Why you should learn German when you live in Berlin – Days of Deutsch

I think it’s pretty obvious that you have to speak German when you want to live in Germany. But Berlin is not Germany. Berlin is a state of mind. And in this state of mind of total freedom people often think that they don’t need to speak German when they start living and working here. I know quite some people who are annoyed by the English speaking expats, but for me as a German I find it actually pretty great that I can practice my English with a lot of native speakers without even leaving my neighborhood. But for the new people who arrive in Berlin and who try learning German it’s really difficult to practice because everybody automatically switches to English as soon they hear a foreign accent.

I know for a fact that without a certain knowledge of German (and an understanding of the culture and mentality of the Germans) some doors (business and private ones) will never open for the new Berliners who plan to make a life here. That sounds a bit dramatic, but I just wish that new Berliners have less fear of the German language and maybe a bit more enthusiasm for learning it.

While I just typed the word “enthusiasm” I had to imagine the shocked faces of several of my non-German speaking friends. And probably quite a lot of my non-German speaking readers think that I have gone insane right now. But honestly: German is a beautiful and precise language with a lot of creative freedom and abundance of neologism that makes the language alive. I don’t want to bother you much more with my love for the German. That’s why I would like to let this photography project convince you to at least try to spark your enthusiasm. The amazing photo tumblr Days of Deutsch that I discovered a couple of days ago, helps you to learn German with photographs of Berlin. More about this beautiful project after the jump.

With Days of Deutsch you can learn German word by word through beautiful photographs of Berlin places and typical Berlin situations. It fuses the Germaness of the city and the language  with the witty curious and adventurous eye of an expat photographer called Polly.
Polly is a Londoner  who moved from New Zealand to Berlin. Since she works as a social media content creator and was learning German in her spare time she wanted to combine these two activities. Some of the words she presents are very useful, some are utterly useless but funny. And that is actually the right mix to get into a new language. See my selection of favorite pics in this article.

all photos by: Days of Deutsch

Claudio by
on April 26th, 2015
updated on February 10th, 2016
in Photos, Stories

15 Responses to “Why you should learn German when you live in Berlin – Days of Deutsch”

  1. German Berliner Says:

    As a German living in Berlin I totally share the mixed feelings about people living here without being able to speak German. It is great being able to improve my English without having to leave my home country. But being forced to speak English at work all the time because some people just refuse to learn German can also be quite annoying. I try to see the advantages, but I know that some people are not so enthusiastic about having to speak a foreign language whilst working in their home country. I’ve even heard foreigners complain about Germans talking German to each other and “shutting them out”. This complaint might be justified if you’re new to Germany, but after a few years you should see this as a hint to finally start learning German!

  2. Swede who lived there Says:

    I lived there but it was more of a long vacation rather then try to get work and to be integrated to the city. Although, I learned German with some websites and a little bit in a school to get around. From my point of view it was nearly impossible communicate to _normal_ people without knowing the language. Most of my neighbours didn’t speak a word of english, people working with regular jobs didn’t speak it either. From my point of view, it’s pretty lazy to rely on the English-speaking community since this also exclude many people who don’t speak English.
    German is relatively easy for swedes to learn, although from my experience the swedes seemed the ones least interested to learn it. I think because they see the city as a playground and a resort to the ”Berlin state of mind”. It’s just like a vacation, cheap food, cheap drugs and nice clubs.
    Meanwhile other move to Berlin cause they need to.

    To summarize: Don’t be a lazy ass! if you have the time to move to a new country, you also have the time to learn the language. There’s tons of cheap schools, free courses online and from my perspective, germans are very happy to speak their mothertounge and have a lot of patience if you don’t speak it that well.

  3. Fernando Roveri Says:

    Oh,cool, this is so cute and useful! I’m new in Berlin and in my first steps of German, English helps, of course, but Berlin has being a great present and I want to give it back learning this challenging but very interesting and strong language!

  4. SeanR Says:

    The Days of Deutsch is a brilliant idea, thanks for sharing it!

    @German Berliner, that’s quite extraordinary that some foreigners live in Berlin and more or less refuse to speak German – that’s really arrogant and appalling in many ways. I hope people realise how much you miss but being unable to speak with locals. That attitude will lead to resentment too.

    My German is very rusty but I make an effort to speak German when on holiday there. I did feel that the poor receptionist was cringing as I murdered his language when checking into the Axel Hotel recently, but he let me carry on in German, which was supportive of my effort.

    Once you try, people do engage with you and I find the Berliners are very kind towards visitors, and they don’t have the ‘attitude’ you find in some other capital cities (hello Paris ;>), it is like they are still enjoying their new-found status as a capital city.

    I’d love to live there, but I’d want to be able to live independently through German before migrating – so can a get a language learner’s discount for my trips?

    Thanks for this post, it was very interesting! Tschuss aus Dublin.

  5. Polly Says:

    Thanks for the lovely article! I also have a website at daysofdeutsch.com which has a few more examples of how to use the words. Learning German is fun but it’s definitely not so easy in Berlin, particularly when you realise the barista/barmen is also English and you’re just talking bad German to each other. 🙂

  6. Mike I Says:

    I moved to Germany in 2000. I had intended to move to Scandinavia to seek opportunities in telecoms as that was the industry I work in the the States. Alas, I got a cheap ticket to Berlin and the rest is history.

    I did not know German, but felt it rude to live in a country and not make any attempt to be able to engage my hosts in their own language. One of the first things I did was enroll in the VHS on my own dime; even before I found work. It was not easy, but I had the benefit of gracious citizens in my daily adventures who were willing to help; the Turk at the Imbiss on the corner, who for two years I thought was asking whether I wanted scharf Kase as opposed to Shaffskase, the ladies in the bakery who would not give the belegte Brötchen I requested until I could ask for it properly, and the lady at the Kiosk who would correct me and write down the corrected vocabulary, “Telefonkarte,” for me.

    At my first job, consultant at a software firm in Birkenwerder, the internal language was German even though I was responsible for personnel and clients abroad. It was a challenge and completely exhausted me, but I persevered. After the firm reorganized and I found myself unemployed, I went back to the VHS. My German class was one thing I very much looked forward to. I suffered under der, die, das, den, and dem! I never quite got akkusativ and dativ, but LOVED meeting clever people from around the world who were in the same boat as I was, and with whom I struggled in solidarity with to communicate with in a new language!

    Another thing that made learning German fun, was when using could find similarities in it to English. It was in Berlin that I realized that the “cole” in cole slaw originated from Kohl and that dollar is a bastardization of Taler.

    Fifteen years later, after 12 in Germany, I am back in the States. I could not seem convince the authorities to offer me a permanent visa, despite all my efforts to comply and integrate. However, I now speak fluent German and use it occasionally with clients who are visiting from Germany. I look forward to returning to Berlin someday.

  7. Bastien Says:

    Amen to that ! I often meet people that don’T want to bother with German and i keep telling them they are wrong ! You can certainly stay a while and get away with avoiding it but if you want to seriously settle in here langfristig. There is just no way around it. It is also the key to get a real job and not get stuck in low-paid ones.

    I have been living in Berlin for 5 years now, and i have often seen people come and go because of that.

    Let’s spread the word onwards ! That’s what i try to do through my own little means at least. I will certainly add Days of Deutsch to my list of recommandations to get better at ze damn language. 😉

  8. Nathalie Says:

    Can someone please explain to me.. WHY do people here respond in English when they hear that a person is speaking with a foreign accent or with some minor language mistakes? That is SO frustrating! I moved to Germany because I’m totally in love with the language (and the hot German guys, hihi). And I am really, really working on my language development. That means that I speak German with everyone here. When they respond in English, I simply go on in German. Those conversations can obviously sound really funny….

  9. Frank Says:

    @Nathalie: It’s because many Germans here will jump at any opportunity to talk in English because they love it haha

  10. Grammar Nazi Says:

    I am a french guy who has been living in Berlin for 7 years now, and I have witnessed a radical change in the landscape of some areas, particularily Mitte. I can speak English and I have nothing against it, but I absolutely have no understanding or compassion for people who work here in restaurants or cafés and can’t speak any German. I don’t get why they got hired, I don’t get why they even got the idea that they should work there by just speaking English. In these situations, I only answer in German. Who cares about practicing English! English is all over the web, it’s not like it’s a rare and precious happening to get an occasion to speak it. I’m sorry but I just don’t like it when waiters just speak to me English, assuming it’s the lingua franca of this city. To me it looks like nothing but arrogance, with a hint of ignorance.

    That being said, a lot of immigrants (commonly refered to, by some sort of euphemism, as “expats”) do learn German, and they should definitely be encouraged to do so. After all, it’s a win-win situation! There is nothing to lose in learning a new language, on the contrary. Berliners should definitely speak their own language more to foreigners living here.

  11. International student Says:

    “Are you enrolled in a German course?” “No. I think the German people should accept me as I am. If the Germans don’t accept me when I speak Finnish, I don’t want to be friends with them anyways.”

    When I first said this to my German friend Sabine, I expected to get a short laugh. However, she just kept looking at me until I had to say “… I’m fucking kidding!” I want to recommend all foreigners to try saying this as a joke. It’s incredible that you can say something so obnoxious and be taken seriously. But please don’t forget to add the “just kidding” afterward, because it’s incredible that people think so lowly of us foreigners and I don’t want to perpetuate that shit.

    Let me make something clear: I’ve been in Germany for a year and a half. For this entire time, I’ve been enrolled in German classes, and putting in plenty of extra hours outside of school for language learning. My fellow international students and I all knew that moving to a new country would be a challenge. And it’s always harder than you expect. We’ve all needed the basic German vocabulary from day one, and we’ve all discovered that it’s bordering on impossible to befriend a German while speaking only English. In spite of that, I’ve never heard any foreigner complain, and I’ve never met a foreigner who wasn’t making a great effort to learn German as fast as possible.

    “If I were to move to a new country, I would at least make an effort to learn the language”. No shit? Whenever I hear a local or an immigrant who’s already learned the language say that, I wince. Please don’t try to take ownership of something so rudimentary. Not speaking the local language is a major fucking handicap, even in a wonderful melting pot like Berlin. I promise you everyone who’s ever been in that situation is feeling the pressure to learn from all sides and they are working on it.

    So if you overhear a foreigner complaining that all Germans want to speak German, please ask yourself two questions: 1. is this person mentally retarded and 2. am I being fucked with. Ok I’m done, thanks guys and good night

  12. Phil Says:

    I recently visited Berlin with my Irish/British girlfriend. To my surprise most people (incl. the Currywurst-selling lady) spoke fluent English and to my disgrace more fluent and flawless than myself. Seeing that I lived in London for the past 2,5 years that’s pretty humbling, however I would definitely recommend learning German if you are about to move to Berlin.

    It’s a matter of courtesy really. If I wouldn’t have learned English before moving to London I would have been fucked, especially as most British refuse to learn anything but their native language.

    There are plenty of similar words:
    Glass – Glas
    Grass – Gras
    Lamp – Lampe
    Schadenfreude – Schadenfreude
    Automobile – Auto(mobil)
    Tactful – Taktvoll

  13. Will Says:

    @Phil “especially as most British refuse to learn anything but their native language.”

    And which other language would you expect us to speak? Unfortunately for us English is an ‘international’ language so we aren’t forced to learn another language extensively. I live in Germany so I’m learning German like all my other ‘British’ friends.

  14. grenn Says:

    living in a someone else’s country & refusing to learn the language… can’t get more arrogant than that. i relish practicing my halting german whenever i visit… i can only wish to live in berlin…

  15. Chandra Haight Says:

    These pics from Days of Deutsch are really cute! It’s important to seek things out that inspire, otherwise at some point, it’s easy to lose motivation. I find a good school is helpful as well, of course, once you get down to the nitty gritty of grammar, cases, etc. I took some classes at speakeasy and my classes there were quite fun and I was pleased with the progress I made. (Their site is http://www.speakeasysprachzeug.de/ if you wanna check it out.) I’ve heard a lot of language schools leave much to be desired in Berlin (lackluster teachers, just looking to make a quick buck) so I’m happy to recommend a place I actually enjoyed.

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