Book Favourites

written on 15/10/2020
by Ute Bakus


German for Everyone!

Is German your native language? Congratulations! You probably rarely have to worry about the peculiarities, complexity and illogical nature of the German language.

Did you learn German as a foreign language, perhaps even as an adult? My condolences. You may sometimes be distraught by the pitfalls of German grammar and phonetics.



For those who are interested in the German language - native speakers or not - Abbas Khider's  “Deutsch für Alle. Das endgültige Lehrbuch“ (German for all. The final textbook) is recommended.

Khider, born in Baghdad in 1973, was arrested and tortured as a young student in Iraq under Saddam Hussein. After years of flight, he came to Germany in 2000. At that time he knew only three German words:

Hitler - because "Mein Kampf" was the favourite book of Saddam Hussein's eldest son, in Khider's youth it lay in piles in all the bookshops of Baghdad;

Lufthansa - during his years of flight, the planes from Germany seemed to him as  unattainable as a "flying carpet"; and

Scheiße - he first heard this word at the train station of Bozen in Italy - it had been a social worker‘s answer to the question, how was life for asylum seekers in Germany?



The year I arrived in Germany, I was twenty-seven years old. Now, almost two decades later, my vocabulary has fortunately grown somewhat. Today I even know words with more than thirty letters, such as NAHRUNGSMITTELUNVERTRÄGLICHKEIT (food intolerance) or ARBEITERUNFALLVERSICHERUNGSGESETZ ( Workers‘ accident insurance law). Such an expression is impossible in my mother tongue. The longest word in the Arabic language consists of ten letters - including the article! (…) Also the grammar is meanwhile as familiar to me as the numerous paragraphs of the inevitable tax return. German paragraphs and German grammar have one thing in common: they make you weep."


Despite all the linguistic and bureaucratic difficulties and obstacles facing an Arabic-speaking asylum seeker, Abbas Khider managed to make his childhood dream come true: he studied literature and philosophy, learned German with Kant, Hegel and Heidegger and became a writer - although not an Arabic one.

He wrote in German from the beginning. Today, twenty years and six books later, he is a renowned author who has won many awards in Germany. His novel "Die Ohrfeige" (“A slap in the face“, University of Chicago Press, 2019) and "Deutsch für alle" made it onto the German bestseller lists.


The German language has become his "home", writes Khider in “Deutsch für alle", and that is something that is regularly cleaned and, if necessary, renovated or refurbished. He does nothing less than this with his textbook, inventing a "better" (i.e. more systematic and grammatically simpler) "New German" from the point of view of an Arabic native speaker and as a German with - as it is officially called - a migration background.

In each chapter Khider puts an end to one of the many impositions of German: the laborious declenation of nouns, pronouns and adjectives! The agonizing position of the verb at the end of the subordinate clause!

The abolition of the "two-tier society" of regular and irregular verbs! He also does away with the countless prepositions which, in addition to all the abundance, also lead to different cases - why not? - when Allah has given people two excellent prepositions in the Koran ("min" and "ila")!



And last but not least, he puts an end to the nonsensical separation of grammatical and biological gender in the German language: so the definite articles "der, die, das" are changed in his ”New German“ into "de", the indefinite articles into the uniform "e". From chapter to chapter this ”New German“ becomes increasingly absurd und impoverished – of course fully intended.

The fact that "Deutsch für alle" triggered a shit storm in social networks by those who in their rabble-rousing patheticness think  who and what German is, was determined solely by them is another, but not-so-funny chapter.

Abbas Khider is a satirist and a tremendously gifted narrator who is intimately familiar with the German language as well as with German politics and society. In all his works he packages experiences and truths in a masterly ironic manner.

This is evident as well in all anecdotes and justifications that entwine his "New German" language rules. It is not for nothing that the preface says: "This little book is serious linguistic bullshit. " Great fun. Yes. But also a serious, intelligent and allusive examination of German and the country of the same name.


German

Sie heißt Marina, kommt aus Mainz. Er heißt Massud, kommt aus dem Tschad. Ihr Kind Friedrich wurde in Baden-Württemberg geboren. Alle besitzen sie die deutsche Staatsbürgerschaft. Wir nennen sie in unserem Wohnblock die „Neger-Familie“. Auf der der Straße wird der Vater von den Polizisten mehrfach und grundlos kontrolliert, im Supermarkt wird er von den Mitarbeitern ständig beobachtet, und in die Diskothek geht er seit einer Ewigkeit nicht mehr, weil er weiß, dass die Türsteher ihn sowieso immer nach Hause schicken. Marina ärgert sich sehr und verliert oft die Nerven. Massud ist aber daran gewöhnt und nimmt alles locker und mit einem freundlichen Lächeln. Ihr Kind Friedrich bekommt von alldem noch nichts mit, aber bald.

 

Englisch

Her name is Marina, she's f​​rom Mainz. His name is Massud, from Chad. Her child Friedrich was born in Baden-Württemberg. They all have German citizenship. We call them the "negro family" in our block of flats. On the street, the father is checked by the police several times and for no reason, in the supermarket, he is constantly watched by the staff, and he hasn't gone to the disco for ages because he knows that the doormen always send him home anyway. Marina gets very annoyed and often loses her nerve. But Massud is used to it and takes everything in a relaxed way and with a friendly smile. Her child Friedrich doesn't know about all this yet, but soon will.

 

Neudeutsch

Em heißt Marina, kommt aus Mainz. Er heißt Massud, kommt aus de Tschad, ihr Kind Friedrich wurde geboren in Baden-Württemberg. Alle sie besitzen de deutsch Staatsbürgerschaft. Wir nennen sie in unser Wohnblock de „Neger-Familie“. Auf de Straße de Vater wird kontrolliert von die Polizisten mehrfach und grundlos, in de Supermarkt er wird beobachtet von die Mitarbeiter ständig, und in de Diskothek er geht seit e Ewigkeit nicht mehr, weil er weiß, dass die Türsteher schicken er immer nach Hause. Sein Frau ärgert sich sehr und verliert oft ihr Nerven. Er ist gewöhnt aber daran und nimmt alles locker mit e freundlich Lächeln. Ihr Kind Friedrich mitbekommt von allde noch nichts, aber bald.“


Abbas Khider | Deutsch für alle. Das endgültige Lehrbuch | Hanser Verlag, 122 Seiten | ISBN: 978-3-446-26170-9


Photo 2: © Olaf Kosinsky