English everywhere

Even in the pandemic, Berlin is becoming more international. Everyone wants to speak English. But our columnist still wants to order his coffee in German.

We prefer EC cards.
We prefer EC cards.Photo: imago

Berlin-Did the barista think I was an idiot? Or even worse, a tourist? Although I ordered my coffee in German, the German replied: “Oat or cow milk?” “Kuh,” I said. “No problem.” It went on like that. He spoke English, I spoke German. In between, the Millennial barista with the moustache and white socks chatted away in German with his colleague. Like Jens Spahn, who grumbled a few years ago that people working in cafes in Mitte only speak English, I was annoyed. But for a different reason: English is my mother tongue. The barista probably noticed that I had spoken English with my son before so I was irked because he probably thought he was doing me a favour. In my opinion, the baristas in this city should first assume that internationals can and want to speak German. A little respect, please.

Berlin's become so cosmopolitan that Germans want to speak English with people who already speak German pretty well. We have English-speaking Lieferando and Gorillas deliverypeople. There are English-only online shops, start-ups and university programmes and there's no sign of a slowdown. Even in the pandemic, Berlin is attracting people from all over the world, because of work, because of the soon-to-be-flourishing nightlife. Because of the Berliner Luft! It's more than likely that these people speak better English than German.

Amazon and Tesla are setting up shop here and attracting thousands of foreign professionals. I'm certain the language of world will spread beyond the S-Bahn ring as quickly as corona. Before we know it, the baker in Grünheide will be speaking English.

I have conflicting opinions on this. On the one hand, it's not exactly ideal for immigrants that many Germans like to practise their English in their presence because they think it's helpful or just hip or whatever. For a lot of immigrants, it's kind of embarrassing and irksome to communicate in English when they actually already speak German.

On the other hand, the advance of the tongue of The Bard, Beyoncé and Rezo (“Grow the fuck up!”) is unstoppable throughout Europe. For example, my 19-year-old nephew, who grew up in the US and Ireland, is studying medicine in Wrocław - in English, of course.

For some deep red leftists, the language of global turbo-capitalism stands for a kind of linguistic colonisation. For AfD folks, it stands for the dilution of native culture. Is there a danger of a new Querdenker alliance forming here? Probably not. Although Poland offers English-language uni courses, there is zero danger that Polish culture will somehow perish.

After Brexit, there are now only two small EU countries where English is the main language spoken by native speakers: Ireland and Malta. About one percent of the EU population. Currently, however, half of all Europeans speak English fluently. Linguists say a new “Euro-English” is developing, independent of British and other forms of English. If we want to gaze into the future, look towards Scandinavia, where almost 100 per cent of the population can speak English well, even at every rural petrol station. This will happen in Germany too, eventually. And that's a good thing. But please don't forget: We want to order our coffee in German from time to time.

Berlin news in English.