Home Book Summary Table of Contents Max Hofstetter
The Berlin Book of Lists

    If you’re single (or single enough) and come to Berlin in spring or summer, picking up some German is essential, even if you’re only going to be in town for a couple weeks.  You don’t want to be one of those English-only speakers who never make an effort and miss half of what’s happening around them.  The best way to get started on developing a feel for the German language is, of course, to hook up with a German.  If you fail to follow the tips elsewhere in this book to avoid coming across as yet another loud, clueless visitor from abroad, this may well prove to be a challenging pursuit.  But if you’re cool enough to go with the flow and try to take Berlin on its own terms – which is to say, if you’re taking in the city, hanging out in bars and clubs and dancing through the night, catching the dawn while scarcely aware you’re chasing it –you’ll get your chances.  Better to find a German who is not looking to practice English.  Better still to find a German with only limited English who will expect you to understand when she or he yells at you “Spinnst du?” or “Das ist aber Quatsch!” which translate more or less to “Are you crazy?” and “That’s total BS!”

    Sunday evening is Tatort time in Germany and you are encouraged to jump in and ride the wave of this national institution.  Literally translated as “Crime Scene,” Tatort is the longest-running television series in the German-speaking world, now in its forty-second year, and the longest-running police drama in the entire world.  It owes its longevity and ubiquity to an ingenious and one-of-a-kind production model: every regional TV channel that broadcasts the show produces its own episodes and has its own Kommissar (investigator).  Since each episode generally takes place in a different city (including cities in Austria and Switzerland) it’s a fantastic way to get a sense of different German-speaking cities and dialects before encountering them on the ground.  Clocking in at around ninety minutes per episode and with a back catalog of over 830 episodes, you have the opportunity to spend nearly 75,000 minutes or 1,245 hours brushing the Rost off your Deutsch or learning it for the first time.  As your German improves, you’ll understand more, but even if you only get the broad outlines, you’ll still have a good time.  One great option is to watch the show in public with a crowd of enthusiastic Germans, especially if you can keep the excellent beer flowing at Hops & Barley, where two different rooms fill up on Sundays with Tatort fans.  If you don’t happen to live in Friedrichshain, don’t worry: Finding a bar that shows Tatort on Sunday nights in Berlin is like finding a bar showing the next game of the European Championship or World Cup: swing a dead cat and you’re guaranteed to hit one almost anywhere in the city. 

    The trouble with the hipster hangouts of Neukölln or Kreuzberg is that the days have long passed when you could avoid being bombarded with English, usually loud English.  It can be challenging to engage in any German-language conversation in the trendier bars.  That’s why the best approach is to seek out little corner bars, that is, Eckkneipen, where a few regulars will be posted up at the bar, ready to hold forth for hours in the Berlin dialect, Berlinerisch. Whether you understand them or not, if you keep drinking, and maybe buy them the occasional round, you will find German expressions – not to mention, consonants! – reverberating long afterward.  This is an essential experience on the road to gaining any sort of familiarity with the vernacular, idiomatic side of the language. 

    If you’re going to be in town for at least a few weeks, another good option is to line up a tandem partner and meet regularly to practice your language skills and teach your partner some English as well.  You can try looking at the ads at www.thelocal.de, and berlin.en.craigslist.org also usually has some listings for tandem language exchanges.  Keep in mind, you need to be helpful to your tandem partner, too, not just ask a million questions about the intricacies of the German language.  Chances are neither of you is a professional language teacher and besides, if you pose the same grammatical query to three Germans you’re bound to receive three different answers.  Find some shared interests, go to some interesting places and take the conversations at whatever pace works best for the two of you and you’ll do great.  Plus, this can also be a fun way to make new friends – the friendships that grow out of tandem arrangements sometimes last for years. 

FRIEDLÄNDER SCHULE (Boxhagener Straße 106, U5 Frankfurter Tor)
    There are of course many different schools in Berlin that will offer you intensive courses in German, starting with the overpriced but dependable Goethe Institute in Mitte, but the Friedländer Schule in Friedrichshain stands out for several reasons: One, it’s affordable, especially compared to the Goethe Institute.  Two, it draws a highly international clientele and it can be fun to work on your German verbs with people from Japan and Brazil and Spain.  And three, the location is great, near a lot of places in Friedrichshain worth checking out.  Your best bet is to sign up for at least a month of five-days-a-week instruction and – sorry to sound like a scold here – also to do your homework, an hour or two a night of it, anyway.  You will still have plenty of time to explore Berlin nightlife – often with your fellow students at the school.  You can find more information online at www.friedlaender.de/en/index.html

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