Mark Espiner : Adopt words!

Mark Espiner sings Kraftwerk while driving and wants to introduce some specifically Berlin German words into English.

Mark Espiner
Mark EspinerFoto: Thilo Rückeis

I hope you’ve had a wonderful Easter break. I have. I’ll tell you about it in in a minute, but first of all I have to thank all of you who have sent me such brilliant suggestions for Berlin highpoints. If I haven’t replied to you yet, my apologies. I will. And I’ll soon be writing about my own “himmel uber berlin” and what I’ve seen from the tops of the towers and parks. 

I recently returned, though, from a short stay in London. I was there because the play that I co-created, Kursk, was being staged there. It’s set on board a submarine which has provoked some of the press to say that it’s theatre’s equivalent to Das Boot.  

That’s very flattering. Das Boot was your best film export since Fassbinder. And the undubbed subtitled film (why, I ask, are you guys obsessed with dubbing? Why don’t you just use subtitles?) continues to be a hit in DVD rental shops in the UK. It got me thinking, though, that it was interesting that Das Boot didn’t become “The submarine” or “The U-Boat” or something like that for the English audience. And I began to ponder how much German we Anglo-Saxons have embraced. 

I wouldn’t be so bold as to describe Kursk as a “gesamtkunstwerk” or “gestalt” or whether it has hit upon some kind of British “zeitgeist” for immersive theatre. Nor would I give my “weltanschauung” about art here. I have no “angst” about using these German words which we have happily adopted. In fact I feel a tinge of “schadenfreude” for those who don’t find it enriching as I do.  

I’ve learnt a bit of German, too, from Kraftwerk. I sing “fahren fahren fahren auf der autobahn” whichever nationality of road I’m driving along.  

There seems to be a backlash going on here, though. That famous English language lover Guido Westerwelle has had enough. I’ve just heard about his Year of German Language initiative. And then there’s the campaign and the Verein Deutsche Sprache e.V. [ ]. They should all get together, set up a taskforce, brainstorm some ideas and put together a checklist on a webpage that highlights how to eradicate English.  

Tell me if I’m wrong, but I think you Berliners are a bit more relaxed about the English influence. I’ve noticed that the wonderful Radialsystem is the “new space for the arts in Berlin” - no fear of a foreign tongue there. And those great cafes I visited a few weeks ago all had English names (DoubleEye, Godshot, No Fire No Glory). I’ve heard a few Berliners are calling Prenzlauer Berg “Pregancy Hill”, which is a good observation. In Alexanderplatz there’s a “WC Center” - that’s probably to help the tourists, I guess, although the concept of a toilet centre is a bit weird. I was a bit troubled, though, to see carved into the wall at Friedrichstrasse “Upper Eastside Berlin”. That sounds very NYC. English is OK, but I draw the line at American. 

I think it was Winston Churchill - who, by the way, made frequent use of the word “blitz” - who said England and America were two nations divided by a common language. So how about this for an idea: we could be two nations united by different languages, enthusiastically adopting and swapping words with each other.  

I’m going to make a conscious attempt to introduce some specifically Berlin German words into English. But I only know two: “kiez” and “schnautze”. Any other suggestions?


You can email Mark Espiner on or follow @deutschmarkuk on twitter 

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