German Lessons


Pronouncing "Berlin"

It's hard to break old habits of speech when you are learning to pronounce words in German that you already knew before, such as many place names. It can take a while to change the pronunciation that you learned a long time ago in your native language. Such may be the case with the capital city of Germany, Berlin.


In English, "Berlin" is pronounced bur-LIN. The first part sounds like "brr," when you are cold, and it's certainly a cold enough place in winter. The second part rhymes with "win" and is the stressed syllable. You probably pronounce it this way already, though if you happen to come from Berlin, Connecticut or Berlin, New Hampshire, you might naturally put slightly more emphasis on the first syllable. Don't do that if you are talking about bur-LIN, Germany!


Ironically, a number of Germans I know, when they are speaking English, mispronounce the English pronunciation of Berlin as BURR-lin. Maybe they're trying to sound more American with the heavy emphasis on the R, but I usually don't have the heart to correct them. In the following video, a male American student says "Berlin" with the American pronunciation, followed by his female native German teacher saying "Berlin" with a proper German pronunciation:


„Wenn ich Urlaub habe, gehe ich nach Berlin... -nach Berlin." Gut.

"When I am on vacation I go to Berlin... -to Berlin." Good.

„Nach Berlin." -„Gehe ich nach Berlin", ja.

"To Berlin." -"I go to Berlin," yes.

Captions 64-65, Deutschkurs in Tübingen - Nebensätze als Satzanfang

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In German, of course, "Berlin" is pronounced very differently. The first syllable sounds like "bear" and the second syllable like "lean": bear-LEAN. Of course, the bear (der Bär) is the symbol of Berlin! The German teacher above is in Southern Germany, but in Northern Germany and especially in Berlin, people tend to emphasize the "i," sounding more like bur-LEEEN :


Aber seit ich in Berlin lebe,

But since I've lived in Berlin,

arbeite ich als Kellnerin und Barista in Cafés.

I've worked as a waitress and barista in cafés.

Caption 16, Berlin - Judith und die „Brezel Bar“

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Das ist tatsächlich ein Hotel in Berlin mit einem ganz verrückten Konzept.

This is, in fact, a hotel in Berlin with a completely crazy concept.

Caption 2, Berlin - Indoor-Camping im „Hüttenpalast“

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Kommst du auch aus Hamburg?

Do you also come from Hamburg?

Nee, aus Berlin.

No, from Berlin.

Captions 33-34, Großstadtrevier - Nicht mit mir - Part 4

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Du kommst gar nicht aus Berlin.

You're not from Berlin at all.

Caption 24, Großstadtrevier - Nicht mit mir - Part 5

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Further Learning
Go to Yabla German and search for videos about Berlin. You can also watch the music video of the song "Berlin" by the 1980s German punk band Ideal. The chorus repeats Ich steh auf Berlin, which means "I like Berlin." It shows a lot of street scenes and demonstrations from the early 1980s West Berlin, when the city was much rougher than it is today!

"Crazy" in Slang and Idiom

In an earlier Yabla lesson, we started discussing idioms and slang expressions for "crazy." We'll be taking a look today at some more expressions that seriously question somebody's psychological well-being. But a word of warning if you are in Germany: these expressions are insulting and may make the person you are directing them at very angry. If that person has witnesses, it's possible that they could personally file criminal charges against you, take you to court, and have you convicted for insulting them. In Germany, Beleidigung is a felony crime punishable by up to two years' imprisonment and a fine. If the person who was insulted is a police officer or other public official, either the person or their supervisor can file charges against you. In that case it's called die Beamtenbeleidigung. So much for freedom of speech! Let's take a look at a few expressions that could get you in trouble in the wrong circumstances.


Sag mal, bist du völlig verrückt geworden?

Tell me, have you completely gone crazy?

Caption 47, Großstadtrevier: Leben kommt, Leben geht

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The adjective verrückt is slang and used very commonly. It comes from a 16th century usage which meant "brought to the wrong place."


Die spinnen ja wohl. Das ist ja wahnsinnig.

They're crazy. This is insane.

Caption 38, Großstadtrevier: Nicht mit mir

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The verb spinnen was described in the previous Yabla lesson. The adjective wahnsinnig may also be translated as "crazy." It's also used in a casual sense to add emphasis, such as Das ist wahnsinnig teuer ("That is very expensive" or "That is crazy expensive"). It comes from the Old and Middle German word wan, which meant "lacking" or "empty."


Diese irre Öko-Oma wollte neulich einen echten Klimaplan verabschieden.

This crazy eco-grandma recently wanted to pass a real climate plan.

Caption 25, heute-show: Das kann die Welt beim Klimaschutz von Deutschland lernen

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The expression irre comes from an obsolete noun that meant "the wrong way" or "the wrong direction."


Seid ihr bescheuert oder was?

Are you crazy or what?

Caption 4, Lilly unter den Linden: Umzug in die DDR

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The answer to that is, "No, we're just trying to learn German!" The adjective bescheuert is derived from the verb scheuern, which means "to thoroughly scrub out" with a brush or similar cleaning tool. The less than polite suggestion is that someone's brain has been scrubbed out of their skull!


Further Learning
Make up some new sentences using the expressions discussed above and have your teacher or a fellow student check your work. Please be sure that the sentences you construct are not aimed at your fellow students or your teacher—it always pays to be polite! Go to the videos mentioned above on Yabla German to better understand the contexts in which these expressions have been used.

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