“It was really well wrapped,” smiled Rosenberg. “No one said, ‘No one needs linguistics’ or ‘Intellectuals are strange people.’ They just kindly asked, ‘Do you have to go back tomorrow?’ It’s very typical.”
Despite the popularity (or notoriety) of the Berliner Schnauze, Rosenberg believes that its use is declining slightly. This decline reflects a general trend among regional dialects and languages. However, in Berlin it is exacerbated not only by the mix of international cultures in Berlin, but Germans from all over the country moving to the capital.
Tuschy noticed this trend as well, saying she rarely heard Berliner Schnauze. If she hears it, it’s usually a bus driver, a craftsman, or someone who works at the bakery. Like Rosenberg, she believes this is due to the increase in the number of residents outside of Berlin.
“It mixes up the language,” he said. “And so, with that, we have a bit of a decline, but it’s not gone.”
What happens is that Berliners use language that will be intelligible to more people. That is to say high German with perhaps a regional accent. Although Berliners born and bred like Morisse say they will slip into it from time to time if they address the dialect.
“I know Berliner Schnauze can come across as extremely rude, but I really appreciate the honesty that comes with it,” she said. “It’s such a big part of Berlin’s character as a city, and I actually find it kind of endearing most of the time.”
It’s possible that feelings like Morisse’s keep the dialect alive. It is, after all, a still young country in the grand scheme of nation states, and Germany is a highly regional country. Plus, there are those who couldn’t remove Berliner Schnauze from their identity, like Rosenberg, who despite moving to Rio de Janeiro, still uses it with his wife.
“You can’t lose it,” he said. “It’s part of your linguistic identity.”
Lost in Translation is a BBC Travel series exploring encounters with languages and how they are reflected in place, people and culture.
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