No one had the intention of building a language wall, but Walter Ulbricht was happy when it finally seemed to be there - 21 years after the founding of two German states, the head of the GDR state council announced in 1970 in the 13th plenary session of the SED: " Even what was once a common language is in the process of dissolving.” The development of an independent GDR German was subsequently promoted by GDR German Studies. In the "Dictionary of Contemporary Language", which was created at the East Berlin Academy of Sciences, differences between West and East German language use were ideologically more sharply worked out.
Numerous books have been dedicated to the special vocabulary of the GDR - especially after this state became what stamp collectors call a "closed collecting area" in 1989. On anniversaries of the construction of the Wall, the fall of the Wall or similar commemorative occasions, a predominantly West German audience bows in amazement to funny words such as pioneer bubble, urst, SMH and winged end-of-year figure.
This is based on a West German misunderstanding. Namely the idea that the German of the Federal Republic was the normal form of our language and everything else was just a deviation. The West German state and its society also had their own words that nobody in the GDR used.
As early as 1992, the Germanist Manfred Hellmann had the Institute for the German Language in Mannheim use old editions of "Welt" and "Neues Deutschland" ("ND") to count which terms only occurred in the West medium and only in the East sheet. It was proven that employers, for example, belonged to the pure Western vocabulary and that it was avoided with “ND” because of the associated ideology of social partnership (also a Western word). Car dealerships were never read in the SED newspaper either, perhaps because the reference to the fact that such houses, where you could simply buy a car, existed in the West was viewed as dangerous to the state.
Estimates of different expressions and meanings in the two German states range between around 800 and 3000 keywords. The number of lexical innovations in the Federal Republic was at least as high as in the GDR, probably even much higher.
Democratization (examination of conscience), Western integration (within Germany, border zone, small border traffic), consumer behavior (click-clack balls, Tchibo clock, Pril flower, iodine S11 grains, plantation drink, Nicki (a kind of sweater, in the East it was called T-shirts) , tourism (Teutonengrill, Papagallo), education system (Easter certificate, short school year), economy (chord, guest workers, oil crisis), society (schickeria, manager disease) and alternative movements since 1968 (anti-authoritarian, phallocrat, Bhagwan disco) brought a large number of new words, which, according to the German scholar Peter von Polenz, should be counted among the "state variety 'Old Federal German'", which could be differentiated from GDR German as well as Austrian and Swiss German.
The difficulty in researching Old West German has to do with two factors. On the one hand, the everyday vocabulary is difficult to grasp with the intelligence sheets (also an old West German term), which are usually the only ones that have been digitized. On the other hand, many old West German words are now common German, and it has long been forgotten that they were once only common in part of the German-speaking area.
Many East Germans had to learn the hard way what an employer is after 1989, when their employer told them that he could no longer give them work. And car dealerships spread so quickly in the 1990s, even in the most provincial corners of the new federal states, that the singer Rainald Grebe was able to sum up the contrast between Berlin and the surrounding country in his anthem “Brandenburg”: “In the 'Adlon ' is Brad Pitt and Washington Denzel, in the car dealership in Schwedt is Achim Menzel today."
But there is a large, specifically West German vocabulary that has long since disappeared. It is true that older East Germans also know some of its components - for example asbach as an adjective in the sense of "old", which was based on the advertising for the brandy "Asbach ancient" that was always present on television. But only West Germans over 50 know all the words in this field.
For example, when was the last time you heard about a poor elderly person: He didn't stick. What was meant was: He has not paid into the pension insurance. This specific meaning of sticking was based on the fact that in the past you had to stick on stamps as proof of your pension contributions. In the GDR, that is over there - as they said in West Germany to locate the land of the brothers and sisters in the East within Germany - there was no need for the word. Because the pension system worked differently there.
The situation is similar with train station cinema. That was the colloquial term for the cinemas, also known as topical cinema, which were often set up near train stations. In the GDR, these houses, which had appeared before the war, were called Zeitkinos, and they disappeared more quickly there. In the Federal Republic they fought their decline in the 1960s by showing particularly lurid films. As a result, Bahnhofskino became a genre name in the West that included cheap spaghetti westerns, sandals and sex films. The latter was then often called report – the word signaled in compositions such as schoolgirl report and housewife report that nudity was involved.
Television had initiated the decline of the station cinema. One of its peculiarities in the early west was the street sweeper. That was the name of the great crime films, often based on novels by Francis Durbridge, which swept the streets empty because the whole nation was sitting in front of the screen. Born in television is also concern child as a synonym for the handicapped in connection with the fundraising of the "Solution Child Campaign" (today "Action Man"). That's where the saying "that's too much a third program for me" comes from, because the third programs used to be educational channels.
Those who didn't glue might end up in the Mau Mau settlement. This is what people called the makeshift settlements built in the post-war period for the socially disadvantaged on the outskirts of the city, especially in the north and in Berlin. It was named after the uprising of the Mau Mau warriors in Kenya against the British colonial rulers in the 1950s, because poverty and neglect were associated with wildness and foreignness.
The list goes on: bank robbery, stamping (unemployment) and tippel brother weren't needed in the East because those phenomena didn't exist anymore. The Third World shop (a shop where products from developing countries were sold and where solidarity activists met) did not exist in the East, nor did the children's shop (self-governing, mostly anti-authoritarian kindergarten), because both the solidarity with Africa, Asia and South America when the upbringing of children was monopolized by the state.
Some things only lasted longer in the West - Schupo, war widow and discount stamp were also known to older East Germans, but officially there were other words for them in the GDR. Some things were later renamed: In West Germany, wrestling was the name of the show sport imported from America, which still exists today as wrestling.
In 1967, West German television viewers were shocked by hungry-bellied Biafra children from the civil war region of the same name in Nigeria. The birth cohorts who did not have to join the Bundeswehr, which was only founded in 1955, were called white cohorts. In the early 1970s, stupid bards were funny songwriters like Schobert
The disappearance of these words reminds us that the country that produced them also perished long ago - like the GDR, just not as dramatically.
This article was first published in 2018.