Ich bin ein Berliner

Happy belated new year, my gentle readers.

Ah, don’t we all know that German is a difficult langue to master. Of course, for some, those born German, it’s a little bit easier than for all others. But, incidentally, not everybody can be as lucky. And in turn, it is hardly surprising that a significant number of non-native speakers who tempted their fate by attempting to learn their language of choice, remarked, as did Mark Twain, that German should be classified among the dead languages, because only the dead have enough time to learn it.

Strangely though, Mr. Clemens was clever enough to find out about the most bizarre idiosyncrasies after spending onlya couple of weeks in Heidelberg, if I am informed correctly.

But it is not only the German language as such that spells trouble for English speakers. Sometimes, mere city names can become the essence of a joke that will go around for decades.

You will probably guess what I am referring to. It is, of course, President Kennedy’s famous Cold War address in Berlin in which he, actually in correct German, stated – “I am a Berliner”. A sentence that can mean both “I am a citizen of Berlin” and “I am a jelly doughnut” (actually, I think the jelly is optional in a ‘Berliner’).

It’s not that anyone in Berlin would not have understood what Kennedy was referring to. But I guess – after having been told about the awful German language – some people in the American delegation were quite happy that the wall had been erected in Berlin, not in Vienna – for those in doubt, the German name for Vienna is Wien, the inhabitants of Wien are usually referred to as “Wiener”…

Why that, why tonight? For no obvious reasons. But a few days ago, Brad Delong quoted the speech. And he started a lenghty discussion about German grammar and jelly doughnuts. You can find the entry here.