‘Were you born in Berlin?’ I asked her after she sat down next to me. We were both on the train from Berlin. Thrilled to find someone from Australia since she had lived there recently, she was keen to talk.
‘Yes’, she said.
‘So do you speak the Berlin dialect – Berlinerisch?’ I said.
‘Only when I am angry’, she replied. ‘My mother was from outside Berlin, so she made sure that I did not grow up speaking the dialect. But my father, he is from Neukölln and he speaks it well and truly’.
‘But why do you speak it only when angry’, I said.
‘It’s not a good dialect’, she said.
‘But why not?’ I said.
‘It’s a working class dialect’, she said. ‘In the west, it was very much the dialect of the lower class, while the upper class looked down on it’.
‘What about the east?’ I said.
‘There it was the official language, spoken by everyone’, she said.
‘Is that still the case?’ I said.
‘Of course, east and west no longer exist as they did’, she said. ‘But these differences are still present’.
‘Yeah, I guess such deeper differences don’t disappear overnight’, I said. ‘But do you think that’s a result of the emphasis on workers in the communist east? The language of the working class becomes the official language’.
‘I suppose so’, she said. ‘But now that difference, between a capitalist west and communist east, is overlaid by the difference between middle class and working class’.
‘So a double condemnation’, I said. ‘It marks one as either from the old east or from the working class, or both – at least in terms of the ruling class’.
‘Yes’, she said, laughing. ‘But it’s still not a good dialect’.