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Culture

Berlin 24/7: Why Berlinerisch is disappearing in Berlin

Berlin is like Babylon. There is a huge diversity of languages. But one of them is endangered, according to DW's columnist Gero Schliess: the Berliner dialect.

If you're learning German, you already know the meaning of "ich" – I.  Now the Berliner version of the pronoun, "icke," has finally made the grade. The word has entered the most sacred temple of German linguistic culture known as the Duden, the dictionary that's been setting the official standards for German spelling since the beginning of the 20th century.

That doesn't mean "icke" is now part of German high culture. Yet it sadly has something in common with the most demanding works of high culture: It is threatened. Luckily, the Duden has undertaken to protect the Berlin version of the first-person singular personal pronoun.

Read more: Berlin 24/7: What's the currywurst cult all about?

'Icke' should be World Cultural Heritage

Actually, UNESCO should take it to the next step and recognize the cultural value of "icke" by adding it as World Cultural Heritage list. That would be a good measure, because Berlinerisch is disappearing in Berlin.

Berlin Prenzlauer Berg (picture-alliance)

Trendy Prenzlauer Berg attracts people from all over

"Less and less people speak the true Berliner dialect," was the title of a recent newspaper article that immediately alarmed me. Young people no longer find Berlinerisch cool, and the 60,000 people who move to the city every year aren't planning on learning it either.

Incidentally, did you know that newcomers are called "Klippenkacka" (a derogatory term for coastal dweller) in Berlinerisch? You need to take a second to enjoy that one.

Meanwhile, only a quarter of all Berliners were actually born in Berlin – and that ratio is sinking. It's bad enough that Berliners are bound to disappear; we can't just let the language die out.

Oh, how I would miss hearing people scolding me in the Berliner dialect: for example when an employee at a DHL store only reluctantly accepts my credit card when I come to pay for a 75-cent stamp; or when bullies speed past me in their car with the windows down, cussing in Berlinerisch to let me know I should get off the road with my bicycle.

Deutschland, Schauspielerin Claire Waldoff (picture-alliance/dpa)

The actress Claire Waldorff was a typical Berliner girl

Yes, Berlinerisch belongs to Berlin; just like the apple to New York, or the Sacher torte to Vienna.

Read more: Berlin 24/7: Naked in Berlin

Thieves' argot from Berlin

Yet unlike the Sacher torte, it does not come from the highest levels of culinary expertise but rather from down below – from the streets. Linguists call it "Rotwelsch," which translates as thieves' argot in English.

So Berlinerisch is a criminals' language. Its history can be traced back to the 12th century. Even back then, Berliners complained of being ravenously hungry. As usual, they took what they could get: first turnips and cabbage; and today, the overnight tax from clueless tourists. Or the ample federal subsidies Berlin gets for museums, theaters and maintaining security in the city.

Gero Schließ

DW's columnist Gero Schliess sees the Berliner Schnauze as the soul of the city

As far as I'm concerned, Berlin dialect is the city's soul. Even if a few reservations remain to this very day: It's common, vulgar, plain-spoken, impertinent and brash.

Berlin virtues

No other words could better strike at the heart of Berlin, could better describe Berliner virtues that draw so many people to the city.

But, dear citizens of the world, please help make sure these virtues stay alive. Learn the Berlin dialect! Everything is at stake, Berlin is at stake, the endangered soul of this wonderful city. I'm going to buckle down and study Berlinerisch, too. Even if I can't promise that "Klippenkacka" will ever be my favorite word.

 

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