Saturday, 1 July 2017

The Wonderful World of German Street Names

I was inspired to write this post when on my lunch break, I heard two English-speaking tourists looking at a map exclaim, 'Max-Beer-Straße! LOL! I've got to get a photo next to that sign!'
When you've been speaking German and living in that language for quite a while, you tend to become a bit stiff-necked and immune to the things that foreigners often find funny. For example, even though I had to look up who Max Beer actually was, I knew right away that this street was named after a person and not copious amounts of alcohol. I know that the drink is spelt Bier in German. I know that Beer is a form of the German word for "berry". So it never really occurred to me.

(But let's be real, I'll always love a good Fahrt.)

One weird thing for non-native speakers getting to know their way around a German city is the standard written form of street names and its apparent irregularity. If you are observant and/or an extreme pedant, though, you will eventually see there is method to the madness. All grammatical, obviously. Here are some examples in Berlin that I have picked up on.

1. If it's named after a person (their first name and surname), it will all be hyphenated:
  • Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz
  • Karl-Marx-Allee
  • May-Ayim-Ufer
2. If it's named after a person (their first name or surname) or a thing, it will be merged into one word. This forms most probably the majority of street names in Berlin:
  • Alexanderplatz ("Alexander Square")
  • Hobrechtstraße ("Hobrecht Street")
  • Brunnenstraße ("Fountain Street")
  • Sonnenallee ("Sun Avenue")

3. If it's named after a place as a noun, there'll be an -er at the end - regardless of gender of the next word. And it'll be split into two words. This is an easy one, as it's just the same as saying "Ich bin ein Berliner", "Ich bin Schweizer", etc.
  • Kottbusser Tor ("Kottbus" is an antiquated spelling of Cottbus, a city in Brandenburg)
  • Dubliner Straße
  • Große Hamburger Straße (note that groß refers to the street - die Straße - not a person from Hamburg, which would be der Hamburger)
  • Alte Schönhauser Straße
4. And if it's named after a place or person, but in the adjectival form, I'm afraid you'll have to decline the adjective according to the gender of the noun.
  • Hallesches Tor (Hallesch refers to the city of Halle. It's das Tor, so you'd say am Halleschen Tor for "at Hallesches Tor")
  • Hackescher Markt (Hackesch refers to the Prussian Graf von Hacke. It's der Markt, so you'd say "um den Hackeschen Markt" for "around Hackescher Markt")
  • Französische Straße ("French Street". It's die Straße, so "an der Französischen Straße" would mean "on Französische Straße")
5. Sometimes you'll even get a nice little genitive in there, if it's named after a date, group or entity:
  • Straße des 17. Juni
  • Allee der Kosmonauten
  • Platz der Vereinigten Nationen
6. Most weird-looking are streets that are named after a place that ends in an a (how are you meant to pronounce that? I dunno really, I just elongate the last syllable so it sounds like I am saying two words and not one):
  • Rigaer Straße
  • Elsterwerdaer Platz

7. And then in Neukölln, we get a definitive example of how pedantic German really is. So, there's a whole bunch of streets that are named after rivers in other parts of Germany:
  • Weserstraße
  • Donaustraße
  • Oderstraße
  • Fuldastraße
But... Fulda is not just a river, but also a city. And if the street was named after the city of the same name, it would be called Fuldaer Straße. Not Fuldastraße. Y'know, just so that if you're German, you can immediately be absolutely sure what exactly the street is named after.

I just find it amazing that even a newcomer to a city could immediately know these sorts of things - historical facts, even - just by virtue of the grammar. I also feel like I have divested myself of a whole lot of confusion by writing all this down.