Bin ich ein Berliner?

‘Am I a Berliner?’ is not a question the duck and I ever ask ourselves, because the simple answer is ‘no’. We have neither lived in this iconic city long enough to declare ourselves true people of Berlin (and there might even be a rule that you need to be born and grow up in Berlin to ever be considered a true Berliner), nor are we jelly donuts. We also didn’t know that jelly donuts aren’t even called Berliner here (as they are in other parts of Germany) until several months into our Berlin (non-)adventure. They are called Pfannkuchen, ‘pancakes’. And this is just one of the many things that we didn’t know about before moving here. In fact, the duck and I still get confused on a regular basis when we hear yet another unknown word, or one that has a completely different meaning outside of Berlin.

Duck with confusing donut

Take the jelly donut, for example. Depending on who (and where) you ask, you might even be told that its rightful name is Kreppel, or is it Krapfen? Wait, are Krapfen filled? And didn’t I hear someone call them Faschingsküchle, ‘carnival cakes’, or is that another kind of pastry? If you are looking for answers to those questions, you will probably not find them here. Sorry. The duck and I have another question, though:

If Berliner are Pfannkuchen, what do they call pancakes?

First of all, let me explain what the typical German pancake looks like: It is much flatter than the American pancake, and definitely not as fluffy as the ricotta pancakes we ate at an Australian restaurant in Japan. The German pancake is almost as flat as a crêpe and usually asks for four basic ingredients: flour, eggs, milk and salt. But, since jelly donuts are called Pfannkuchen, ‘pancakes’, in Berlin, what do they call pancakes? Well, here and in some other parts of Germany they tend to be called Eierkuchen, which translates to ‘egg cakes’. Another name for German pancakes is Eierpfannkuchen, ‘egg pancakes’. In fact, when I ate German pancakes for the first time I ate Omeletts. Can you imagine my confusion when others wondered how I could possibly eat an omelet with strawberries? This is why the duck and I shall have this picture printed and carry it around if we ever encounter German pancake confusion and need a visual explanation of what we mean.Is it a pancake? I’ll end this post with a fun little situation I got to witness last summer: I was resting on a patch of grass with a group of people. We were eating pretzels and jelly donuts and there also were a few beer crates standing around for those who needed their Feierabendbier, ‘after-work beer’ (another word that was completely unknown to me before I moved to Berlin. Now that I know of the concept of Feierabendbier I can’t help but get excited when I see someone with an open bottle of beer on the train. I don’t know why being able to describe a situation in one word makes me so happy. Isn’t that what the German language is all about, anyway?). As we were sitting there, a true Berliner (as in ‘person from Berlin’) who had helped us out beforehand walked by. We greeted him and Is, a lovely girl from the central part of Germany, offered him a ‘Berliner‘. When he waved his hands to express that he did not want any, individual members of the group started to giggle. Only when the gentleman had thanked Is for the kind offer and told her that he did not drink, had, in fact, been sober for more than ten years, did Is realize the mistake she had made. While she wanted to offer the man a jelly donut, which she knows as Berliner, out of gratitude for his help, he thought that she was offering him a Berliner Kindl, a Berlin brand of beer that, it seems, is sometimes abbreviated to Berliner. The whole group erupted into laughter because of Is’s wrong use of Berlin vocabulary and, as the nice gentleman walked away, probably embarrassed by the lively reaction to his refusal, poor Is, now aware of the unfortunate misunderstanding, yelled after him that she meant a Pfannkuchen!’.

Do you have any fun stories of misunderstood local vocabulary?

3 thoughts on “Bin ich ein Berliner?

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