#180: Karneval returns, gender-neutral German, activists
The airport is no longer a money hole!
Dear 20 Percent,
A brief foray into the German culture wars today: Rookie mayor Klaus Wegner (CDU) has spoken out against “gender-neutral” language in the city administration and wants to keep using “the kind of German he learned in school”. The Guardian has a entry-level explainer about what’s going on.
Wegner is hoping to get rid of complicated forms like “Bürger*innen” (citizens), BürgerInnen (also citizens) and Bürger_innen (also citizens). These forms are supposed to replace the traditional “generic masculine” plural of “Bürger”. The quirky punctuation is meant to suggest the inclusion of women and other genders who feel excluded by the male-sounding “Bürger”.
While I sympathise with the general mission behind gentral-neutral language, the implementation of it in Germany has been complicated and confusing. The newspaper where Andrew and I used to work held a number of tortuous office-wide Teams meetings on the polarising issue and we ended up deciding that everyone could write whatever they wanted — which aligns with how I feel about it, to be honest.
Only a minority of Germans actually favour using gender-neutral language (also confusingly called gendern. The ones who are in favour can’t agree on a way to talk about a group of people with various genders. The three forms above are barely the tip of the iceberg.
Wegner said that this kind of language makes it harder for immigrants to learn German, and although he sounded extremely disingenuous when he said that, because Berlin has actual problems that require attention, I think he might have a point.
A lot of Germans have no idea on whether it’s better to say “Studentinnen und Studenten” or “Studierende” (“studying ones”) or just “Studenten” so is adding an extra layer of rules that no one agrees on to the language going to make life easier for people trying to learn it? Probably not. But maybe I’m wrong. Let me know how you feel about gendern in the comments.
More news below!
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Activists get Urlaub too
Climate protesters Letzte Generation continued to block streets Monday and Tuesday but say they’ll be taking a summer break from July 15-August 6, writes Tagesspiegel. They will use the time for on-boarding new activists and planning for the fall. Meanwhile, on June 5, the group says it has a special action planned for the “superrich”. Letzte Generation has already paint-bombed the flagship stores of luxury brands and a private plane at BER. Meanwhile, Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) irked the activists when on Monday he called their actions “totally crazy” (völlig bekloppt), while visiting a school in Kleinmachnow.
The scourge of bike theft in Berlin is bad enough — but now robbers have stolen an entire truck containing kids bikes, kids helmuts and teaching materials used by schools to teach children how to cycle. The truck was operated by non-profit BEGSpo, which teaches pupils at 50 Berlin schools how to cycle.
Kreuzberg street party returns
The massive annual Karneval der Kulturen is back after a three-year corona-break. It kicks off Friday with four days of music and streetfood from around the world at Blücherplatz in Kreuzberg. The traditional parade takes place on Sunday. Before the pandemic 700,000 people would attend. And don’t forget: next Monday is a public holiday so expect the usual mad dash for groceries at the supermarket on Saturday.
Flughafengesellschaft Berlins, the state-owned company that owns BER airport, made a profit of €216 million last year, following two years of losses, thanks to the pandemic. Most of the profit was due to the sale of property, such as at the old Tegel. Without that BER made €56 million, thanks to 19.8 million passengers. Congratulations, BER, after opening 9 years late, three times over budget you’re doing what you’re supposed to do. Now, can you please invest a little more in those security lanes?
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As a German-learner, I call bullshit on Wegner's concerns. In my personal experience of learning a new language as an adult, a big challenge is finding the right ways to say what I intend to say, with the level of nuance I want. Gender-neutral words have been essential to me feeling like I can talk about my life, community and experiences. And honestly, there's parts of German that are far more confusing than "*innen". For example, "du" vs "Sie", and the nightmarish complexity of when to use one or the other, risking deeply offending someone if you choose wrongly.
Perhaps where Wegner's concern is genuine is in wanting to only accept immigrants who speak and think like he does, rather than accept that culture and language change with time.
Has anyone bothered to ask people who don't identify as male how they feel about the issue?
As an older adult German-learner, I also call bullshit on Wegner's concerns. Language changes to meet the needs of the culture that's using it. There are far more difficult aspects to learning Deutsch than its attempts at gender-inclusivity.
Also, why the heck do I have to disclose my gender every time I order something online from a German owned company??? German online stores always have a MANDATORY drop-down menu for the salutation! Is it really impossible for German retailers to send me an email that simply says, "Thank you for ordering this toilet brush", without knowing if I'm a "Frau" or a "Herr"?