The German language is known for giving precise names to things. Often, this means having to read through very long words, composed by several names attached to each other that create an unique word, with a single meaning. For the most part, the names don’t sound so appealing and are particularly complex for non-German speakers to understand. Forget about properly pronouncing them! LOL.
To make Berlin’s landmarks’ names more attractive, Berliners give them affectionate nicknames, the “Spitznamen”. They are usually nicknames that give a short substitute for their real and unpronounceable names, often highlighting specific aspects of the “object”. By the way, giving nicknames is one of the characteristics of the infamous “Berliner Schnauze” (Berliner snout) or Berlinerisch, the colloquial standard German spoken in Berlin and in the surrounding Brandenburg state. This local “dialect” is considered, in other parts of Germany, to be gruff and full of rough humor.
Note: The sight nicknames are often mentioned in travel guides. However, in the everyday life, locals don’t often use them, unless they want to be ironic or to impress tourists with some Berliner “sense of humor”. The exceptions are the “Bierpinsel” in Steglitz, since nobody uses its real name (Turmrestaurant an der Scholossstrasse) and maybe the “Goldelse”, the beloved statue on the top of the Victory Column. It is rare to hear anyone calling the TV Tower at Alexanderplatz by its nickname “Telespargel”!
Let’s discover some of Berlin’s landmark’s nicknames! In fact, there are so many we decided to split this article in two parts. Second part coming in a few days!
1) Hohler Zahn, Lippenstifft and Puderdose (Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church – Gedächtniskirche):
“Hollow tooth, lipstick and powder box” is how Berliners refer to the ruins of the old church, partially destroyed during the Second World War, its bell tower and the new church building, opened in 1961, at Breitscheidplatz, due to their distinctive appearance.
2) Wasserklops (Weltkugelbrunnen):
Also located at Breitcheidplatz, in City West, the “water balls” are carved blocks of red granite, forming a water basin with several fountains. The artwork was created in the 1980’s and the symbolic globes represent different cultures.
3) Waschmaschine/Elefantenklo (Bundeskanzleramt) :
The German Chancellery is often referred to as the washing machine or “elephant toilet”. The nickname alludes to the cubic building form. We think, however, that another building looks a lot more like a washing machine than the Chanellery itself. The funky Marie-Elisabeth-Lüders-Haus inaugurated in 2003 houses the scientific service center of the German Parliament, named after the women’s right activist and politician.
4) Eierwärmer (Reichstag dome):
The glass dome of the German Parliament, designed by the renowned architect Norman Foster, was nicknamed “egg cosy”, due to its – humm – oval form. More on egg cosies, here.
The typical pissoirs of the Wilhelminian era, with their remarkable octagonal design and green painted cast iron walls, are still called “octagonal cafés”. There are around thirty of these urinals remaining in Berlin. You can find them, for example, at Gendarmenmarkt, at Senefelderplatz, in Prenzlauer Berg, and on Sonnenallee, in Neukölln, right on the corner of Elbestrasse.
6) Goldelse (Victory Column):
The “Golden Lizzy” or the massive bronze sculpture of Roman goddess Victoria, on the top of Victory Column, measures over 8 meters and weighs 35 tons. It was made worldwide famous by the cult Wim Wenders movie “Wings of Desire”. For a small fee, you can climb the stairs up to the top of the Column to get really close to the statue. There, atop its viewing platform, you will also have one of the most stunning panoramas of Berlin! For more details on how to climb up the column, click here.
7) Telespargel (TV Tower):
The Fernsehturm, at Alexanderplatz, was constructed in the 1960’s to broadcast the GDR television programs. Today, the “tele asparagus” is one of the most recognizable landmarks in Berlin.
8) Retourkutsche (The quadriga on the Brandenburg Gate):
“Tit for tat” or the “returned carriage” is the nickname given by Berliners for the quadriga on the Brandenburg Gate, which was taken by Napoleon to Paris and later returned to Berlin.
9) Suppenschüssel (The granite bowl in the Lustgarten):
The “serving dish or tureen”, the large granite bowl in the Lustgarten in front of the Altes Museum, has a diameter of almost 7 meters and a weight of about 75 tons. Since 1830, the “Granitschale im Lustgarten” is the largest bowl made of a single stone shell. We imagine it would be big enough to serve hot soup for all Berliners in winter or beer during summer!
10) Tränenpalast (The former border crossing at Friedrichstrasse station):
The “palace of tears” was the former checkpoint building, where East Germans, who were not permitted to travel to West Berlin, said goodbye to the visitors going back to the West.
11) Schwangere Auster (Haus der Kulturen der Welt):
The House of World’s Cultures is the Germany’s national center for international contemporary arts, with a special focus on non-European cultures. The shape of the building complex remind Berliners of a “pregnant oyster”. Go figure!
For more fun Berlin landmark nicknames, check out part II of this article (coming soon)!
Read more about Berlin fun facts here.
*This article was written by Domingos Lepores and edited by Tulio Edreira.