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Page last updated at 01:56 GMT, Wednesday, 17 February 2010

German railways shunt English into sidings

By Steve Rosenberg
BBC News, Berlin

German train (file image)
Deutsche Bahn says tourists often thank them for placing English signs

I visited a German railway station today. I say German, but if it hadn't been for the sausage stands and the pretzel kiosks, I might have thought this was British Rail, not Deutsche Bahn.

So much of the language you come into contact with on the railways here is English.

The help desks are labelled Service Points, the ticket office has Counters.

There is a sign pointing to the short-term parking area, which has the romantic title Kiss and Ride.

And that's only the start of it.

Got a question? You can telephone the service Hotline. Need to rent a bicycle? Dial the Call-a-Bike department.

But not for much longer.

In Germany train terminology is set for a Teutonic facelift. And it's all thanks to a retired headmaster from Bavaria.

"We are in Germany," Franz Aschenbrenner told me by telephone from Bavaria, "and the expressions should be in German in the first place."

Too confusing

Mr Aschenbrenner had come to the conclusion there was just too much English on the German railways.

"At the railway station, a woman in front of me was unable to operate the ticket machine because the word Cancel was on the display. She pronounced it in the German way tsan-tsel and she asked me 'what is tsan-tsel'?

"And I got a little bit angry why Deutsche Bahn doesn't use German expressions for this."

Franz Aschenbrenner believes the phrase Service Point is too confusing, the expression Kiss and Ride too idiotic. So he wrote to his local member of parliament.

The MP, from the Christian Social Union, complained to the head of German Railways. And before you could say Inter City Express, changes were made.

From now on Counter will be signposted Schalter; hotline becomes Servicenummer and Kiss and Ride turns into Kurzzeitparkzone.

As for Call-a-Bike, from now on that service will be known as Call-a-Bike Das Mietrad-Angebot der Deutschen Bahn. Not quite as snappy. But much more German.

Deutsche Bahn accepts changes were needed. But it won't be shunting English into the sidings completely.

"The most important thing is that our customers understand what we like to announce to them," says Deutsche Bahn spokesman Reinhard Boeckh.

"Because we are a German company our first language is German."

Most of these English words are not really necessary
Holger Klatte, German Language Association

"On the other hand, a lot of foreign passengers tell us they are very glad that there is information in English in our trains. This is very useful for those passengers. So we have to handle both sides."

The changes have been applauded by the German Language Association. It keeps a tally of the English words and phrases which have been worming their way into German: like baby face, second hand and wake-up call.

"There are a lot of examples," says the association's Holger Klatte.

"The latest list contains nearly 8,000 English words which are used as loan words in the German language. Most of these English words are not really necessary."

As for the man at the centre of it all, the Bavarian pensioner Frank Aschenbrenner, he is being magnanimous in victory.

He told me he did not really mind if English phrases were added to signs in places which see lots of visitors from abroad.

Just so long as the genuine German word is there, too.



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