Regional German dialect slang can be hugely different from one area to another, and Berliner Schnauze has its own special charm.
Because so many people new to Germany live in Berlin, it’s one of the dialects newcomers encounter the most, and it can be a bit confusing after learning High German, or Hochdeutsch, in a classroom setting.
Here are a few Berliner slang words that you can drop into your conversations to come off a bit more Berlinerisch.
One of the first words you learn in German is ‘ich’ for I.
In High German, you generally pronounce it with a softer sound at the end, somewhere between ‘ish’ and the breathy sound English speakers make at the beginning of words like ‘human’.
However, Berliners make that ‘ch’ into a hard sound, so it comes out as ‘ick’.
For example: ‘Ick brauche eine neue Wohnung.’ (I need a new apartment.)
Going to the bakery is always a bit of a German language test, as you need to ask for everything individually.
But don’t make the mistake of calling the crusty bread rolls Brötchen. That will get you an eye roll and not your breakfast. In Berlin, they are called Schrippen.
For example: ‘Currywurst mit Schrippe!’. (Currywurst with a bun!)
If you’re on your way to a party or to meet some friends, and you grab a beer to drink on the S-Bahn or on the walk, that’s a Wegbier.
Literally a ‘way-beer’, you can think of it as having one ‘to go’. This might take some getting used to if you’re new to Berlin, but drinking in public is not illegal, and you’ll see it everywhere.
For example: ‘Hast du dein Wegbier?’ (Do you have your to-go beer?)
A Spätkauf, or Späti for short, is a corner store open late, particularly in Berlin.
You might stop at the Späti to pick up a Wegbier, for instance, or just run down to get milk or the canned tomatoes you need for a late-night dinner. Your local Späti will soon have a special place in your heart.
For example: ‘Warte! Ich muss zum Späti gehen!’ (Wait! I need to go to the shop!)
Put this into a translation app and you will get a surprise! Geil means cool in Berliner Schnauze, but it also means horny.
Sometimes people use this ambiguousness on purpose, like in the viral Edeka ad with Friedrich Liechtenstein.
Just be aware that you might get some startled reactions, depending on who you use it with. You can use it casually with friends, but you should definitely avoid using it with your boss, coworkers or new acquaintances.
For example: ‘Wir gehen ins Kino? Geil.’ (We’re going to the movies? Cool.)
In most German cities, you would talk about each neighborhood as a Stadtteil or Viertel. But in northeast Germany and particularly in Berlin, you would call it a Kiez.
So if you ask your new Berlin friend where they live, and they refer to their Kiez, don’t try and find it on Google Maps!
For example: ‘Mein Kiez ist geil.’ (My neighborhood is cool.)
7. Schlesi, Görli & Kotti
Of course, Berliners have nicknames for the various Kieze too. It would take much too long to say these popular Berlin locations: Schlesiches Tor, Görlitzer Park or Kottbusser Tor.
Like Späti, Berliners shortened them and put an ‘i’ on the end, so you have Schlesi, Görli and Kotti. It doesn’t work with all the Kieze though!
There’s also F’hain and Xburg for Friedrichshain and Kreuzberg.
For example: ‘Die Wohnung liegt in Görli’. (The apartment is in Görlitzer Park.)
Practice your Schnauze
Don’t go too far with your Berliner Schnauze until you get the hang of it though. Locals are not shy about telling people when they’ve taken it too far.
You can start by learning how to get your ‘ick’ pronounced correctly, and of course, talking about grabbing a Wegbier from your local Späti makes sense. Learn more German slang, too.
But maybe wait until you’ve lived in Berlin for a while before you claim a Kiez. Then again, getting told off by locals is a right of passage when you move to Berlin!
Erin McGann is a Canadian freelance writer focusing on travel, living abroad, parenting, history, and culture. After nearly a decade living in the UK, Erin settled in Heidelberg, Germany with her husband and son. Dragging her family to every castle and open-air museum is a favorite activity, along with sewing, archery, and historical reenactment. You can check out her travel blog, and follow her obsession with half-timbered houses on her Instagram account.