Many are used to think that a dialect is used only in provinces, primarily in the countryside, while the capital speaks an exemplary language. In Germany, the situation is quite different. As you know, this country has a huge number of dialects (linguists counted more than 50!), and Berlin is no exception. The German capital also has a dialect called Berlinerisch.

I must say that this dialect is the most studied, and in German there is even a special verb “berlinern“, which can be translated as “to speak in the Berlin dialect.” 

Strictly speaking, Berlinerisch is not a dialect in the literal sense of the word. German linguists refer to this philological phenomenon as “metrolect”, which means the language of a large city and its agglomeration, is a result from the merging of different dialects. Indeed, historically, the speech of the inhabitants of Berlin has been constantly influenced for centuries.

Berlin was a member of the Hanseatic Trade Union, thanks to which a special trade language was gradually formed in the city, understandable for all members of the Hanseatic League. Thus, the Berlinerisch included many words from the North German dialects, as well as from the Upper Saxon spoken language. In the 17th century, not only residents of various German principalities flocked to Berlin, but also Protestant Huguenots, who enriched the dialect with Gallicisms, which became especially numerous after the Napoleonic wars.

One of the most famous French-influenced words is “blümerant,” which is a distorted bleu mourant – death blue. (“Mir is janz blümerant” – I feel bad). 

Berliners themselves are very fond of their dialect, and they constantly use it in their everyday speech. According to statistics, men are more likely to speak the Berlin dialect than women. The percentage of Berlinerisch speakers is especially high among older people, but young people use the dialect in speech much less often, preferring their youth jargon to it. According to Berliners, their dialect is accurate, witty and somewhat daring. The frequency of using dialect words in Berlin often depends on the specific area of ​​the city. Berlinerisch is most commonly heard in parts of the city such as Pankow, Spandau and Treptow-Köpenick.

Is the dialect different in East and West Berlin?

After the end of World War II, Berlin was divided into eastern and western parts, and after the construction of the famous wall, West Berlin actually became a small enclave in the territory of the GDR, which is why it was sometimes called the “island in the Red Sea”. This isolation could not but affect the language of the inhabitants of West Berlin, who gradually began to use the dialect less and less, while in East Berlin it constantly developed thanks to contact with the state of Brandenburg that surrounded the capital.

In addition, in everyday life, borrowings from the Russian language were widely used, which were unknown to residents in the west of Berlin (for example, “Soljanka”, “Datscha”). The dialect was used not only in everyday life, but even in public places. 

Nowadays, so many years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the dialect can still be heard more often in East Berlin, while residents of the western part often assess it rather negatively, calling it nightmarish, vulgar and even “proletarian” (“Proletendeutsch”)… However, over time, the population of the capital mixes, differences in language and mentality are erasing, and the Berlin dialect itself, under the influence of immigrants, continues to develop and enrich itself with new words.


Berlinisms mean the joking names that the inhabitants of the capital give to city attractions. Someone is skeptical about this phenomenon, arguing that such names are not folk art, but invented by guides for the purpose of entertaining tourists. Be that as it may, Berliners themselves willingly use these words in their everyday language, since these concepts are very witty and describe well the appearance of famous buildings and other monuments in Berlin. Some of these funny nicknames are:

Hohler Zahn (Hollow Tooth)
This is the name of the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, built at the end of the 19th century in the neo-Romanesque style and having the highest spire in Berlin. In 1943, as a result of the bombing, the church was badly damaged, but when after the war they wanted to demolish the building, many Berliners spoke out against this, proposing to leave the dilapidated building as a memorial monument.

Goldelse (“Golden Elsa”)
This name means a gilded statue of the goddess Victoria, crowning the Victory Column in one of the central squares of the capital. It was erected in honor of the victory of Prussia in several wars, which was the beginning of the unification of Germany.

This name was tried to be introduced officially for the Berlin TV tower, built in the 60s in the eastern part of the city and designed to become a symbol of the socialist state. FYI, there was another name for this sight – “Rache des Papstes” (“Pope’s Revenge”). This is explained as follows: after the construction of the TV tower, it turned out that when the sun’s rays fall at a certain angle, then the image of a cross is visible on the ball crowning the tower. Because of this, the Berliners came up with such a name, hinting at atheistic propaganda and oppression of the church in the territory of the GDR, and then the government began to introduce a more neutral name.

Seelenbohrer (“Soul driller”)
The bell tower of the Evangelical Church of Kaiser Friedrich in the style of modernism, received this nickname because of its specific shape. Constructed from concrete, metal and glass, it truly resembles a huge drill.

Grammatical subtleties of Berlinerisch

A feature of each dialect is not only the presence of a peculiar vocabulary and pronunciation, but also its own grammar, which is often very different from the norms of the standardized language. Let’s try to figure out what features the Berlin dialect has, but first, listen to how it sounds:

The Berlin dialect is characterized by the replacement of the accusative with the dative, which is called “Accudativ”. An example is a phrase like “Ick liebe dir“. Often the endings in words are omitted, and some letters change as follows:

  • g goes to  j (instead of “gut” they say “jut”)
  • ei changes to ee (“kleine” will sound like “kleene”)
  • s is often replaced by t (not “es”, but “et”)
  • ch goes to ck (not “ich” but “ick”)

Often, words merge with each other, for example: sehen Sie – sehnSe

It is easy to make an interrogative from a declarative sentence in the Berlin dialect. All you need to do is just put the question wa? (was?) in the end.

Of course, these examples do not cover all the peculiarities of the dialect, but even if you try to use at least some characteristic features of the dialect in your speech, Berliners will appreciate it. Here it is appropriate to recall a well-known statement in Berlin:

“Et jibt keen richtjet und keen falschet berlinern. Wichtig is nur, dit et ne lebendje Sprache is – n Teil von unsere Identität – und nich irjendwat Uffjesetztes “
(There is no right or wrong Berlin dialect. The only important thing is that this is a living language – part of our community, and not something artificially created)…

Berlin-German-English Dictionary

Alsche – Alte, Frau – old woman
baff – verblüfft – stunned 
Destille – Kneipe – pub 
Feez – Spaß – fun 
happig – viel, stark – much stronger
jewieft – schlau –  cunning
Kaffer – Mann, Bauer – man, farmer
Koks – Geld – money 
koofen – kaufen – buy 
Lorke – schlechter Kaffe – bad coffee
Ooge – Auge – eye
Polente – Polizei – police  
Quetsche – kleiner Laden – little shop
rammdösich – dumm – stupid 
Stulle– belegtes Brot – sandwich  
verlöten – trinken – drink
Weiße – Berliner Weißbier – Berliner light beer
Zicken – Dummheiten – nonsenses

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