How to Talk About Doing Things to Stuff in German (aka German Accusative Case Articles)

Did you know that der, die, and das aren’t the only ways of saying “the” in German? (I didn’t) Sometimes, instead of der, you’re supposed to use den. As I learn more and more verbs, I come across this bit of grammar more and more frequently, and I’ve finally decided to learn more about it. Here’s what I found:

It’s called the accusative case, and it kicks in when something is being acted upon. For example, the sentence, “I drink the coffee”is accusative. In it, the coffee is being acted upon by me, when I drink it. In German, when a masculine noun is being acted upon its articles (the, a/an) change.

I’ve already talked a little bit about German articles, and now it’s time to add a couple more: the accusative den (the) and einen (a/an). For example, we can look at the word Kaffee (coffee), which is masculine and normally takes the articles der and ein. In the accusative case, those change.
If I want to say “I drink the coffee”, it’s “Ich trinke den Kaffee,” not “Ich trinke der Kaffee.” That’s because Ich (I) am acting on (drinking) the Kaffee.

Likewise, to say “I drink a coffee,” it’s “Ich trinke einen Kaffee”, rather than “Ich trinke ein Kaffee.”

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Sie trinkt den Kaffee und sie trinkt einen Kaffee. I hope she likes coffee!

It’s important to note that this only happens to masculine nouns, so remembering the gender of a word is important. I have no idea why the masculine nouns are the only ones to change, and it’s going to bother me no end. Gender roles? Ease of pronunciation? To distinguish ein masculine from ein neutral? I guess that’s material for another post!

One hundred words! And, German Politics

WOW. Do I seriously know 100 words in German? In just over a week?

I didn’t think I could do it. This took me all summer and then some with Turkish. I guess there are some benefits to studying related languages!

What was that marvellous word #100, I hear you ask. It was none other than the humble rechts -“right”. Not terribly glamorous, but useful for giving directions, along with its sister words links (“left”) and geradeaus (“straight on”).

In honour of my learning the directions links and rechts, it seems appropriate to take a look at their other, political, meanings. It’s time to learn about German politics!

First, the basics.

Germany is a federal parliamentary republic, which, as far as I can tell, basically means that governing power is split between federal and state governments, and that the head of state (i.e., the Prime Minister in Canada or the President in the US) is granted their power by a legislative brach (i,e., a parliament or a congress)

In Germany, federal power is managed by the Bundestag or German Parliament, while the Bundesrat represents Germany’s 16 states, or länder. Both are located in Berlin.

Every 5 years, the President, or Bundespräsident is elected by the Bundestag and state delegates. Since 2012, Joachim Gauck, a former pastor, has filled this role.

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Angela Merkel, Bundeskanzler of Germany

Germany also has a Bundeskanzler (Chancellor), elected for four-year terms. Dr. Angela Merkel, physicist, has been the Chancellor since 2005. She’s been in the news a lot lately for her openness to accepting refugees from the war in Syria, and most recently for her decision to allow a German satirist to be prosecuted for mocking Turkish President Erdoğan. She is also Germany’s first female chancellor, one of the architects of the EU, and has been described with such language as “the most powerful woman in the world“. I have no idea what her politics are like, but I think I like her.

Now, much further that this and I know I’m getting on to dangerous ground; politics are generally to be avoided in conversation. I know. And when I went to France, I tried to avoid learning about political parties. Bad idea! Ignoring them just meant that when I inevitably found myself in a political discussion, I had no idea what was going on. Therefore, without further ado, it’s time to look at some German political parties. Like in Canada, there seem to be several, with a couple of them rising to the forefront. These are the CDU and the SPD.

CDU

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The Christlich-Demokratische Union Deutshlands logo. With every ounce of creativity I’ve come to expect from political logo designers.

CDU stands for Christlich-Demokratische Union Deutschlands, or Christian Democratic Union of Germany. It is Germany’s main conservative party, and the party to which Bundeskanzler Merkel belongs (Did I use that word correctly?). According to their website, they stand for “…the Christian understanding between people and their accountability before God (…) a free and constitutional democracy, a social and ecological market economy, Germany’s inclusion in the Western values and defense community, and the unification of the nation, as well as a unified Europe.”

SPD

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The logo of the Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands. These logos, man. Are just blowing my mind.

The other large party in Germany, SPD is a centre-left party whose initials stand for Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands, or Social Democratic Party of Germany. The SPD is also Germany’s oldest party, founded in 1875. That’s only about 10 years younger than Canada! The party platform is one of social democracy, believing in a strengthened social market economy, a welfare state, civil rights and European integration. I tried to get direct quotes from their website, but it didn’t have an English section, Google translate was not quite good enough, and my German was definitely not good enough. Oh, well. One more reason to keep learning!

There are, of course, several more worth knowing, including…

The CSU (Christlich-Soziale Union in Bayern or Christian Social Union of Bavaria), a sister party to the CDU, which apparently only exists in Bavaria (What? Not sure how that works), and is generally more “socially conservative

The Freie Demokratische Partei or Free Democratic Party (FDP) is a liberal party, which believes in both economic and social liberalism. In 2013, they were won no seats in the Bundestagfor the first time in the party’s history.

The Bündnis 90/Die Grünen (Alliance ‘90/Green Party) focuses on alternative energy, sustainable development and a green transport policy.

Apparently, German politics were pretty stable until Bündnis 90/De Grünen came along, and since then there’s been a whole bunch more parties created – among them the Die Linke (Left Party) and the Piraten Partei, which seems to be pretty much what it sounds like.

My thoughts?

Politics have always been tricky for me to keep track of – who thinks what, why, what they want to do and how they want to achieve it. Basically, though, German politics feel pretty familiar. You’ve got your centre-left (centre-links?) and centre-right (centre-rechts?), you’ve got more intense versions of each, and you’ve got a green party and a few out-there ones. What I was most struck by was the openly-religious bent of the CDU. I mean… “Our party was established in 1945 by individuals who wanted to construct Germany’s future with a Christian-influenced, non-denominational party of the people.”?

I’m not saying religion doesn’t play into politics in Canada and the US. I just don’t know if a leading party (the governing party, in fact) could get away with openly announcing that they want to construct a Christian-influenced future. In some ways I imagine it’s better to just say it and deal with the fact that religion influences politics. But then on the other hand isn’t the ideal, ostensibly, that it shouldn’t influence things? (And then there you’re getting into forms of knowledge and the value we place on knowledge that is perceived as emotional/spiritual vs. what is perceived as rational) That’s a whole other can of worms.

At the end of the day, the two systems feel more or less the same. Rechts, links, und geradeaus.

 

Progress Report Week 2 – Wie geht’s?

Wow. Has it only been a week? It feels like so much longer. And, guys, I honestly didn’t think I could possibly learn what I have in the last seven days. It gives me hope for the rest of this outrageous endeavour. This week, I’ve watched TV shows, played games, and listened to music in German (unfortunately I don’t have quite enough vocabulary to read much of anything). I learned about gendered words, about plural nouns, and even how to conjugate. And if I can be made to conjugate verbs…well, I must be doing something right. I also learned a ton of words/phrases. I’m almost at 100! A lot of them are the basic phrases, i.e., hello, how are you, my name is, etc. But hopefully going into next week I’ll have the basic foundations to start putting together useful sentences on my own. Anyway, here they are, this week’s words:

  1. violett = purple (violet)
  2. lila = purple (lilac)
  3. der Rucksack = the backpack
  4. und = and
  5. das = that
  6. die Köchin = the female cook
  7. die Kartofell = the potato
  8. das Haar = the hair
  9. lang/lange = long
  10. der Fisch = the fish
  11. die Liebe = the love
  12. nein = no
  13. ja = yes
  14. tschüss = bye
  15. hallo = hello
  16. danke = thank you
  17. bitte = please/you’re welcome/pardon?
  18. gern geschehen = you’re welcome
  19. Guten Morgen = good morning
  20. Guten Tag = good day/afternoon
  21. Guten Abend = good evening
  22. Gute Nacht = goodnight
  23. Wie geht’s? (or, Wie geht es Ihnen) = How are you?
  24. Mir = me
  25. Mir geht’s gut = I’m doing well
  26. gehen = to walk, to go
  27. wilkommen = welcome
  28. auf wiedersehen = goodbye
  29. bis bald = see you soon
  30. bis später = see you later
  31. bis morgen = see you in the morning
  32. wir heißen sie? = what is your name?
  33. ich heißen…= my name is…
  34. kommen = to come
  35. woher kommen zie? = where do you come from?
  36. Ich komme aus… = I come from…
  37. entschuldigung = excuse me / sorry
  38. leider = unfortunately
  39. Es tut mir leid = I’m sorry
  40. schuld sein = to be at fault
  41. genau = exactly
  42. die Zeitung = the newspaper
  43. das Früstück = the breakfast
  44. die Milch = the milk
  45. das Brötchen = the bun
  46. das Ei = the egg
  47. der Mittwoch = the Wednesday
  48. die Welt = the world
  49. verstehen = to understand
  50. lernen = to learn
  51. machen = to make
  52. hören = to hear
  53. wo = where
  54. einfach = easy
  55. dein/deine = your
  56. mein/meine = my
  57. seinen/seine = his
  58. ihr/ihre = her/their
  59. unser/unsere = our
  60. das Geld = the money
  61. die Freundin = the girlfriend
  62. die Rechnung = the bill

Add these to last week’s and we get a grand total of 87 words. Woot! A few of the nouns even made it onto the German word wall. Next week, I think my schedule has the pace stepped up even more…

 

The SIMPLEST POSSIBLE German Verb Conjugations: Present tense regular -en

I’ve been putting off learning how to conjugate verbs (that is, make them work with the pronoun. For example: I walk_, she walks) all week. Today, though, I learned the word for “walk” – gehen. That brings my arsenal of regular (that is, conjugation rule-abiding) verbs up to a total of three: trinken – “to drink”, kommen – “to come”, and gehen – “to walk”.

In the grand scheme of things it’s a tiny number, but it’s enough to make me uncomfortable knowing that I don’t 100% understand how to use them. And so, with much hesitance, today I am officially dipping my toes in the deep and frigid waters of conjugation. Lucky for me, conjugating regular verbs in the present tense is shaping up to be about as painless as learning conjugations can be. Thank you, Germany!

As far as I can tell, here’s how it works:

Every regular verb (and ever irregular verb, for that matter, but I’ll worry about that later) has a dictionary form which translates into English as to (verb), eg, to talk. In German, these verbs generally end with -en. Gehen, trinken, kommenetc.

To begin conjugating a word, remove the -en ending, and replace it with the one that corresponds to the pronoun that you want to use. Those endings are:

  • Ich (I): – e
  • Du (You informal): – st
  • Es/Sie/Er (It/She/He): -t
  • Wir (We): -en
  • Ihr (Y’all): -t
  • Sie (They or You formal): -en

In the case of gehen, when we take away –en we get the root geh. When conjugated in the present tense, this becomes

  • Ich gehe
  • Du gehst
  • Es/Sie/Er geht
  • Wir gehen
  • Ihr geht
  • Sie gehen

You probably noticed that in reality there are only four endings, that are just reused for different pronouns. It can be confusing to listen to/read if you don’t know your pronouns that well yet (I’m working on it!) but it sure is easy for memorizing forms of the verb.

Of course, not all verbs are this well behaved (regular). But from what I’ve seen, even the ones who break the rules don’t break them that much. More on those…when I’m forced to.

I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself.

Mission – Berlin

In light of yesterday’s post on Berlin, it seemed appropriate to seek out some related practice opportunities…and what do I find but a learn-German game set in Berlin!

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Is that a TRIANGULAR pillow?

Check it out: it’s an audio series for absolute beginners, which is already exciting because guys? I am a total sucker for creative story telling mediums, and I especially love the potential of audio stories. It’s even set up in a game-like format that’s really hard to explain. I thought for sure it would annoy me but I’m actually having a lot of fun. You “Play” as a woman named Anna who is plunked down in Berlin in the middle of a murder case. Even with a lot of English explanations (exceptionally well-integrated into the story) it can be a bit hard to follow. That’s the point though, right? You’re there to learn, after all.

Overall, after playing the first couple episodes, I can certainly say I’m enjoying myself, which is the main point of this – do something fun that happens to be German. The story is suspenseful and complicated enough to be interesting, but simple enough to follow in German. There does seem to be an awful lot of English explanation, which I’m hoping will be phased out as I progress through the episodes.

Whether or not this game/podcast will deliver any concrete learning results remains to be seen (I’ll be sure to let you know). In the meantime, though, it’s a playful way to spend a few minutes!

Oh, and it’s also free. That’s important. And on iTunes. That’s slightly less important.

Happy listening!

 

Geography – Berlin

Like the silly little Canadian I am, I thought I could learn about Germany’s capital city quickly. I always forget that the history of any city in Europe is about six hundred years longer than any city in North America, give or take a century. (Of course, off topic but important to mention: indigenous history goes back quite a bit further but our education system doesn’t really acknowledge that and it pisses me off) Nevertheless, here’s my best try:

What is it?

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First thing I saw on the official Berlin tourism page. I already love this city.

Berlin is the capital of Germany! (like I needed to tell you that) But it’s also a state. I keep needing to remind myself that no, states in Germany are not as big as provinces in Canada. I mean, can you imagine a city the size of Ontario?

Anyway, Berlin is located in northeastern Germany, kind of close to the Polish border, and is the second-most populous city in the European Union. So huge.

It pitches itself as being known for its “arts scene, nightlife, and modern architecture” I’ll add to that, tolerance. It keeps popping up when I search Berlin.

A Few (of many) Noteworthy Places:

A (very) abbreviated history of Berlin

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A map of baby Berlin! Found here: http://people.umass.edu/latour/Germany/ljennings/1237Map400.jpg

Berlin was built in the 13th century (or maybe earlier) as a trading post on the banks of the river Spree. It was the capital of the Prussian and German Empire. Through the 17th-19th centuries, Berlin became a centre of enlightenment and tolerance, accepting numerous immigrants and refugees. During the Industrial revolution, it became the most populated city in Germany.  In 1918, under the Weimar Republic, Berlin was demoted from capital city, but that wasn’t going to stop it. By the 1920s, Berlin had really taken off as a prosperous and busy city for the sciences and the arts, but by the 1930s, the economy was suffering and the Nazis came into power, WWII began, and the Jewish population was decimated.

In 1945, Berlin was taken by the Russian army – which was, I hear, a violent and traumatic affair . Germany, and therefore Berlin, were divided. In 1949 Berlin was split in half between the Eastern Soviet communists, and the Western Allied democrats, a split which would be made physical by the Berlin wall.

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A map from 1988, depicting West Berlin as a gaping hole. Really cool (and slightly disturbing) illustration of the immense political division. Found at http://360.here.com/2014/11/06/fall-wall-missing-pieces/

After the fall of the wall, Berlin was reinstated as the capital of a reunified Germany. And they all lived happily ever after!

Well. That’s probably not 100% true. But this website, which contains a slightly less-abbreviated history of Berlin, certainly seems to think so. This one has an even-less-abbreviated history, although it’s still pretty damn short.

A Few (of many) Notable Events

And the list. Goes. On. This was a dangerous undertaking – I could go on for DAYS about Berlin! I’ve already gone longer than I planned. Almost makes me wish I was going on exchange in Germany. (Oh wait, I AM! Not to Berlin though…)

Plural Nouns

German is a kick-ass language. As in, its grammar is kicking my ass. It is, in every respect, more complicated than I anticipated.

Not that I object. I’m always up for a challenge. Or multiple challenges. Today: learning to make nouns plural!

According to Duolingo, these are the basic guidelines:

Single-Syllable Words…

…Tend to take the ending -e. So, for example, das Brot becomes die Brote

Masculine/Neutral Nouns…

...Tend to take the ending -er, and sometimes gain umlauts (those pretty little double dots above a letter. For example, ü ). So der Mann becomes die Männer, and das Kind becomes die Kinder

…Unless they end in -chen, -lein, -el, -er! Then, their endings may not change, but they still might acquire an umlaut.

Feminine Nouns…

…Tend to take the ending -n or -en. eg, die Frau becomes die Frauen, and die Kartoffel becomes die Kartoffeln.

…Unless they end in -in!  In that case, they take the ending -nen.

Foreign-Origin Nouns…

…Take the ending -s. Sound a bit familiar?

One last thing: did you notice what der and das did when they went plural? They also turned feminine! Apparently, plural nouns always use the feminine “the”, die. That’s pretty neat.

And that’s it! Not as bad as it looked on paper. Of course, like any language, I’m sure German is just overflowing with exceptions – but I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.