Ryan Hellyer
Berlin, Language, Life in Berlin, people

Creative in Berlin: Ryan Hellyer

Ryan Hellyer is a former chemist, software developer and creator of Comic Jet, a fun and colourful site that enables you to learn German from comics.

Ryan HellyerIntroduce Yourself

I’m a Kiwi who somehow made his way across the globe to wonderful Berlin. I work as a software developer, and can usually be found working from a cafe some place in Berlin.

What is your favourite place in Berlin?

Herman Schulz cafe. I regularly go there to meet friends, get work done and experience their yummy cakes and soups.

Tell us about Comic Jet

Comic Jet is my attempt at helping people practice their German skills. It doesn’t actively teach, but allows readers to begin reading proper stories in German (or English) and when they get stuck, they can simply click on the comic to switch into their native language.

Where did the idea come from?

I had been trying to improve my German by reading comics, but it was driving me nuts having to constantly look things up in a dictionary. I ended up scanning both the English and German versions and putting them on my phone so I no longer had to take the books with me, and could easily switch between the two. This was useful, but it still took me a second or two to switch languages. So I set about working out how to switch languages quicker, and the basis for Comic Jet was born.

What is your favourite comic on the site?

The XKCD comics are my favourite for reading in English, but for learning German I prefer any of the Gaia comics, as they use much simpler language.

What is your favourite German word?

My favourite German word is “duh”. Most people use der, die or das, but I prefer to just say duh, as it makes the language a whole lot simpler! If you say it fast enough, people don’t even notice.

What other projects you are working on?

I have a whole fleet of open source projects on the boil. Most of them are posted on my geek blog. The most popular one is my Disable Emoji’s plugin for WordPress which is currently installed on over 50,000 websites.

What are your future plans for Comic Jet?

My main goal is to add more comics. There are very few comics which are available in both English and German and have licenses which allow me to use them on Comic Jet. If the site becomes popular, I will look into having existing comics translated.

For more, check out Comic Jet, or follow Ryan on Twitter, Instagram or his blog.
Berlin, Humour, Life in Berlin

Tinder in Berlin

IMG_20160617_182853_165The Bavarian and I have split up so for the first time ever, I am open explore Berlin’s modern dating scene. This can be summed up in one word: Tinder.

For those of you who have been trapped underground or in a relationship for the last few years, Tinder is an app that almost everyone who is single (and a quite a few who are not) is on. It’s like flicking through a catalogue of men in your vicinity on your phone – swipe left for no, thanks, and right for yes, please.

If it weren’t for Tinder, I have no idea how the Germans would hook up. They all either meet in school and stick to each other for life, or through friends later on, which is a pretty limited model. German men, unlike the British men, would never dare chat you up in a bar, or club, or hell, even on the street. As a woman, this is kind of nice because it means you never get bothered or objectified. On the other hand, it makes meeting new people difficult.

There is one subtle thing the Germans do do – so subtle, in fact, it took me years to notice: they look at you. Yes, that’s it. They look. And what the hell are you supposed to do with that? The German government should probably throw Tinder some support, because the app might just help raise the population’s happiness as well as poor birthrate.

Anyway, all this to say, in this exciting new world, I’ve noticed 5 curious things about Tinder in Berlin.

1. Height

Almost every guy on German Tinder specifies his height in centimetres. Apparently, it’s something they get constantly asked about by women, which why they list it.

Conclusion: height is pretty important to the Germans.

2. CEOs

If you were to believe everything you read on Tinder, you might conclude that there are a disproportionate amount of CEOs residing in Berlin. Curious, since Berlin is hardly a business or financial capital. Even more curious; these CEOs are often in their 20s, kinda scruffy-looking, and incapable of writing a sentence without using emojis. The only possible explanation is that we are a city of start-ups, and these men with their over-inflated egos and sense of accomplishment think they can call themselves CEOs because they secured enough funding to spend on ping-pong tables or whatever.

3. Open Relationships

A lot of men list themselves as being in open relationships. In real life, I interact with many different types of people, but I don’t know anyone an open relationship. So either a disproportionate number of Tinder users are in open relationships, or they are lying. In more than a few photos, you can glimpse wedding rings or the cropped off body of a partner. Come on, people.

4. Bathroom Selfies

Why oh why are so many photos taken in bathroom mirrors? What is attractive about that? And it’s not even private bathrooms. Most of them are taken in public bathrooms. How does that work? So you’re out for dinner, or in a bar with your friends, and all of a sudden you decide to go to the toilet, take a photo of yourself in the mirror and post it on Tinder. Why don’t you use literally any other photo of you in the world? Can someone please explain this to me?

5. Sebastians and Christophs

There are a lot of white men in Berlin, and most of them are called Sebastian and Christoph. From the point of view of someone who has had it with German men, this is kind of disappointing. I would love a little more diversity, which I would get in another city such as (my hometown) London. To be fair, of all the cities in Germany, Berlin is probably the most diverse, but it’s still pretty hard to find someone who is not called Sebastian or Christoph, 190cm tall, a CEO in an open relationship and likes taking selfies in random bathroom mirrors…

Here’s to hoping.

Berlin, Language, Life in Berlin

Learn German the Berlin Way

I always say there are two types of expats in Berlin; the language people – those who have a real interest in German, have studied it at university or work as translators – and the rest of us.

The rest of us take the occasional course, figure out the language as best we can and muddle along constantly fuddled by the dative and TeKaMoLo. At some point, our learning stops, and this happens at level B2.

B2 is the optimal point at which we can say everything we need to say and use the language in a way that doesn’t involve reading Goethe. Don’t get me wrong, we all feel bad about this, but let’s face it, part of the blame falls on what Mark Twain wrote an entire essay on: The Awful German Language.

But here’s a solution: Krimi in Berlin.

 

Krimi in Berlin v.2 cover

This mini e-book is long enough to challenge B2 German learners, but short and exciting enough to keep you engaged. It is comes with an audio track and explains key phrases, but doesn’t feel textbook tedious.

It starts, as all krimis should, with a dramatic shooting. Blood turns the wooden Berlin floors red. Merc, a hilariously Berlin type – leftie, vegan, hacker – has just been shot. As her friend Hercule takes this in, we pick up some colloquial German phrases, like Trick auf Lager (a trick up one’s sleeve), null Komma nix (very fast) and in der Scheiße sitzen (to be up shit creek without a paddle). These little phrases are useful and fascinating to learn as we figure out how and why Merc was shot, and wonder whether everything will turn out alright in the end.

A snappy, entertaining read.

Krimi in Berlin v.2 is available now on Amazon, and is currently free for a limited time.

Berlin, Germany, Humour, Life in Berlin

Will Arnett on Wetten, Dass…?

Wetten, dass..? is Germany’s biggest Saturday night entertainment show, attracting around 10 million viewers (at its high point, it drew 23 million – in terms of figures, it remains Europe’s most successful show). It’s been on air since 1981, runs from between 2 and 4 hours, and centres around celebrities betting on outrageous stunts performed by ordinary people.

The first time I saw it, I thought, “The Germans are crazy.” I remember the show – it was this one, in which one of the bets was whether these lovely people could guess the animal by smelling its faeces:

So when I stumbled across this clip of Will Arnett talking about his recent experience on Wetten, dass..?, I could sympathise:

Wetten, dass..? is due to come off the air soon, due to a number of reasons, among which is falling ratings since the show’s popular long-term host Thomas Gottschalk resigned.

Read more about ZDF pulling the plug on Wetten, dass…? at The Local.

Berlin, Humour, Life in Berlin

Things My German Husband Says

I occasionally tweet random things that the Bavarian says to me under the tag #ThingsMyGermanHusbandSaidToday which I thought I’d collect under one blog post for those of you who don’t follow me on Twitter (why not?!)…

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ear

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on chocolate

the longer stick

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little animals

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Join the fun @madhviramani

Berlin, Life in Berlin, music

Top 10 Berlin Songs

Lots of songs are about or feature Berlin. Here are my favorite!

10. Kaiserbase – Berlin Du Bist So Wunderbar

Berliner Pilsner used this for their advertising campaign and it’s a real Ohrwurm (which literally means ear worm, but also a tune that you can’t get out of your head).

What’s particularly nice is that if your name has two syllables, like mine, you can replace the word Berlin with your name and go around singing how wonderful you are.

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9. Peter Fox – Schwarz zu Blau

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8. Zarah Leander – Berliner Luft

So apparently, the air in Berlin – the Berliner Luft – has a particular quality. Maybe you can smell it, or sense it when you breathe it in – personally I can’t tell the difference. However, it’s a thing. There are many songs about the Berlin air, and this is the most famous. Written by Paul Lincke, it is considered to be the unofficial anthem of Berlin.

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7. Franz Meißner – Im Grunewald (ist Holzauktion)

The Bavarian sings this uplifting little number every time we get on the S7 towards Grunewald. He sings it a lot…

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6. Rainald Grebe – Brandenburg

This song makes fun of the difference between Berlin and the surrounding, depressed area of Brandenburg – unfortunately you have to understand German to get it!

 

5. Nina Hagen – Berlin

I don’t know what it is about Nina Hagen, but I love her. Sorry, but I can’t help it!

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4. Amit Chaudhuri – Motz

Amit Chaudhuri lived in Berlin for a few months, which inspired some of his music. My favorite is Motz, which is the name of a paper sold in Berlin by unemployed and homeless people.

You can listen to it by clicking on the link below.

http://www.amitchaudhuri.com/music/clips/motz.mp3

3. Leonard Cohen

Having seen Cohen perform this at the Waldbuhne twice, it brings back brilliant memories…

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2. Lou Reed – Berlin

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1. Marlene Dietrich – Das ist Berlin

For more, check out Wikipedia’s list of Songs about Berlin.

Berlin, Life in Berlin, Literature, theatre

Every Man Dies Alone at the Maxim Gorki Theatre

You would think that a play based on what Primo Levi called “the greatest book about German resistance to the Nazis” (Hans Fallada’s Every Man Dies Alone, or Jeder stirbt für sich allein) staged at a reputable theatre (Maxim Gorki in Berlin Mitte) would be watchable, if not enjoyable. Not so.

Director Jorinde Dröse has managed to turn an evocative, insightful work into a meaningless farce. The only emotion the play managed to stir was cringe-making dread, akin to something you’d expect to feel whilst watching a particularly bad village panto. This was not the fault of the actors, who, bless them, were trying hard, but the production.

The play lacked focus, attempting to recite the novel’s various story-threads and introducing new characters right up until the end whilst refusing to commit to what should have been the central story – that of the distribution of cards denouncing Hitler by Otto and Anna Quangel. In a recent interview with ExBerliner Magazine, the director said, “I thought the final part of the book, the part where the Quangels are waiting for their inevitable execution in prison, is very long and depressing, so we decided to leave this final part out.” Herein lies the problem – apart reflecting her general idiocy (a play about fascism should not be depressing?) – the comment demonstrates the director’s fear that audience, akin to a kindergarten class, would get bored at the least hint of serious focus. The result is a continuous assault of noise and activity, meaning nothing.

Problems of unity and consistency stretched to tone (the play did not know whether it was a farce or a tragedy), to the question of whether this was a dramatisation or re-enactment of a novel (characters mostly acted out scenes, but whenever the novel seemed too hard to dramatise, they simply read passages out, referring to themselves or other characters in the third person, the curious result of which reminded me of an unartful version of The Guardian’s Digested Read), and style (Frau Rosenthal throws herself out of the window in some weird-dancey sequence, and – I kid you not – characters express their love for each other by singing renditions Damien Rice’s Can’t Take My Eyes Off You.)

Even the subtitles in English were bad – they were by no means complete and either ran ahead or lagged behind the lines being said on stage – how hard is it to organise accurate subtitles?! The stage design, consisting of a sloping floor which characters were perpetually sliding down, could have been interesting, but since everything else was so dire I found it hard to give a shit.

Which brings me to the question – why is theatre in Berlin so bad? I’ve been here for well over two years now, and every single play I‘ve seen (with perhaps the exception of Hamlet at the Schaubühne) has been terrible. Indeed, I witnessed the worst play of my life in this city – Frank Castorf’s Nach Moskau! Nach Moskau! (again, based on the works of Chekhov no less, at Berlin’s famous Volksbühne). That play was so bad that after over two excruciating hours, with no clue as to whether the pretentious shit of a director would honour his audience with a break, I had to walk out mid-act – the only time I have ever done this. Sitting in the bar opposite trying to recover my senses, I saw that there was indeed an intermission about half an hour later; hoards of people dashed to the nearest U-Bahn station…the theatre must have been half empty for the second half. Seriously, they could use that play as a modern torture technique…

I love German books, films and music, but theatre is one of two things that the British do better than the Germans (the other is television – and I would go so far to say that British theatre is the best in the world.) I’ve heard that a fundamental difference between the two countries is that the director carries more weight than the writer in Germany, but surely this cannot account for the creation of such trash.

Maybe the clue to the answer lies in Dröse’s interview, in which she says that to direct in Berlin “you have to be more radical in your work.” This seems to be the problem; a director’s main concern should be the story. He or she should be concerned with a work’s themes, its characters and their journeys, but in attempting to be radical, Berlin directors are only succeeding in producing radically bad plays.

Jeder stirbt für sich allein is on at the Maxim Gorki Theater, Am Festungsgraben 2, Mitte, S+U-Bhf Friedrichstr.

Berlin, Language, Life in Berlin, Literature

Translation Idol

Far better than Pop Idol, Translation Idol is a regular Berlin event in which contestants battle it out to provide the best translation of a German text in English. The winners get…erm, nothing much really, but it’s an illuminating exercise.

The competition is organised by No Mans Land, the magazine of German literature in translation, and the fourth one took place at Dialogue Books  last night. Participants had to translate a particularly challenging section from Verena Rossbacher’s forthcoming novel schlachten. Ein Alphabet der Indizien. (you can see the excerpt at Love German Books)

It’s  interesting to see the multiple ways in which something can be expressed. Take, for example, “aber alle aalglatt und perfekt poliert und wie gut ausgebuttert und dass er abrutscht darauf,”  which was translated in various ways from “but all are as slippery as an eel and perfectly polished and buttered and he slips and slides over them” (Anne Posten), and “but everywhere is slippery, perfectly polished and oiled, so that he skids and falls” (Joseph Given) to “but everyone’s slippery as eels and perfectly polished and like greased piglets and his grip slips” (Bradley Schmidt, who is from Kansas, where they have greased pig contests – if you don’t believe me, you can see one here) and “but they’re a’ like Teflon, all polished tae perfection, they’re like slipp’ry wee sprats, so he slides right off em'” (Hugh Fraser, whose translation into Scottish dialect, strangely, made the most sense to me.)

Or “schnaufenden Projektor,” which was translated to “puffing projector,” “gasping projector,” “snivelling projector,” and, most commonly, “wheezing projector”.

Listening to the same text being read over and over again with slight variations illuminated it from different angles – a more intense version of re-reading a book. In the end, Tom Morrison won the Poet’s Prize (which was chosen by the author, who also attended and gave a reading at the event) and Bradley Schmidt won the Audience Vote.

Most of the participants were regulars and professional translators, and, strangely, men (8 out of the 10 contestants to be precise). Can that be an accurate representation of the male-female ratio in the translating business?!

If you’re interested in the topic, Translating Berlin is an entertaining blog by a (female!) American translator living in the city.

Language, Life in Berlin, News, politics

English perverting the German language?

Last night, The Bavarian and I went to a terrace party in the Bundestag. At some point, Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle showed up. Someone suggested that I should go and talk to him – in English. The joke being that Guido’s English is nicht so gut. Here’s a clip of him trying to answer a question in English a few years ago:

Did I mention that he’s the Foreign Minister? Then, at the end of last year, he was asked a question in English by a BBC journalist. This was his response:

Now, this man has turned his little insecurity about his ability to speak English into a political campaign to promote the German language and purify it of anglicisms. According to a recent article in The Economist, Guido would like the European Union’s diplomatic service to hire German-speakers, probably so he’ll finally be able to understand what the hell is going on.

Transport Minister Peter Ramsauer also jumped on board, saying that he would replace English words like ‘brainstorming’ and ‘meeting-points’ with ‘Ideensammlung’ and ‘Treffpunkte’. According to him, there is “no country in the world where people treat their own language so disrespectfully.”

He obviously hasn’t been to England. The English language is about as pure as the Gulf of Mexico right now. I’m pretty sure that English is polluted with more German words than vice versa: angst, kindergarten, sauerkraut, hamburger, lager, zeitgeist, schade, blitzkrieg, schnapps, schadenfreude…

If I were to get as touchy about my language as dear Guido seems to be about his, I would say that Germans are actually perverting English rather than the other way round. The use of ‘Handy’ to refer to a mobile phone, for instance. Or that jerky idiot Lena winning the Eurovision Song Contest by singing “Like a satellite I’m in an orbit all the way around you”  with terrible pronunciation. But I won’t, because the English model of openness has proved more successful than the French protectionist model that Guido would like to imitate. Sure, it leads to a lot of messed up English, but this gives entire blogs a reason to exist.

 (And why are the French and the Germans always so concerned about anglicisms? Why not go the whole way and say you’d like to purify the language of Italian and Russian words too?)

Languages are alive; they grow and evolve organically through usage. To try and curb that is futile, not to mention anti-democratic. The state has no business interfering with this process. The last time Germany tried, with the orthography reform of 1996, it proved disastrous; there were many opponents, including  Günter Grass, Siegfried Lenz, Martin Walser, Hans Magnus Enzensberger, Walter Kempowski and Christian Wulff, and the issue was taken up in the courts. Many editors refused to implement the new rules, and only very recently have newspapers incorporated them into their in-house orthographies (and not all of them at that). Most German people still disagree with the reform.

So, Guido, if you would like English lessons I’m available…