Hamburg, Germany

Herzlich Willkomen!: An Experience With The German Language

This is the sign that appeared at the crossing between East and West Berlin. The varied language shows the mixture of culture of the people who resided on each side of the wall. 

This is the sign that appeared at the crossing between East and West Berlin. The varied language shows the mixture of culture of the people who resided on each side of the wall. 

As a Spanish and English speaker, German sounds very harsh. It seems as if there is no resting point and that the words keep going on forever. Words are “frankenstein-like” because they are merged together to form the ultimate monster word that describe one thing.

In Germany, there are many dialects, so living in Hamburg has led me to recognize this difference from the northern part of the country. For example, there is also Swiss and Austrian German, which are even more different because both of these dialects have words that are not actually German. They are treated like a high-class German.

On a more historical note, it was interesting to learn that the differences in the German language were deeply emphasized when East and West Germany were split into two different states at the end of World War II. Because of this physical separation, it not only created a separate culture among these two states, but also a differing language. This intra-cultural communication issue was made apparent after Germany officially became unified in 1990. For example, in the German Democratic Republic alone, two thousand new words had been formed. In essence, when both sides confronted one another after 45 years of separation, each side had a significant amount of words that differed in meaning, which still brings about disputes.  

Throughout my stay here, I have visited Dresden and Görlitz, where there are a few English speakers and the dialect sounds a bit different. However, in Hamburg there are more people who speak English mainly in the center, so it is not as hard to communicate. Usually in the smaller cafés, workers do not speak English, but ordering coffee is simple, mostly because locals just say “one coffee please.”

During my time here, I try to use as much German as I can, but I cannot have a fluid conversation with the grocery store cashier, so usually I say “Hallo/Moin.” Aside from that, I hand the cash or the card by saying “Karte.” In the end, I say “Dankeschön/ Tschüss” (Thank you/Bye). For me, saying sorry or excuse me is the worst! It is the word “Entschuldigen” and it takes forever to say. Nevertheless, I try not be rude and say it often. When I commute in the U-Bahn, the German version of the metro, I rarely hear people talk and it is not common for strangers to ask for directions or strike up a conversation.

The German language is very direct and locals avoid small talk. Their purpose is to get to the point, so when the words are translated to English it tends to sound rude. From this experience, I have learned to not take people too seriously when they speak if their first language is not English.

Now for some useful tips if you are thinking of visiting or studying. The first thing to do is to learn the numbers and how they sound, especially for when visiting the grocery store. Next, always be polite by saying please and thank you (Bitte is used as please/you’re welcome). Lastly, the word "tschüss” is an informal way of saying bye. It’s funny how they even use “ciao” over there too. Finally, my favorite thing is hearing English words being included in German conversations. That mostly happens when there is no direct translation. I love the word “Genau!” (agreed) which has a lot of meanings, but it is mostly used to agree.

Overall, my time studying art in Germany has exposed me to new linguistic experiences. Knowing the language along with the culture enriches my stay here even further, allowing me to understand the people who live here on a more complex level and appreciating how they conduct their daily lives.


(Photo courtesy of Breanna Comunale) 


Alejandra Cruz