A Word from German History (no.2)

Image: Dietmar Rabich

Lampenladen (m.)

Lampenladen literally means a lamp store, but in East Berlin it was also a dig at the government. One of the most important buildings in the communist part of the city was the Palast der Republik, or the palace of the republic, which was a cultural centre with restaurants and a theatre, among other things.

It had a big glass facade and at night was brightly lit, which seemed obnoxious to some Berliners, who called the building “Erichs Lampenladen”. Erich Honecker was General Secretary of the ruling (and really only) party – and this was his massive lamp emporium.

The building, which replaced the war-damaged Berliner Stadtschloss, (city palace) was eventually demolished due to asbestos (which again is kinda funny). After some debate, the city decided to reconstruct the Stadtschloss exactly as it was, which should be finished in 2019.

I like the story of the Lampenladen because it touches on the issue of East Germany, but instead of highlighting the dictatorship, it reveals something of Berlin humour (or scorn) and is one major example of the city’s complex architectural history – not to mention the debates which are being had about its architectural future.

See also: the ongoing debacle which is Berlin Brandenburg Airport, an airport which was supposed to open in 2011… and is an utter financial disaster and a long-running joke. The stereotype of German efficiency and frugality has taken a real hard knock.

Swearing: Lost in Translation

Swear words are stored in a different part of our brains to the rest of our vocabulary and tap directly into our strongest emotions. Foreign swear words, on the other hand, are kind of just words.

For proof, just search in the Google news tab for “shitstorm”: almost every entry is from a non-English news outlet – because what even is a vulgarism? I’m looking at you, Germany and Denmark.

A Word from German History (No.1)

Die Wende

A “Wende” (f.) means a decisive change, development, or turning point, and for Germans it really means the dramatic period following the fall of the Berlin Wall (die Mauer). Die Wende encapsulates the social and political earthquake not just of 1989 but the years afterwards, as the East German government collapsed and the current reunified republic came into being.

When Germans refer to “the change”, they are talking about something so integral to modern Germany, so self-evident, that all you need to say is die Wende.

See also Eva Ladipo’s recent novel Wende, which carries the political double meaning of both German reunification and of the turn away from nuclear power.