I didn't practise any German in bilingual Berlin
The Guardian May 9, 2014
Following a trip to Berlin, Anna Codrea-Rado reflects on why she didn't manage
to speak very much German
I went to Berlin and didn't speak German. What's even worse is that I didn't really try that hard, either.
It all started to go wrong at the hotel reception. The immaculate staff at the Amano spoke perfect English, I'm not talking the level of English you'd expect in a decent hotel, I mean the kind of English where you can't even place the speaker's native accent.
My travelling companion gave it a better shot that I did, at least making attempts in cafes to order in German. But when the staff clocked that we weren't German, they switched to English. In quite a few cases, they were English (or American) themselves.
I'm going to make a feeble attempt to argue that people in Berlin really all do speak English. Wherever you go abroad, especially well-trodden tourist tracks, you manage find people who speak English to a varying degree. But in Berlin, it really felt like the city was almost bilingual. Some expats we met up with were telling us that you can definitely get by with little to no German, especially if you work in the startup business, where the language of business is English.
The theory goes that as Berlin attracts more international businesses and startups from all over the world, the common language is English. That many of these businesses are tech-related is also a contributing factor, as the dominant language of tech is English. A writer from Latvia recently made the case for why we should be concerned about the threat of this "digital extinction" on some of the smaller European languages.
The fact that everyone spoke English obviously isn't a good enough excuse. The real reason I didn't speak German has to do with something I've written about before, a shyness that I just can't shake and an innate frustration at not being instantly good at something.
And yes, I'm aware how ridiculous that sounds because of course the only way to get good at something (especially a language) is to practise.
So the big question that I know you're all dying to find the answer to, did I get into Berghain. No I did not.
To add insult to injury, I'm convinced that of all the places I went to in Berlin, the super club was the one place where you really did need to speak German. When the intimidatingly-tall door man barked something in German, it took me too long to compute what he'd asked. By the time I'd worked it out, he'd figured out we were English and translated the question. I knew there and then it was game over.
So what can I can do about all of this? When you fall off the horse, you have to get straight back on, right? So I guess I better go back to Berlin and try again.