We recently decided to take a road trip up to Berne, Switzerland’s capital city. As I’ve mentioned before, Berne is only about 100 kilometers from our home in Geneva, and yet when you get about halfway there, all the French road signs and the French names of road side businesses disappear, and are replaced with signs in German. This causes me some consternation, because while I have confidence in my ability to navigate most situations I encounter in French speaking Swiss Romande, my German proficiency is limited to only a very few words that I picked up watching Hogan’s Heroes as a kid.(e.g. “danke” means “thank you” and “sauerkraut” means “sauerkraut”. )
But then, to my utter astonishment, it turns out my concern was all for naught! We arrived in Berne and I soon realized that I must be some sort of linguistic savant, because I discovered that I was able to understand quite a bit of the German we encountered. And as a public service to my loyal Swiss Sojourner followers, I offer this lesson. So pay attention, please.
Lesson number 1: Sometimes, the English translation isn’t too far from the German. In the photo below, I was able to decipher the code that a “k” in German might very well be the same as a “hard c” in English.
Lesson #2: Sometimes you only need to change one letter in German to derive the English translation. Here is an example. (Another tip: pay close attention to the color of the word as printed, which will often provide a clue to its meaning.)
Lesson #3: If you have encountered a completely foreign term for an object or concept that you have no familiarity with, ask a native. We got help with this strange liquid substance pictured below.
Lesson #4: First of all, did you know that Albert Einstein used to live in Berne? Neither did I. But as we walked down the main street of the old city, we encountered this building, a row house where Albert Einstein lived. The lesson here is that if you simply try to pronounce the word phonetically, that will often provide a clue to the word’s meaning. Play around with it a little bit. (At first, I speculated that this might have been where Einstein kept his “horse”, but then it came to me.)
Lesson #5: Always strive to apply any knowledge of seemingly unrelated terms to the term you are attempting to define. Here is a prime example. I was able to deduce that the art gallery pictured below was dedicated entirely to the artwork of Her (Mr.) Himmelreich, who we all know as the inventor of the Himmelreich maneuver. Sadly, we didn’t have the time to actually go inside.
Lesson #6: We all know that when it comes to a sense of humor, the Germans take a back seat to no one. So when I encountered the sign for the drinking establishment pictured below, I figured there must be some kind of word play going on here, and sure enough, my suspicions were affirmed. This really cracked me up!
Lesson #7: (Warning – the following two lessons may not be suitable for young viewers!) The word pictured below is literally everywhere you drive and many places you walk. Its found at every exit on the highway, every exit on parking ramps, every exit from buildings, even every exit from certain rooms. The lesson? Use context of a situation, if a pattern emerges, that might help you to deduce the meaning of a word. I’m still working on this one.
Lesson #8: If the word looks pretty close to an English word, and you can reasonably deduce its meaning using context, then you probably have accurately determined that word’s meaning. Here’s a great example.
Lesson #9: WTF??
Okay, class time for a pop quiz. We encountered this guy walking through town, and sadly I was only able to record the last 15 seconds or so of his performance – problem which I rectify below. This guy is without question the most talented rock bagpipe player on the planet.
So here’s the question: What do you think is the word for “bagpipes” in German? Vote for your choice. (Answer below.)
Answer: Dudelsack! And as a reward for successfully completing this tutorial, here’s a little bit more from youtube of the world’s greatest dudelsack player!