Nno one had the intention of building a language wall, but Walter Ulbricht was happy when it finally seemed to be there – 21 years after the founding of two German states, the head of the GDR state council announced in 1970 in the 13th plenary session of the SED: ” Even what was once a common language is in the process of dissolving.” The development of an independent GDR German was subsequently promoted by GDR German Studies. In the “Dictionary of Contemporary Language”, which was created at the East Berlin Academy of Sciences, differences between West and East German language use were ideologically more sharply worked out.
A West German misunderstanding
Numerous books have been dedicated to the special vocabulary of the GDR – especially after this state became what stamp collectors call a “closed collecting area” in 1989. On anniversaries of the construction of the Wall, the fall of the Wall or similar commemorative occasions, a predominantly West German audience bows in amazement over funny words like Pionierblase, urst, SMH and winged year-end figure.
This is based on a West German misunderstanding. Namely the idea that the German of the Federal Republic was the normal form of our language and everything else was just a deviation. The West German state and its society also had their own words that nobody in the GDR used.
As early as 1992, the Germanist Manfred Hellmann had the Institute for the German Language in Mannheim use old editions of “Welt” and “Neues Deutschland” (“ND”) to count which terms only occurred in the West medium and only in the East sheet. It was shown that approx Employer belonged to the pure West vocabulary and it was the “ND” because of the associated ideology of the social partnership (also a West word) avoided. Also car dealer was never read in the SED newspaper, perhaps because the reference that such houses, where you could simply buy a car, existed in the West was viewed as dangerous to the state.
Estimates of different expressions and meanings in the two German states range between around 800 and 3000 keywords. The number of lexical innovations in the Federal Republic was at least as high as in the GDR, probably even much higher.
Soul Examination, Iodine S11 Granules, Bhagwan Disco
democratization (soul-searching), Westintegration (inner german, zone edge, small border traffic)consumer behavior (Click-clack balls, Tchibo watch, Prilblume, Iodine S11 Granules, Plantagentrank, Nicki (a type of sweater, in the east it was called a T-shirt)tourism (Teutonengrill, Papagallo), Education System (Easter certificate, short school year), Business (Thend, guest worker, oil crisis), Gesellschaft (chic, manager illness) and alternative movements since 1968 (anti-authoritarian, Phallocrates, Bhagwan-Disco) resulted in a large number of new words which, according to the Germanist Peter von Polenz, should be counted among the “state variety ‘Old Federal German'”, which could be distinguished from East German German as well as Austrian and Swiss German.
The difficulty in researching Old West German has to do with two factors. On the one hand, the everyday vocabulary is difficult to understand with the intelligence sheets (also an old German term), which are usually the only ones that have been digitized. On the other hand, many old West German words are now common German, and it has long been forgotten that they were once only common in part of the German-speaking area.
What a Employer many East Germans had to learn the hard way after 1989, when theirs told them that he could no longer give them jobs. And car dealerships spread so quickly in the nineties, even in the most provincial corners of the new federal states, that the singer Rainald Grebe was able to sum up the contrast between Berlin and the surrounding country in his anthem “Brandenburg”: “In the ‘Adlon’ is Brad Pitt and Washington Denzel, in the car dealership in Schwedt is Achim Menzel today.”
But there is a large, specifically West German vocabulary that has long since disappeared. It is true that older East Germans also know some of its components – for example asbach as an adjective in the sense of “old”, which was based on the advertising for the brandy “Asbach ancient”, which was constantly present on television. But only West Germans over 50 know all the words in this field.
For example, when was the last time you heard about a poor elderly person: It didn’t stick. What was meant was: He has not paid into the pension insurance. This specific meaning of sticking was based on the fact that in the past you had to stick on stamps as proof of your pension contributions. In the GDR, that is over there – as they said in West Germany, to the land of Brothers and Sisters in the East to be located within Germany – there was no need for the word. Because the pension system worked differently there.
It is similar with station cinema. That was the slang term for them too news cinema called cinemas, which were often set up near train stations. In the GDR, these houses, which had already appeared in the pre-war period, were called Zeitkinos, and they disappeared there faster. In the Federal Republic they fought their decline in the 1960s by showing particularly lurid films. This became station cinema in the West to a genre name that included cheap spaghetti westerns, sandals and sex films. The latter were then often called Report – the word signaled in compounds like schoolgirl reportt and housewife reportthat nudity was involved.
The words from western television
Television had initiated the decline of the station cinema. One of its distinctive features in the early West was the street sweeper. That was the name of the big crime films, often based on novels by Francis Durbridge, which swept the streets empty because the whole nation was sitting in front of the screen. TV born too problem child as a synonym for the handicapped in connection with the fundraising of the “Solution Child Campaign” (today “Action Man”). That’s where the saying comes from That’s too much of a third program for me (that’s too high for me) because the third programs used to be educational channels.
Those who hadn’t glued might end up in the Mau-Mau-Siedlung. This is what people called the makeshift settlements built in the post-war period for the socially disadvantaged on the outskirts of the city, especially in the north and in Berlin. It was named after the uprising of the Mau Mau warriors in Kenya against the British colonial rulers in the 1950s, because poverty and neglect were associated with wildness and foreignness.
The list goes on: Bank robbery, stampn (being unemployed) and Triple brides was not needed in the East because the phenomena no longer existed. The Third world store (a shop where products from developing countries were sold and where solidarity activists met) didn’t exist in the East any more than that kids shop (self-governing, mostly anti-authoritarian kindergarten), because solidarity with Africa, Asia and South America as well as the upbringing of children was monopolized by the state.
Some things only lasted longer in the West – Schupo, Kriegerwitwe and discount stamp Older East Germans also knew it, but officially there were other words for it in the GDR. Some were later renamed: Catchen was the name of the show sport imported from America in West Germany, which it still calls today Wrestling gives.
hungry bellies Biafrakinder from the civil war region of the same name in Nigeria shocked West German television viewers in 1967. White vintages was the name given to the birth cohorts who did not have to join the Bundeswehr, which was only founded in 1955. Blödelbard were funny songwriters like Schobert & Black or Insterburg & Co. Trim in the sense of “doing sports” came up with the fitness wave. A bucks license required prostitutes as proof of medical examinations.
The disappearance of these words reminds us that the country that produced them also perished long ago – like the GDR, just not as dramatically.
This article was first published in 2018.