Steven in Berlin

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Refugees cannot enter?!

Refugees cannot enter?!

February 19, 2017    

While I was walking on the famous street “Unter den Linden”, I saw a paper notice on a door of a shop that gave me some serious shocks. It literally meant to me “Refugees do not enter”.

I pointed it out to my friends who did not know any German, and they were shocked as well. So the four of us stopped in front of a gift shop with serious and confused faces, and occasionally pointed to the paper sign. Because of the early time, the shop wasn’t open yet, but there were already pedestrians on the street. I could feel that they were looking and staring at us strangely, which I interpreted as “go away you tourists, it’s none of your business”.

The owner of the shop next door walked out and asked me: “Kann ich Ihnen vielleicht helfen?” (May I help you?). I was too afraid so I replied “Nein danke” (no thanks), put my camera back in my pocket, and quickly walked away. I did not take a picture and did not dare to stand there for one more second.

So this became a mystery.

On the last day in Berlin, I knew I had to figure this out before leaving the country. I got up really early so I had enough time for this little trip before catching the plane, but more importantly it was early enough that there was nobody on the street. This time, for some (😅) reason an English translation was also put below the sign. Aha! I laughed out so loud.

Here is the paper sign:

refugees cannot enter

After looking it up in the dictionary, I found out that the german sign literally says “do not block the escape route and the escape door”. How did I interpret that as “Refugees do not enter”!?

Right before the trip, my GER 212 course was just starting to discuss topics regarding refugees, and we were given many articles about them. One article was about language loss and discussed a bunch of German words that mean refugees and some of them are no longer used.

  • der Flüchtling
  • die Flüchtlingin
  • der Flüchtende
  • die Flüchtende
  • der Geflüchtete
  • die Geflüchtete

You don’t need to know German to identify the “flücht” part in each word. So I assumed the “Fluchtwege” and “Fluchttüren” also have something to do with refugees. I feel so dumb because I actually know “Wege” means routes and “Türen” means doors, but the “flucht” part triggers so much memory about the reading that I ignored the rest. I mean, the class just started discussing this topic, you can’t expect me to remember this new word immediately.

As for the word “verstellen”, I actually guessed correctly. I know “stellen” has something to do with putting things at places, so combined with the prefix “ver” and “nicht” (not) it should be “not to be put here”, which means “not to block”. However, together I mistakenly interpreted it as “refugees shouldn’t be here”.

This is probably a laughable mistake only German learners can understand. If I explain this to native speakers of German, they would probably be confused instead of entertained.

I guess I’ll never know why an English translation was up 9 days later.