My wife and I returned from a fairly short trip to Belin last week. I guess I’d be remiss in my attempts to get back into writing if I didn’t take this opportunity to share and muse a little bit.
We took the opportunity to take in quite a few sites, take some guided history walking tours, visit some museums, monuments, memorials and a handful of the countless Christmas Markets.
I must tell you that Berlin in December is very cool, wet, usually breezy and quite dark. The sun is “up and out” only about 7 hours per day, but that is misleading. It’s usually very cloudy. That might explain the love of Glühwien (German mulled wine, nice and hot). Berliners don’t seem phased by it at all. They are out living life. The tourists, and many ex-pats, too. Only a few people we met were actually native Berliners (and three of those were tour guides).
Since the 2014 car crash I’ve been attempting to learn German. I thought I had a good foundation from High School and a semester at university. Au contraire … or however you say that in German: Gegen something, I suppose. Just a hobby to keep my brain engaged and plastically growing.
I here in advance apologize to any German speakers.
One of the many ways to approach much of the vocabulary is through verbs. It’s a lure, since at first glace it seems like the language doesn’t really have that many root verbs; and each verb has so many subtle differences that one could hope that there is a little learning magic there. First, let me disabuse you of that notion. There are many unfruitful approaches to learning German, especially if one is looking for learning magic. I don’t know of any fruitful approaches. At least at my age. But I digress.
Back to verbs. If one is to think, then that is the basic German verb “denken”. If one is to remember, that is another more difficult verb “errinern.”
Unfortunately, this second verb, errineren, is somewhat more difficult to use than your “normal” German verb, since it is a mandatory “reflexive verb”, which means you don’t ever just say “somebody remembers something”; instead you have say “somebody remembered themself of something.” [Jemand erinnert sich an etwas.] Awkward, yes, but German is full of these little pitfalls.
The following list of verbs are made from the extensive list of mandatory reflexive verbs: a) to be interested, b) to be happy, c) to sit down … etc. Of course! You do all these things to yourself. It’s all quite simple, as explained on sites like GermanVeryEasy.com (Ha, that site name should have #sarcasm in it). There they have thousands of words dedicated to something most languages find totally unnecessary and get along quite fine without. Namely, mandatory reflexive verbs. But again, I digress. (German can do that to you).
Anyhow, it’s a start. Think and remember. Denken and Errinern.
In Berlin there are many memorials, monuments and commemorative sites. There’s a lot to remember: the first Reich, the second Reich, the wild ’20s, the Third Reich, the Reichstag, the Holocaust, the splitting of city as well as a country, the thumb of Soviet influence, the Berlin Airlift.
The places are identified by using the roots of these two verbs. One place might be a Denkmal or Gedenkstätte, which one supposes are the sort of memorials intended to stimulate thought. And another place might be an Errinerungsstätte, which are places to preserve memory of someone or something. One of our tour guides informed us of a third word form for very special places like this: Mahnmal. According to him this is a rather contrived word – a portmanteau, if you like – of Mahnung and Denkmal. The source of the front of this third word, Mahnmal – namely Mahnung – is not a verb at all, but rather a noun. It means “warning” or “reminder.” How appropriate, because much of what is to be remembered and thought about in Berlin should also serve as a stern warning: never, ever again.
Let’s spend time with one more German verb, which is “fahren” and means to drive, or to travel. One reason I chose it is because its simple root, “fahr”, forms the first part of a very fun word that many Americans have heard quite often, “Fahrvergnügen” (Vergnügen meaning “pleasure” or “fun.” Hey Volkswagen, you’re welcome!)
The other reason I chose fahren is because it leads us nearly everywhere. Add “Aus” to the front and you get a snicker from English speakers: Ausfahrt. This would be an exit. Add Ein for Einfahrt and you get an entrance. (These only apply if one is driving. If you are walking it’s Austritt and Eintritt; and in general it’s Ausgang and Eingang – Tritt based on the verb to step, and Gang based on the verb to go.)
Tweak the vowel, a to ü, and you get führen, which means “to lead” … a clear path to Führer, one who leads. So your tour guide is your Reiseführer, a guided tour is a Führung.
See, Fahren can take you anywhere.
Tweak the vowel a little differently to get fähre, which is a Ferry (and that’s pretty much how you’d say it, too).
There are dozens of little prefixes you can toss onto the front of a verb to tweak its meaning, overhaul its meaning, or, sometimes, not change its essential meaning at all. That’s German for you. For example, add an Ab prefix for abfahren and you get the verb “to depart.” Which I guess is what it’s time for me to do now. The noun, departure, is just wonderful: Abfahrt.
Joe Girard © 2018
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