Linguistic Adventures: Halteverbot

If there is one language that will drive any non-native speaker nuts it is German. The nuances of this linguistic maze is a Black Hole, simply because it aims for absolute precision and clarity. but ends up befuddling even the native speakers. This of course complicates matters for those of us non-Germans who are used to more vague terms or are limited to one language. To clarify: the words Wissen, Kenntnis, Erkenntnis, Kenntnisse, Fachwissen, Einsicht, Fachkenntnisse, Kunde, Erkenntnisse, Wissensstand, and Erkennen all translate into Knowledge in English. Each of the aforementioned words in German refer to a very specific type of knowledge and are not interchangeable.

frogquestion-001_tnsA similar case emerges with the word bread in English. You cannot – must never – walk into a German bakery and say that you want to buy bread. First of all, you will be stared down from head to toe until the salesperson decides what planet you just landed from, then you will be scolded for not knowing what you want, and ultimately snapped at for being unable to reach a decision within three seconds. There are 300 official bread varieties in Germany and 1200 types of bread rolls and baked goods. This is further complicated by the regional differences and dialects. Bread is not simply Brot in German. At the very least, you will need the right Wissen, Kenntnis, Erkenntnis, Kenntnisse, Fachwissen, Einsicht, Fachkenntnisse, Kunde, Erkenntnisse to determine what type of Brot (bread), Brötchen (bread rolls), Backwaren (baked goods), Gebäck (pastries) you want for breakfast, lunch or dinner. Yes, this is Germany, so of course there is a difference and the time of day matters!

If you think the country is über-picky with its terminology, you can imagine trying to study law here. Attempting to speak grammatically correct German is bad enough, but try distinguishing between Halteverbot, eingeschränktes Halteverbot, and absolute Halteverbot. In English it translates into no stopping, no parking, and absolutely no stopping. Uh, I’ll take the bus, thank you.

frogquestion-001_tnsBerliner bus drivers are reputed to be the rudest in the country, outdone apparently only by the London bus drivers. I can’t comment on the London bus drivers, but I can certainly vouch for the Berliner bus driver rudeness! When you get on the bus here there is always a little recording that plays after the the door shuts and the vehicle pulls away from the stop. It goes something to the tune of “Dear passenger, for your own safety please hold on tightly.” and after hearing it so often you tend to ignore it altogether, until the driver decides to jam on the brakes and catapult everyone forward (to cause a mild whiplash), or accelerate for no apparent reason (except maybe to re-arrange your spinal column).

Yesterday, I was just one stop away from reaching my destination when the entire bus came to an unexpected full stop and everyone grabbed the closest railing. The driver broke out in a litany of expletives, turning bright red in the process, and honking furiously at the little car in front of him. The car, as it turns out, had decided to stop in an absolute no stopping zone in front of a construction site which endangered all vehicles turning into that corner. Some passengers commented about the silly driver of the car, others about the weird choice of parking, but the bus driver went on and on about the violation of the absolutes Halteverbot, which made me linguistically curious. Basically, even if you are having a heart attack or your car is in flames, you may, under no circumstances pull over at an absolutes Halteverbot and must drive on until the next eingeschränktes Halteverbot and hope it is the right time of the day to do so. Sigh. how do I sprout wings?

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