seal, past beach bars gearing up to put their deckchairs out for the start of the season, through parks where puppies and babies scampered around in the only way they know how…cheek-chewingly cliché as this all sounds, it all got my heart beating a little bit quicker because there is just a general sense in this city at the moment of something great coming on the horizon. 


Particularly lovely is the beginning of preparations for German Easter, which very much like Christmas is exactly the same here as in the UK but about 25% more cute. The selection of Easter chocolates is so much nicer; you can buy multicoloured and adorable little eggs filled with marzipan, lovely coffee goo, chocolate truffle, nutella, that strange beige Kinder Bueno gubb, and a million other flavours, the chocolate rabbits are available in every hue and pose from sporty to studious to sexy and there is not a single trace of those disappointing chocolate-bar themed big eggs that promise to be ‘filled’ with what turns out to be just one risibly small sample-sized version of the thing emblazoned all over the packaging. Easter decorations are also a big deal. Every shop in the place sells ‘Ostergras’, a lurid green hay which I love for its all-purpose purposelessness and the fact that actually, when you really look at it, it honestly does just look fun and pretty and sweet, which is exactly what a festival about chocolate and baby animals ought to do. The array of little decorated eggs and mini pipe-cleaner chicks you can buy is impressive and I am already greedily eyeing them up for a Harvest Moon-themed set of jewellery. 


I have been in Germany for the Easter run-up three times now and it never fails to get me squealing a little inside. It’s just so sweet! I will never forget being given, in a shop in Köln, a tiny sugar Spiegelei (fried egg, and by the by one of the absolute greatest words in the German language; who couldn’t love a populace who call fried eggs ‘mirror eggs’??) alongside my change when I bought some Easter goodies. The kids are, of course, sharpening their little teeth ready for the day in question and are unspeakably excited whenever I mention that they might be getting an Easter present if they are good; one group who are always late to lessons have been earning points for every time they turn up punctually and know that the kids with the most points will get an Ostergeschenk. They are truly so hopped-up about this idea that they have started coming to class half an hour early and waiting cross-legged outside the locked door before I even arrive, like Star Wars fans waiting for a seventh film a week before its release.


Not to mention, as I have already touched upon above, the fact that these little and barely-warm licks of sunshine have transformed everyone here into smiling and cheer-spreading versions of their former selves. This is why seasonal affective disorder is in my opinion a complete pile of bollocks; you’re telling me you feel depressed when you have to rip yourself out of a heart-breakingly warm and comfy bed to venture out into the wet and sin-dark morning wrapped in a million layers of itchy wool? And that you feel suddenly less depressed when you peel the duvet off to discover balmy temperatures, fresh sunshine and jewel-blue skies? CALL THE CLERGY. Honestly, everyone is depressed in Winter and conversely everyone suddenly recovers the minute the sun shines. The streets seem somehow wider and you can come home from work to enjoy a glass of wine in the evening light rather than mummified in your six dressing gowns in front of drab Winter television. 


And if all this wasn’t enough to get you feeling giddy with anticipation about the coming months, here are some words that will do the trick: barbecues. Bellinis. Swimming. Cream teas. Lambs. Skirts. Flipflops. 


I for one couldn’t be more excited. Finally the city I love is showing me that it loves me too and I can even stay out for over an hour looking at it without tiny ice crystals whipping at my face. 


And despite the fact that when I first wore them to a school, the man at reception declared in front of a drift of children and coworkers that I look like a porn star, I also love my new sunglasses.

50th Post!!! The Adventure So Far…

At our Kita, we pride ourselves on keeping your children as safe as possible. Therefore we only use the largest and most ostentatious Alpine cow-bells in our fire alarm system.

Wow, we have reached our fiftieth post on Guten Morgen Berlin and I am so pleased with the way it has gone so far. The number of readers per post is more than ten (by a somewhat considerable amount), which was my secret hope for this project at the beginning, and I have kept it going and not allowed it to pathetically shrivel and die like a LiveJournal. I have now been in this city for seven whole months, give or take a few days here and there for toddler-detox, I have witnessed it struggling through two seasons, one meltdown and a variety of minor panics. I have lived, spoken, shopped and eaten like the natives (excepting the daily Wurst) and deeply enjoyed all the little peculiarities and differences between big burly Berlin and drab twee Britain. 

What are my conclusions thus far? First of all, that you clearly need to live somewhere for a good few years before you can even start to get used to everything to the extent that you feel fully ‘at home’ there. God knows it is so much fun to discover all the idiosyncrasies from day to day; I mean, look at the photo above. This Kindergarten genuinely has a cow-bell as its alarm system. There are great sweeping realms of things here that I think you have to be a German from birth to understand: sweetcorn flavoured joghurt, currywurst pretzel-pizzas, Berliner Weisse (a pale beer which you drink with either a radioactive green or acid pink syrup mixed into it and which I first saw being drunk by a troupe of nuns), or the inexplicable way that the most revered and famous institution in the whole city is the Blue Man Group. However, for every time I find myself standing open-mouthed in Aldi wondering at who would want to buy an electric stomach-toner as part of their weekly shop, there are moments where I realise quite how much of this culture I have already taken on and become a part of as much as they have become a part of me; the crazy rainbow-spectrum of fruit and herb teas, the pyromaniacal need to have candles everywhere all the time, the innate knowledge of exactly which supermarket I will need to go to for every specific thing I need to buy, a profound love of Kartoffelknödel…As strange and new as everything still seems every single day, I somehow feel like a member of the club now rather than the bespectacled and square inspector wandering around with a clipboard. 

I have to leave in just over three months, and that thought is indeed tragic but twinged with a very definite excitement at the things I will finally be able to rediscover after life outside the UK:
– ‘good’ television. Yes, this term does require air quotes because a colossal tranche of British (and by extension American) TV is so bad that you would better spend your time using tweezers to braid the hairs on your wrists into organic cufflinks. But good grief, the television here is terrible. The sheer number of cookery shows is amazingly huge and yet they all only seem to ever teach how to make Auflauf, a version of lasagne/casserole where you essentially just layer things up in a dish until it most effectively resembles the primordial ooze and then smother it with cream and cheese. An array of chefs with startling mustaches or unlikely-seeming blonde bobs shoot their piercing glares at the screen whilst demanding that you ladle more butter over your roast duck and throwing great fistfuls of salt into whatever it is they are boiling the heck out of. On other channels, we have the treat that is non-stop back-to-back dubbed episodes of Two and a Half Men, a sitcom so lame it makes a three-legged donkey look athletic, we have MTV-style dating and reality shows which feature people who look like they are entirely made out of polyester and who talk in ‘real’ conversation which is so patently scripted that they even know when to turn to the right camera, and occasionally something ‘hilarious’ featuring Stefan Raab. (To be fair to the Raab, this is a rare moment of greatness.)
Marmite. Oh, Marmite. You deep brown glossy goddess of toast. How I long to savour your salty deliciousness on my bread and adorning my Ryvita. I yearn to crown you with cheddar, stir you into my chile con carne or tentatively drizzle you into simmering minestrone. I resent that you cost about 7 euros a pot here, and no amount of heinously nasty Brotaufstrich (odd and oily purees designed to go on your daily Brötchen) will replace you.
– The colour green. I am pretty sure this exists, as I seem to vaguely recall it in the dark abyss of my memory, but there is no evidence of it as yet here in Berlin. Ever since The Great Freeze this winter everything has been a uniform shade of graun (grey-brown) and this makes even the cool and edgy graffiti look less like anarchistic celebrations of artistic freedom and more like a million dingy charity-shop window displays of dead people’s clothing. This weekend my dearest mother was visiting, and I took her to the Botanical Gartens since the weather was for once pleasant enough to allow scarf-free outfits; the gardens could not have looked more dead, the turf brittle and grimy and the trees contorted and cracking from what they had suffered through. Perhaps spring will come soon and I shall see living plant life again before I leave. I shall keep on sacrificing small animals at the altar in our Hinterhof and see if this helps.

But of course this is all small fry and the things I am looking forward to seeing again are nothing compared to that which I will miss. The things that you first of all learn to live with and then learn never to live without, and the things that never stop giving you pleasure and hope regardless of how tired or homesick you are.

– The frothing swathes of flowers spilling onto the pavement from the hundreds of florists all over this city.
– The astounding generosity of the German people; all us women got given free roses at the supermarket the other day for Frauentag, I somehow keep being given gifts by my wonderful German friends here of all ages and whenever I visit people I am fed like a queen, given more wine than I can consume without doing something embarrassing and welcomed with giant grins to boot. Even when I am not expected and turn up by accident the day after someone’s birthday party, for example…
– the public transport system. Germans will deride this immediately as their public transport system comes beside the term ‘Schweinerei’ in the dictionary, but for me it is amazing to use a system which is so frequent, so seldom unreliable and so cheap; Germans, picture this: at home I have a single bus which takes me to my nearest town once every hour or sometimes half hour, and it costs me almost £5 for a return journey on said disappointment. Not to mention the fact that each of the stations has somewhere to sit and somewhere where you can get coffee or a Ritter Sport.
– come to mention it, I will miss Ritter Sport. You just don’t get the same array of flavours in the UK and I do almost feel that the German taste in chocolate flavours shows a slightly more mature palate than that of the British; the Germans have almond Mars bars, espresso flavoured Ritter Sport, affordable and luscious real dark chocolate (i.e. with real cocoa solids in a decent proportion, unlike Bourneville) and the yumfest that is the entire Lindt range. The British have Boost bars, Dairy Milk – a chocolate so cloying and fatty that it cements itself to the roof of your mouth in a tar-like smear – and Galaxy, which I read somewhere is not allowed to call itself chocolate anymore because it has so little to do with chocolate in its actual recipe. Mmmm, Niederegger marzipan…
– The general honestness and easiness of the people here. In the UK one is choked by the neuroses it is your duty to suffer every time you are asked to an event you don’t want to attend or feel obliged to swallow down a vile dish someone has cooked for you or requested to do a favour you would rather sandpaper your eyelids that fulfil. In Britain I bend over backwards to keep people happy and keep life smooth; I cheerfully smiled when people drunkenly leapt through the library fire escape by my room door and thus made the whole building be evacuated, I apologised when people stamped my toes into pulp and I always, always, always ate what was on my plate even when in a restaurant so as not to cause any kind of awkward pall over the evening. Here you don’t do what you don’t want to do and you simply avoid social agonies by being honest and open, you admit what does not appeal to you and suggest a solution or an alternative and generally it works very well. You can tell people what you really think and you can have a debate in which you are clear about your own standpoint on the issue without people thinking you are flagellating all their beliefs and ethics by doing so. I haven’t experienced peer pressure once and I have cried and told my problems to a total stranger at the bus stop. I feel, in a way, that I have grown.

The question is, what will happen to the pseudo-Deutsche when she returns to her native habitat? Stay tuned… 

If French is the language of love, English is the language of lols

Simple, beautiful genius. Thank you, anonymous stenciller.

Look at this wonderful piece of graffiti. I walked past this truck today as it momentarily stopped in a queue and seconds after this photo was taken the driver glared and me and drove off. But for a fleeting moment I stood gormlessly beaming at a van purely because someone had stencilled the English translation of their motto on the side. (I would just like to applaud their attention to detail in ensuring the fonts also matched.)

No matter how long I study and immerse myself in German my heart will always belong to English. This is not because it is my mother tongue; any actual link it gives me to the UK is meaningless to me and sometimes approaches the faintly embarrassing when people dub me ‘Mrs Bean’ or when my pupils address me with the name ‘Englisch’ since the majority of them cannot be bothered to remember my actual name. I don’t even think it is a beautiful or aesthetically predisposed language – like any language it can sound pleasant if you use the right sounds and rhythms, and if you can find a more glorious-sounding string of words than ‘the sloeblack, slow, black, crow-black fishingboat-bobbing sea’ you win a Kinder egg. English generally, though, tends to have a thudding neutralness to its sound which make it a great allrounder although not particularly often a pleasure to hear; it is the oats in the muesli of the world’s various languages, performing a crucial and worthwhile role but only once in a while getting a chance to shine as flapjack.

But what English has in spadefuls which makes it remarkable is its capacity to express comedy and humour in general, and for this reason I am smitten. 
I miss it in German, as in English even the most everyday conversation is littered with the tiniest euphemisms, puns and simple silly noises which make it a joy to hear and endlessly entertaining to speak. You don’t spend a tenner when you can spend a quid, you love to be offered a cuppa and a biccy and possibly even a sarnie, and you’ll avoid spending time with your friend who is so ‘vanilla’ in favour of someone who is completely banterous.

You only have to watch the first forty-five seconds of dialogue in ‘Juno’ to see how far this can do and how brilliant it can sound. 
“Your eggo is prego.”
If there is a way to be this casually creative with French or German I would pay good money to be taught it, but from what I encounter my brief flirtations with this kind of speak in German are received with confusion, derision or worried concern. I caused a whole tableful of dinner party guests to burst out laughing because I tried to jauntily carry off the word ‘wunderlecker’. So much of casual everyday conversation which takes place in English is simply not at all present in German; take, for example, our ability to make any sound into an adjective describing how something feels, sounds, tastes etc: “He was just so…blah…” or “I’m feeling so urgh today”. My mother and I use the word ‘bloicky’ almost on a weekly basis to describe that feeling of having too much unpleasant goo sloshing around your stomach, and as much as I try I cannot think of a single other expression that would convey this feeling any more sublimely or sound more like the squelching of your belly as you sit in a silent room being stared at by a group of silent-stomached people.  

And how else would English be the language that spawned Carry On films if it weren’t so preposterously rich with euphemisms? I can reel off thousands of different words for lady parts and man parts and construct a wild, colourful spectrum of them ranging from the ultra-tame (‘boobs’ or ‘jugs’, for a start) to the bizarre and hilarious (‘boobular area’, ‘ba-donk-a-donk’ and the most excellent ‘va-jay-jay’) to the downright obscene (no, you are not getting any examples of that. This is a family blog, consarn it). Or what about our capacity to exaggerate? It’s absolutely über-awesome, like, completely insanely MASSIVE and ultimately the most ridiculously unbelieeeeeevable thing ever. Dude. 

I don’t know how I would even articulate a single sentence in English if I didn’t have outdated slang words which I could use ironically – they are so rad. Or if I couldn’t use inappropriately strong words for relatively tame concepts after I’ve done a day of hideously boring work. Or if I couldn’t shorten almost every word at my disposal into a cutesy term of familiarity, like I do when I’m wearing my jammy-jams (pajamas, for you Germans) with my hotsie (hot water bottle) and hot cow-juice (milk). I miss my language and its clowny goofiness; I fear that in German I am entirely boring once you take all that away.

Still, your mother tongue never leaves you and German could always do with an injection of whimsy, so I will keep on trying to make it a bit more oo-er missus. Look out, the Deutschinator, cuz Mrs Bean is here and she’s going to get all freakisch in this Sprachy-wachy, Homekraut.

Österreich, part Zwei

To clone out the cables, or not to clone out the cables…?

I promised another post for today, and here for possibly the first time in the history of Guten Morgen Berlin I am living up to my promise. You can feel special and important about this since I am typing through the agony of a thumb which is throbbing after having accidentally let it get dragged into a metal roller today along with the piece of silver I was supposed to be flattening. Like a small child or someone on hayfever medication, I should not be allowed on or near heavy machinery.

Anyhew, I’m still not finished writing about Austria, and I’m also not one to let good anecdotes fester. The focal point of this holiday was, after all, skiing, and I skiied the heck out of Obertauern. I have only had three days of ski school ever, since I found it to be a rather annoying experience; we had an ancient and incoherent ski instructor who looked like a slightly horizontally compressed version of my old maths/PE teacher and knew only one English word which she shouted at foghorn volume every two seconds: “SNOWPLOUGH!!!” I therefore took as few lessons as I needed to be able to do snowplough turns on an actual piste, and from there on taught myself to ski parallel through the long-forgotten and age-old art of ‘falling over a hell of a lot’ and through copying my brother’s cool dude style of skiing have evolved my own style which I like to think resembles how a relaxed gorilla would ski. My mother, as a health and safety advisor, prefers the ‘safety starfish’ approach, where you ski with legs wide apart and arms/poles held outspread like a baby with two lollipops in order to remain the maximum amount of healthy and safe; my father was taken skiing by his crisp-haired and very smart father every year since he was an infant and therefore skis with legs held firmly together and exemplary style only spoiled by his ridiculous skiing glasses which are luminous yellow, perfectly circular and have luminous yellow leather side-guards. We were not an elegant troupe on the slopes. 


However, to ski in Obertauern you don’t have to be elegant; in fact, the opposite is true, as Obertauern skiers are the arctic version of football chavs. The place is swarming with burly, scary-haired blokes who alternate between skiing like champions and downing beers at a remarkable rate. Every bar, cafe or restaurant throbs with apres-ski music, which is honestly the most heinous crime ever inflicted upon the ears of innocent people. It sounds like the air itself is burningly furious with you and wants to demean you; here is proof:

I am sorry to have to do that to you, dear reader. Imagine trying to relax and enjoy yourself after a really bad fall with that in the background. In fact, imagine trying not to succumb to thoughts of violent suicide with that in the background.

Also, in all of these cafes and restaurants, there appears to be some kind of conspiracy circulating, as they each boast an almost identical menu. If you ever go skiing in Austria I can tell you with absolute certainty that you will be eating commensurate quantities either of goulash soup, mixed salad bowls, fried meat with a fried egg on top and/or Kaiserschmarrn, an Austrian pudding which is essentially a mashed-up pancake with apple sauce. The consolation, however, is that these delicacies are also always somehow different and always uniformly excellent, and I could happily suck down that goulash soup until the day I die. 

I also said I would say something about Austrian German, because it’s the one national dialect I really haven’t had any experience of thus far. So far I knew this: German German (Hochdeutsch) sounds like all those tapes you got played of people in train stations losing their umbrellas when you were studying German in secondary school. Swiss German (Schweizer Deutsch, or Schvootzer Dootsch as they for some reason pronounce it) sounds nice and interesting until you get to the ‘sch’s and ‘ch’s, at which point it takes a while to realise they are not choking on a wad of dry oats. Austrian German is sort of round and musical, and it sounds a little bit like if you asked a computer to simulate a language purely from the image of a pair of Lederhosen alone. It’s pretty and hefty and I liked it a lot, despite there being some slight errors in understanding – thankfully ‘Achtung’ sounds the same in all languages so no such errors led to piste-based tragedies. 

Oh, and by the way: there is no German in the entire world that sounds even one iota like the pigs in Shrek. Just so you know.