Understanding the German Speaking World

Universität Innsbruck
February 4, 2019

Guten Tag allerseits! Heute sprechen wir ein bisschen über den deutschen Sprachraum und wie wir die deutschsprachige Welt verstehen können.

The German ‚Sprachraum‘ (the German language area) covers parts of central and western Europe. This means that German is the official or co-official language and the first language of most of the population. These countries are; Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Belgium, Liechtenstein and Luxembourg. German is also spoken in South Tyrol (a northern province of Italy which used to be part of Austria), some parts of Poland, Brazil and Namibia. There are around 95 million native German speakers worldwide (Ja genau, sehr viel!).

Sadly, the German speaking world – especially the part which lies in central Europe, is best known for its National Socialist chapter of history – this rule lasted roughly 12 years. Native German and Austrians report being brought up with a sense of guilt for events which happened 70-80 years ago. As someone who was born and raised in Berlin by British parents, this is something I saw first-hand. In the 20th century there were several extreme dictatorships across Europe and parts of Asia. However, Germany is one of the few countries to be open about the crimes committed by a former leader and to emotionally pay for it until this day. To understand the German speaking world it is important to grasp that fact that has had a lasting impact on their culture.

Germany as it is today is fairly young, before 1871 it was a collection of smaller states and independent kingdoms. Austria, (or rather, the Second Republic – as it is known today) has existed since 1955. Switzerland has existed in its current form since the Swiss Federal Constitution was created in 1848. Therefore all three main German speaking countries are much younger than the United Kingdom (aber trotzdem ist der deutschen Sprachraum über 1000 Jahre alt und hat eine sehr interessante Geschichte).

Zum Beispiel, Switzerland has maintained its neutrality (meaning they do not fight in any war or arm themselves) since they became a country. Austria is also neutral now since the birth of its Second Republic. Austria also had one of the longest royal rules – the Habsburg dynasty, which lasted 600 years and included ever changing amounts of territory; most of Austria as we know it today, some German states, parts of Italy and vast amounts of present day Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, Romanian and Slovenia (die auch jetzt immer noch auch ein bisschen Deutsch sprechen). Although smaller than the British Empire (which ‘the sun never set on’), this was a huge portion of Europe.

Germany also has many interesting periods of history, from the stories of the mad Bavarian King Ludwig II (Bavaria is now the most southern province of Germany) who built the fairy tale castle of Neuschwanstein and other beautiful castles, and ended up mysteriously dead in a lake after he’d been forced to give up his crown and declared insane (sehr merkwürdig!). To the height of Cold War when the country was physically split down the middle after the allies left. One half, the West, belonging to France, Great Britain and the USA, the other, the East, belonging to the Soviet Union (present day Russia). The capital, Berlin, (which had been nearly completely destroyed during WW2 like a lot of German cities) was also split down the middle, but Berlin is in the East, meaning a part of the Western territory was completely surrounded by Soviet territory – das war sehr problematisch für die Alliierten.

Germany was in the middle of a Cold War between the USA and the Soviet Union – the two sides had different political ideas about how the world should be run, and these systems were used in their parts of Germany and have had a lasting impact. Although the sides were reunified in 1990 (die Wiedervereinigung, oder auch die Wende genannt), after the Berlin Wall was destroyed in 1989 (der Mauerfall), there is still a huge barrier between the East and West. To the Germans, ,Ossis’ and ,Wessis’ are very culturally different. In the former East, the population hold on to the feeling that they are being left behind and misunderstood, says the Institute of German Business, they are less adapted to multi-cultural societies – such as exists in Berlin; (Berlin ist auch heute immer noch die Hauptstadt von Deutschland). And they partake in general elections less, as they have less faith in democratic systems (jeder deutschsprachige Land hat heutzutage eine Demokratie).

German speaking countries are also some of the wealthiest countries in Europe, statistics differ but roughly; Luxembourg comes in 1st, Liechtenstein 2nd, Switzerland 4th, Belgium 5th, Austria 9th or 10th and Germany 11th or 12th (wahrscheinlich sind sie sehr glücklich reich zu sein!). In comparison most statistics put the UK as being the 16th or 17th richest country in Europe – this is predicated to slip due to Brexit. Part of the reason for this wealth is industry, product reputation, trade and tourism. Germany is famous for its excellent cars and beer (it is the third biggest producer of beer in the world – Prost! Und wissen sie, dass man in Deutschland  mit 16 Jahre bier trinken darf!), Switzerland for its watches and chocolate, Belgium also for its chocolate and beer, Austria for its ski resorts (aber sie sind sehr teuer) and its classical music, as Mozart’s birthplace. Germany is also famous for its football teams, which is a huge part of their national identity (Los gehts Bayern München!).

For Germany and Austria, membership of the European Union (die Europäische Union) is also a huge part of their national identity. The original idea of the EU was to unite countries which had previously been enemies, and promote this through good relations and trade. Both Germany and Austria see this as very important for their futures; sehr wichtig für die Zukunft!

The German speaking world is a diverse mix of cultures which share the Germanic language; which originally came from central European and Scandinavian tribes. The areas where the language is currently spoken have changed a lot. However, each individual country, and also, each region within the countries very much see themselves as different from the others (Frag einfach jemanden aus Bayern oder aus dem Saarland, Voralberg oder Burgenland). Germany has 16 ,Bundesländer’, Austria has nine, and Switzerland has 26 ,Kantone’ – each of these regions have their own identities and also sometimes, dialect and political systems. To understand the German speaking world, you must understand that each of these world of its own.

Viel Spaß mit dem deutschen Unterricht und bis nächstes Mal!



Fotos von meinem Auslandsjahr – ein Achensee Tagesausflug mit meiner besten Freundin, und ein Blick auf die Stadt Innsbruck von der Universität aus.

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