You respond: “Excuse me?”
Your Berliner friend was apparently greeting you, but you remember that your textbook said that to say “Good Day,” you should say “Guten Tag,” not “Juten Tach.”
This is the day-to-day language in Berlin, which you’re not taught in your online language course or during your summer school program.
In fact, Juten Tach is Guten Tag; it’s simply the written form of the way a person with a Berlin accent would pronounce Guten Tag, which later became a typical way to say “Hello” in Berlin.
Because you don’t want to face such a Schlamassel (difficult situation) in the future, you need to start learning a few basic Berlin slang words. And I’m talking words that are completely different from Standard German, not just words that are pronounced with a different accent.
Practicing your Berlin slang here and there will also help you easily connect with locals and impress your German friends.
At the beginning, you might have a hard time memorizing some German words. But if you use the following strategies, learning new slang expressions will be easy and as addictive as downing a Berliner Weisse mit Schuß (a light, Berlin-style wheat beer with a shot of syrup).
How to Memorize Berlin Slang Words
Make online friends from Berlin
Language exchange apps such as HelloTalk and LingoPal will allow you to connect with friends from Berlin who are looking for a language partner. After setting up your account and picking German as your target language, use the search tool to find prospective language partners from Berlin.
Personally, I’ve contacted tons of people who are interested in learning French or Arabic (which I speak fluently) and ended up with a list of about 30 wonderful friends with whom I’ve had Skype video calls and long WhatsApp conversations.
Sometimes people are very busy and you may get ignored, but don’t take it personally. Keep contacting other members and approaching them in different ways until somebody gets back to you.
Keep in mind that the more similar your interests are to your language partner’s, the more likely you are to have frequent conversations and a long-term friendship with them. You can also use language exchange website, italki, to find native speakers in Berlin and schedule some time to chat with them.
You can either find someone to do a language exchange with you for free (half the time you speak German, half the time you speak English) or a paid private German tutor to give you a more professional touch (and spend less time speaking English).
Visit Berlin to get some practice
Millions of people visit the crowded German capital every year. To break into Berlin’s community and make new local friends, you can attend language exchange meetups. There you can find Germans who might be interested in learning your native language, while teaching you some Berlin slang vocab in return.
Keep in mind that while you’re trying to find the right people, so are others, and it’s good to follow a few unspoken rules. Be nice and be sociable, asking about others and not just talking about yourself, and remember, other people are just as afraid to say “Hi” as you are, so they may feel fuddled or say some silly things at first. Be patient, and if the meetup is going well, kindly ask them for contact information and discuss the possibility of scheduling another meeting.
To master new words perfectly, many language students use handmade flashcards that consist of writing down the new words on one side and their explanation or translation on the other side.
Although flashcards might take more time than other classic memorization techniques, they’re scientifically proven to be effective because they engage a mental faculty called active recall.
And let’s be realistic: if you don’t have time to make your own flashcards, you can always use some excellent flashcard apps to help you learn German. They’re not as customizable as homemade ones, but they’ll get the job done.
Anki is a spaced-repetition flashcard program that allows you to create virtual flashcards that ease memorization. It’s proven to be an effective method that’s more efficient than traditional study methods, especially as Anki supports numerous flashcard formats including images, audio and videos.
Spaced repetition consists of repeating words and expressions over spaced intervals. According to research published in Psychology Today by a group of professors at the University of Toronto, using spaced repetition to learn new vocabulary “enhances your ability to remember the information later.”
Watch authentic videos on FluentU
You can pick up new slang words and other useful vocab just by listening to native German speakers. FluentU takes this a step further by adding useful study features that’ll ensure you really learn every new word you come across.
FluentU takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.
23 Colorful Berlin Slang Words to Talk Like a Local
Now that we know how to learn Berlin slang words, let’s actually learn some!
For each word, we’ll see a simple definition, an explanation and an example of the word being used in a sentence. I’ll also include an equivalent word or phrase in Standard German.
Standard German Equivalent: Alkoholiker
Alki refers to people who are known for drinking excessive amounts of alcohol.
Ich bin kein Alki, aber ich trinke Bier jeden Samstag.
(I’m not an alcoholic, but I drink beer every Saturday.)
Meaning: Brother or friend
Standard German Equivalent: Bruder oder Freund
Usually, Atze is used in Berlin to describe a friend or acquaintance in the same clique.
Hey Atze, was geht?
(Hey buddy, what’s up?)
Standard German Equivalent: Angst
In Berlin, Bammel describes the feeling of doubt, fear and uncertainty.
Ich hab’ Bammel, dass ich’s nicht schaff’. Das Schulprogramm ist in diesem Jahr schwer.
(I’m afraid that I won’t be able to do it. The school program this year is hard.)
Standard German Equivalent: Kopf
In Standard German, Birne means pear. In Berlin, it refers to the head when talking slang.
Ich hab’ Birne schmerzen. Ich soll den Arzt sehen.
(I have a headache. I should see the doctor.)
Standard German Equivalent: Tür
Brett is used to describe doors, especially those in a house.
Mach’s Brett ran. Es gibt zu viel Lärm draußen.
(Close the door. There’s too much noise outside.)
Standard German Equivalent: kaputt
In other German slang expressions, the adjective kaputt is usually replaced with weg. Although weg is still used in Berlin, Berliners also say futsch to describe things that are broken.
Mein Auto ist futsch.
(My car is broken.)
Standard German Equivalent: schlau
Helle is an adjective that describes clever, intelligent people, especially in academics.
Du bist helle. Eine 1 in Mathe ist nicht einfach.
(You’re clever. An A+ in math isn’t easy.)
Standard German Equivalent: ich
Ick, just like Juten Tach, is a slang word that’s based on the Berlin accent. It’s pronounced like “ich” in Standard German.
Example: Ick hab heute nüscht zu tun. Vielleicht gucke ick Netflix an.
(I have nothing to do today. Maybe I’ll watch some Netflix.)
Standard German Equivalent: Ortschaft
In Berlin, Kaff means a small, suburban village that’s not interesting and which is isolated from urban areas and cities.
Example: Ich wohne in einem Kaff. Hier ist es echt langweilig.
(I live in a hicksville. It’s very boring here.)
Meaning: A little money
Standard German Equivalent: ein wenig Geld
In Standard German, Kröten means “toads.” But in Berlin, along with its formal meaning, Kröten also refers to money, especially in small amounts.
Example: Gerade hab ick keine Kröten. Kannst du mir ein paar Euros leihen?
(I have no money right now. Can you lend me a few euros?)
Standard German Equivalent: schnell
In Berlin, Karacho means quickly or fast. It always follows the word mit when used in a sentece.
Example: Er bretterte mit Karacho über die Autobahn. Er ist fast von einem Auto getroffen.
(He quickly tore along the highway. He almost got hit by a car.)
12. Sich kabbeln
Meaning: To squabble
Standard German Equivalent: sich streiten
Kabbeln is a Berlin slang verb that describes actions such as squabbling, arguing and fighting. It’s usually used to describe minor, short altercations.
Example: Die Brüder Markus und Lukas kabbeln sich oft.
(The brothers Markus and Lukas fight each other very often.)
Meaning: Beanpole; a tall man
Standard German Equivalent: ein Großer Mann
Lulatsch is an adjective that refers to tall, thin individuals.
Example: Neben mir saß ein Lulatsch.
(Next to me sat a beanpole.)
Meaning: To smack
Standard German Equivalent: schmatzen
Mampfen is used to describe eating with noisy and annoying lip movements.
Example: Du sollst beim Essen nicht so mampfen!
(You shouldn’t smack your lips while eating!)
Standard German Equivalent: Brille
Nasenfahrrad means “nose bike” when literally translated into English. It’s an ironic way to describe glasses in Berlin slang.
Example: Ich trage ein Nasenfahrrad seit 2015.
(I’ve worn glasses since 2015.)
Meaning: Cheeky or sassy
Standard German Equivalent: frech
Pampig is an adjective used to describe someone who’s direct, sassy and bold.
Example: Seine Schwester wurde richtig pampig.
(His sister got really sassy.)
Meaning: To rain heavily
Standard German Equivalent: heftig regnen
When raining heavily, the verb Berliners use to describe the weather is pladdern, as it’s shorter than the Standard German equivalent, heftig regnen.
Example: Es pladderte die ganze Woche lang.
(It rained heavily all week long.)
Meaning: Young man
Standard German Equivalent: kleiner Junge
Piepel means a young man, and usually indicates an active, hard-working youth.
Example: Ihr Sohn ist ein netter Piepel.
(Your son is a nice young man.)
Standard German Equivalent: dumm
Rammdösig is usually used to describe someone who is stupefied and unable to form clear thoughts.
Example: Mensch, sei nicht rammdösig! 1 plus 1 ist gleich 2.
(Man, don’t be stupid! 1 plus 1 equals 2.)
Meaning: To walk [with far-reaching steps]
Standard German Equivalent: [mit weit ausgreifenden Schritten] gehen
Stiefeln means walking with slow and far-reaching steps.
Example: Ich soll zum Bahnhof stiefeln um meinen Freund zu treffen.
(I should walk to the train station to meet my boyfriend.)
Standard German Equivalent: dünn
Spack ist an adjective that is used in Berlin to describe skinny, weak and thin people.
Example: Seine Freundin? Sie sieht schrecklich spack aus.
(His girlfriend? She looks terribly thin.)
Standard German Equivalent: Kneipe
Stampe is a slang word used to describe small, cheap, local pubs in Berlin.
Example: Die neue Stampe an der Ecke ist echt toll.
(The new pub on the corner is really great.)
Meaning: Difficult situation
Standard German Equivalent: schwierige Situation
In Berlin slang, Schlamassel is used to in difficult and troublesome circumstances.
Example: Da haben wir den Schlamassel!
(There we have the mess!)
Now that we’ve discovered 23 Berlin slang words and the best ways to memorize them, it’s up to you to start studying them.
You’ll get addicted to slang words once you start learning them—trust me!
Yassir Sahnoun is a writer, polyglot and co-founder of WriteWorldwide—the go-to resource for freelance writers whose first language isn’t English. You can learn more about Yassir at his website.