44 strange Berlin words and nicknames you should know when you go to Berlin
Berliners have many nicknames for buildings and typical Berlin words for the things around them. The Fernsehturm is ‘the popes revench’, the Palast der Republik Erich’s Lampenlade (Erich’s bulbshop), Kaiser Wilhelm Gedachtniskirche is Hohler Zahn, a fan is a miefquirl (stinkspreader), a tomb is a madenkiste (maggots home) and mustard is beamtenbutter (officers’ butter).
Read here about the 44 most funny and interesting Berlin words you should know when you go to Berlin or are already in this place to be. And learn a new, typical Berlin word nearly every day!
Hausfrauenblick is one of the most mean Berlin words we ever heard. Literally it means: housewifes’ glance. But by saying Hausfrauenblick Berliners mean that someone has a convergent look. What housewifes got to do with that? According to Berliners housewifes look at the laundry and other stuff at the same time. ‘Die schielt links nach der Wasche und rechts nach de klammern’. You’d better not be a stay at home mum, cause you’re about to be offended.
The East-German Trabant cruised through Berlin during the Cold War. If you owned a car in the GDR you were a happy gal or lad, because you sometimes had to wait several years to get one. The Trabant was one of the most common cars in the GDR. Loved, but also hated. Because the car made a lot of noise. Hence the name asphaltblase: asphalt blower.
Flowers are often used to add color to your house. But Berliners are not that much into flowers, if you know what they call them. Friedhofsjemuse, in proper English: Graveyard vegetables.
On Silvester, or New Years Eve as English people like to call the party on December 31, a lot of people get drunk on Berlin’s streets, bars and clubs. The favorite drink during Silvester probably is Rotkapchen or another sekt. Berliners have a special name for their favorite drink as well. They nickname Sekt Arbeetabrause: workers brew. The posh people drink champagne, the true Berliners sekt.
When it’s nearly Feierabend in Berlin, it’s not easy to go to a shop and look around. Everybody is running around like complete weirdos, looking for the best shops. When Berliners are in a hurry when they are shopping, they say shopping was a ‘Hasenjacht’. In English: Hare Hunt. Finding presents is like shooting those hairy hoppers. You nervously look around for the best gift and run on.
Berliners love to eat garlic on their shawarma and maybe this has got something to do with their fear of vampires. Everybody knows vampires don’t like garlic, right? At least, Berliners do. They nickname garlic Vampierkilla. In English: Vampire Killer. Better not show those fangs while you’re in Berlin…
Berlin is a city that is never completed. There is always the sound of stakes being hammered into the ground. After World War Two the city was in ruins and needed to be rebuild. After the Berlin Wall fell, the pieces of no-man’s land are being built on as well, like Potsdamer Platz. The people designing those places are called Jrundrissapostel. It’s almost impossible to pronounce, but it means ground plan apostle. Berliners do have a point. We have interviewed quite a lot of architects and they sometimes really acts as ground plan apostles!
Berlin has a lot of remarkable churches, like the Berliner Dom, the Marienkirche, Nikolaikirche, the bombed Kaiser Wilhelmgedachtniskirche and blown up Versohnungskirche, but to say Berliners are religious people? Nah. Not really. But they do have a funny nickname for religion. Rillijohn. It doesnt mean anything. It’s just the way Berliners literally pronounce religion.
During the cold war the people of West Berlin were living in an enclave. The grounds around West Berlin all belonged to East Germany. In 1948 the Russians tried to blockade West Berlin. Food became scarce and the people of West Berlin became pretty hungry. But they didn’t starve to death. The people in West Berlin got their food by air when the Russians blocked the city. And those airplanes landed at Tempelhof. Berliners call this the Luftbrucke: literally: the air bridge. The memorial near Tempelhofer Freiheit remembers the people of this period. They nicknamed it the Hungerharke: the Hunger Rake.
Berliners love to drink beers and blindenwasser. But if all that booze is good for the heart, we doubt it. Especially if you know how Berliners nickname a heart: Cognacpumpe. In English: a cognac pump
The Brandenburger Tor is one of Berlins famous landmarks. On top is the goddess Victoria in her carriage. She was made after Germany defeated the Dutch Republic to celebrate the victory. When the Berlin Wall fell, the Brandenburger Tor became the ultimate symbol of the unification. But Berliners know victory doesn’t come easy. They nickname Victoria in her carriage the Retourkutsche, the return carriage. Napoleon stole it, and during the Second World War it became severely damaged. Victoria had to be renovated a couple of times. Those ladies who get a make over on tv are nothing compared to the slightly unfortunate Victoria.
Berliners have fancy hairstyles and they care about how they look. But you would expect all boys, girls, lads, ladies, grannies, granddads and even kids leave the hairdresser as bald as a marble if you know what Berliners nickname the guys and girls with scissors. They call them Glatzenschneida. In English: bald head cutters. So be aware if you go to a Berlin hairdresser and order a out of bed look. You might come out bald.
13. Venus von Kilo
Venus de Milo is a very pretty lady. She is made out of stone, has no arms, but her features are just beautiful. You can admire her in the Louvre in Paris. In Berlin, they also know Venus von Milo, of course. But they also know her fat sister: Venus von Kilo. If Berliners see a girl with overweight, they become perky and say she is a Venus von Kilo. Berliners can be funny, and mean at the same time.
Friedrich II has meant a lot for Berlin and to honor him the city has a statue of him at Unter den Linden. To Berliners Friedrich II is better known as ‘der Alte Fritz’. And der Alte Fritz is not the only Fritz in Berlin. The men who sell cigars are nicknamed ‘Zigarrenfritze’ . And, guess what: the men selling apples and vegetables are called ‘gemusefritze’ and the men who sell cardboard ‘kartonfritze’. Even the currywurst guys call themselves curryfritze…
The Reichstag or Bundestag plays an important role in German politics. The German Parliament is seated here. When it was build, the emperor Kaiser Wilhelm II already hated it. He thought the new building was a complete failure and therefore he nicknamed it the Reichsaffenhaus. The architect had to change his drawings over and over again to satisfy him, but the Kaiser never liked the building. The people of Berlin felt sorry for the architect. After it was built, the Reichstag experienced more disasters. It has been set on fire and was bombed during the Second World War. But that’s all in the past. Now the Reichsaffenhaus (Reichs Monkey Haus ) is visited by lots of tourists. Not because they think the building is a failure. But because they love the architecture.
16. Pappa und Mamma
Not only Berlin kids call mum and dad Pappa und Mamma, it is a typical Berlin compliment as well. If you had a wonderful evening with the best wine you have tasted in years, you say: “Dieses Rotwein konnte Pappa und Mamma sagen” The wine was so good, it could almost say mum and dad. So if your Berlin friends poor you a wine/beer you will likely never forget, this is the best way to give them a compliment.
A Dachhase is not a new species. At least, not that we know of. Or some crazy Berlin professor must have been experimenting in his own home. But if you are going out tonight, you might spot a Dachhase, in proper English: a roof rabbit. In other parts of Germany they mean a cat with this nickname. But in Berlin the word Dachhase refers to someone that partied all night long and tries to sneak in the house and slip into bed without being noticed. Berliners don’t mean teenagers, who don’t do what mum and dad said. A Dachhase is your own partner who does things secretly in the night and tries really hard not to get caught.
Everybody has one. It’s either long, small, with dimples, freckles, soft skinned or full of wrinkles: your own picture perfect head. Berliners don’t really care what it looks like. They call a head a Denkmurmel. It can mean two things. Whatever it is, both are funny. It’s either Thing that mumbles (Denk means think and murmeln means mumbling) . Or Think marble (a murmel is a marble). Just pick your favorite.
Berliners love to shop and party. But what to wear to a good party? If you go glamor, the gents put on a nice jacket and the Berlin ladies a ‘Bratenrock’. For some reason we get an image of a Berlin gal in the kitchen, frying sausages and wearing an apron. Since the translation literally is: frying/baking skirt. But in Berlin a Bratenrock really is a glamorous dress you wear if you want to party in style…
Berlin doesn’t have a true centre (although Mitte acts like it a lot), the different Berlin districts are small villages on it’s own. The people living in those ‘villages’ have nicknames too, of course. West Berlin used to be nicknamed Halbstadt (when the Berlin Wall still existed): Half City. Kreuzberg is called Little Istanbul, because of the many Turkish immigrants that live in this neighborhood. Wittenau is called Dalldorf (valley village). It has a mean ring to it though, because when Berliners say: “Bist wohl aus Dalldorf jekommen?’ they mean someone is mad or stupid. Small kids in Prenzlauer Berg are called Prenzelzwergen (midgets). But the weirdest and filthiest nickname is Charlottenburger. Because it’s not someone from the district of Charlottenburg. Berliners say Charlottenburger to someone who blows his or her nose without using a tissue. We spare you the details…
Eisbein is typical Berlin food. We are not really fond of nibbling on a porks leg, but a lot of Berliner’s are. Some tourists too, according to the Russian/Berlin writer Wladimir Kaminsky. He wrote a great story about Japanese tourists who ordered Eisbein. Not to eat it, but simply, to make a selfie with it. The restaurant owner even had prepared a special Eisbein for these events because he was sick of throwing all the pork legs away after the picture was taken. But in Berlin, Eisbein is not only a pork’s leg. It’s also used as a nickname for cold legs (ice legs). With the cold, and chilly season coming up you will probably end up with Eisbein yourself. So dress warm, before someone starts to nibble on your legs.
22. Jrosser Jelber
Every year more and more tourists come to visit Berlin. They walk up and down Unter den Linden to watch all the funky windowsills, sing hallelujah in the Berliner Dom, see Berlin from above in the Fernsehturm and shop at the Kudamm. Those who are in a hurry or don’t bother to walk around by themselves are being transported in the Jrosser Jelber: the big yellow. Right: a big yellow bus. London has red busses, Berlin has yellow ones.
But do yourself a favor, and try to avoid these Jrosser Jelber. Inside they might tell you all about the landmarks of Berlin, but it is so much more interesting to check out all the wonderful Berlin stories yourself.
Berlin must have been quite a stinky place back in the days. Centuries ago it was full of swamps and when Berlin became a big city people had to share an apartment with a bunch of people. They were lucky if they had their own bed and got clean in one of the public ‘swimming’ pools, like the Stadtbad in Oderbergerstrasse. Smelling nice was something not every Berliner could afford. Smelling bad and being stinky was easy. Maybe the people that invented the nickname for perfume or eau de toilette were a bit envious because they wanted to smell like a glamorous lady themselves. Or they were just being plain funny. Because they nicknamed perfume Damendiesel: Diesel for ladies. Well, some ladies smell so strong it is almost like they put diesel on their wrists. But we still prefer the strong perfume smell, if we compare it with the smell of ten people living together in one small room…
It’s stuck in the middle of your face. It’s either big, small, pretty, average or plain ugly. But Berliners don’t care very much what your nose looks like, if you know how they nickname a nose. They call it a Feuamelda. In English: A Fire Alarm/Detector. Not the prettiest nickname, but a true and funny one. As long as your nose is working, you will be safe.
Especially when your friend is burning your food in the kitchen and black smoke is entering your nostrils, your Feuamelda will tell you to run out of the apartment.
Berliners are curious people. If something happens they want to see, feel, taste and smell it. They even have a special Berlin word for ‘looking’: kieken. The German word is ‘gucken’, which sounds totally different. But being a Dutchy kieken sounds very familiar, because if a Dutch person is taking a quick peek we too say ‘kieken’. A photo snapshot is even called a ‘kiekje’ after the Dutch photographer Israel David Kiek. So if you hear your friend say: ‘Lass mal Kieken!’ something cool is about to happen or see.
26. Drebuch at the Lokus
No surprise, Berliners have many different nicknames for a toilet and the things in a Berlin toilet. The toilet itself is called a Lokus. From the Fancy Latin word Locus Necessitatis (the place you have to be). Apparently, Berliners take their time to do their thing. Because the toilet use is called: Die Sitzung. The Sitting. Well, lucky you if a Berlin friend uses your toilet.
Toilet paper is called: Dachpappe (roof paper) and a toiletrole Drehbuch. In English: a screenplay. So I guess that’s the reason your Berlin friends are sitting on the toilet for such a long time. They are making up the greatest movie ever when they sit on your toilet seat.
Berliners are always in a hurry. If you have ever been stuck in Berlin traffic, you perfectly understand this (although it’s not as bad as traffic hell Paris). Berlin taxi’s are not really expensive, but if it takes half an hour to get to the other part of town, it will be. “Jib Jummi!’ they holler at the taxi driver. “Hurry up, hit the gas’. Hence the nickname for Taxi, Jummi. So now we finally understand why the Berlin taxidrivers are often so badly tempered. Jib Jummi!. With special thanks to ‘Covering Berlin’ for their help with the correct translation!
28. Buletten Boulevard
The Kurfurstendamm is Berlin’s shopping mile. At Charlottenburg’s pride and joy you will find a kilometers long stretch with glamorous shops from the main European design clothes brands. Elderly ladies covered in fur dribble in front of the large windowsills on what bling bling ring or glam dress to get next, before they go shopping at Kaufhaus des Westens, or KaDeWe. But the Kudamm is also a touristy spot, hence the Berlin nickname for the shopping street: Buletten Boulevard. Because walking and shopping for miles makes you crave for greasy meat, like the Berlin Buletten, a typical Berlin meatball.
29. Braun bier
If you know the Berlin beer culture, you would think Braun Bier would be a nickname for brown beer, ale, or whatever dark colored Berlin beer. But that’s not the case.
Once the leaves fall of the trees and rain pours down on our sorry souls from dusk till dawn, we start sniffing and coughing and feeling sick. And according to the Berliners people that look sick and pale, look like Braun Bier. And to make the comparison even worse: like Braun Bier mit Spuck. In English: Brown Beer (or Ale) with spit. So if you are not feeling well, stay in bed and don’t meet people with a Berliner Schnauze. Because this ‘compliment’ won’t make you feel any better.
Berliners love music. When the Berlin Wall fell the alternative music scene thrived and people danced under the Brandenburger Tor during the love parade. But the Berliner who invented the nickname for singer must have had a neighbor that sang so loud under the shower it hurt the ears. Why would you otherwise call a singer a heulboje. In English: a crying boy.
Berlin is heaven for people who love vintage clothes and small boutiques. La Mu (Mulackstrasse) is full of interesting clothing stores who have their own Berlin design labels. The Berlin nickname for clothes is very classy with a funny french ring to it: Kleedage. A kleed is slang (the normal German word is Kleid) for a dress. So dress up and find your own Berlin style kleedage at one of the great boutiques around town.
We never ate disgusting pizza‘s in Berlin, but maybe we were lucky. Why would Berliners otherwise call a pizza Pappdiskus? Ok, we get the diskus part. A pizza is round and you might not look bad during an olympic game throwing a pizza instead of a real disc. The crowd will love you for it. But Papp means sticky, guey, thick stuff. Not very tasty. Another funny word for pizza is Maffiatorte. Maffia cake.
I doubt if Berliners sing in the rain, like they do in so many romantic movies when it starts pouring. Most people start swearing if they become soaking wet. Berliners probably too. Why would you otherwise call an umbrella a jewittaflinta? In English: a thunder shotgun. An umbrella might look a bit like a gun when you’re not using it. But shooting at the thunderclouds does not really help. But a jewittaflinta does keep you dry.
Berliners love meat. In Paris people eat delicate stuff during lunch, but the people of Berlin like to gobble up a currywurst, bockwurst or home made meatball. They like their meat so much, they even call some vegetables meat. Like gherkins. Berliners nickname gherkins Gartnerwurst. In English: Gardeners’ sausage. There must be something wrong with the tastebuds of the Berlin man or woman who invented this word.
Berlin is the city to be for alternative music. In the 1920’s people went crazy on Berlin music and danced the night away at the Berlin bars and clubs. After the Berlin Wall fell people raved under the Brandenburger Tor during the Love Parade. No wonder they call their radio’s kofferheule (suitcase whiners). Berliners already enjoyed music when they still carried their favorite tunes with them in a suitcase. But being a Berliner, they must not have liked all the music that came out of the newborn radio’s. Especially not what their nextdoor neighbor was playing out loud. Hence the whining in Kofferheule.
Berliners like to party. And at a Berlin party the booze usually flows. The people of Berlin like drinking beer. And Blindenwasser. In English: Water for the Blinds. Of course, this spirit is not real water. It’s vodka. Being occupied by the Soviets (The East part of Berlin) Vodka was never far away. A lot of people even brewed there own spirits. Maybe that’s the reason they came up with Blindenwasser. Because a lot of this home made stuff was so strong, you would wake up the next day without knowing what you did the night before. A bit like the movie ‘the hangover’, where a bunch of guys also wake up without knowing what happened during their stag night.
Berliners love their beers. Pils and wheat beer comes in large amounts and the Berlin beer gardens are always full on a sunny day. Every Berlin district also has a lot of Kneipe’s. Local bars, where people come to meet each other and tell each other about their lifes. After too much booze you will know your whole neighborhood and they will know you. The women that bring you the liquids are called ‘biertante’ or beer aunty. Because you are part of the drinking family once you enter a local Berlin pub.
The Fernsehturm makes Berlin the city it is. The Fernsehturm is on tourist cards and on photo’s you send home after a vacation in Berlin. The Fernsehturm lights up the Berlin sky. Build in 1969 the Fernsehturm was the pride and joy of the GDR. And soon after it was erected, it also got it’s two nicknames: Rache des Papstes (Popes Revench) and St. Walter, after GDR leader Walter Ulbricht. Although the GDR government was very anti-religion, a large radiant cross appeared on the Fernsehturm when the sun rays hit the large glittering disco ball. It surely must have been the popes’ revench.
Smoking is not very healthy, but if you have to believe the Berliners smoking is more like a battle between your body and your addiction. Lungentorpedo means Longtorpedo. True: a cigarre or strong cigarette actually looks a bit like a small torpedo.
Some Berlin districts are full of kiddies. In Prenzlauer Berg you will see many young mums and dads pushing a stroller. Berliners nickname these baby cars Ehestandslokomotive. In English: matrimony locomotive.
41. Hohler Zahn
The Kaiser Wilhelm Gedachtniskirche is one of the landmarks of Berlin. One look at the ruins of the old church and it is not hard to imagine what Berlin must have been like after World War two. Nearly bombed to pieces. The Berlin nickname for the Kaiser Wilhelm Gedachtniskirche is spot on. Hohler Zahn. Hollow molar. With a little bit of imagination it looks like a hollow gum in your mouth. The new bell tower has a fancy Berlin nickname as well: lippenstift (lipstick) and the new part of the church is called ‘puderdose’ (powder box). In combination: Hohler Zahn mit Lippenstift und Puderdose. It almost sounds like an old lady with bad teeth who tries to look good. Another nickname of the new part of the church is: Eierkiste (Egg crate), after the architect Egon Eiermann.
Berliners must either be very scared of these vacuum cleaning ladies. Or they look down on them. Still it is a funny name for a cleaning lady: Fussbodemdompteuse. You picture them with a whip in a circus, because of the word ‘dompteuse’. But their area is not the circus, but the ‘fussboden’: the floor that needs to be cleaned.
Music can make you feel really good. And although Berlin’s music scene is very dynamic, wild, entertaining, weird and progressive at the same time, you might think not all Berliners enjoy it very much. Why would you otherwise nickname a piano Jammerholz? Jammerholz means something like ‘whining wood’ or ‘weeping timber’. Poor piano.
If you are in Berlin you should definitely eat a bockwurst, or as true Berliners say: a senfschnulla. Translated: a mustard pacifier. Other interesting meat names: Gummiadler- a rubber eagle. By this Berliners mean a roasted rooster.