The first time I showed up in Dresden, I packed light. I hadn’t even bothered looking at a map. I figured there would be city maps at the S-Bahn stations, like in Frankfurt, and anyway there would certainly be a newsstand at the train station selling them.
My train pulled into Neustadt just past eleven pm. All of the stores in the station were closed. I ambled out of the building and toward a line of waiting taxis. Taxi drivers always know where everything is.
“Excuse me, could you tell me where Tiekstraße is,” I asked a wizened looking old man who was leaning on the roof of his little yellow cab.
He was more than friendly. He was enthusiastic and detailed and to this day I still wonder sometimes what the fuck he said. He spoke German like he was talking around a golf ball of chewing gum. Like it was Dutch, or Swedish, or some other langauge that sounds vaguely familiar but that I don’t understand. After asking him to repeat it twice, I felt embarrassed and wandered off in one of the directions he’d pointed in to try my luck somewhere else.
That was my first encounter with the accent common in Saxony. Guidebooks say that the Saxon accent is to German what Scottish is to English. “Kaufen,” normally pronounced like a well-enunciated “cow-fin,” gets twanged into something more like “co-fen.” “Eine,” which is usually pronounced “I-na,” becomes “Ay (like in say)-na.” Linguists describe this with a lot of unitelligable words like “centralized and non-rounded vowels.” In short this means do not come here in order to improve your German.
It took me approximately three months before I could understand the average Saxon. I still have to ask some friends to repeat themselves, and I will never understand what it is the construction worker at the vokü is trying to say to me.
When I first arrived, a friend of Markus’ tried to teach me her favorite phrase.
“Schgloobsglaaschdglei,” she said.
“What?” Was that even German?
“Schgloobsglaaschdglei,” she repeated, laughing. “You understand?”
I shook my head, probably with a look of horror stretched across my face.
“Ich glaube es klatscht gleich.” Indeed. It took the whole night and two bottles of wine before I was capable of saying it the way she did, the usual rights of passage of a foreigner in a new region.
It should be noted, as a point of interest, that many Saxons, and Lonely Planet, claim that the German language actually originated here, and that the Saxon dialect is actually the forefather of the German we all know and love today. There was even a Dutchman round about 1717 who went so far as to call Saxish “the most comprehensible, charming, and delightful to the ear of all German dialects.” Well I say.
I found myself more in accordance with friends in the West who referred to the Saxon dialect as “the most embarrassing German dialect there is.”
Fast forward five months, six days. Someone asks me a question.
“Keene Ahnung (no idea),” I replied without thinking. The sound of the words echoed in my ears. “Keene?” Oh dear sweet jesus did I just say “keene”? Maybe nobody will notice. Don’t notice, don’t notice, don’t notice, I prayed.
“Did you just say ‘keene?!?!'” Markus almost yelled. I was never going to live this down.
“No, of course not. Hey, look at that bike!” A pretty bike would usually be enough to distract Markus from an incoming missile. I suppose I had spent a little too much time jabbing him about his accent.
“YOU SAID KEENE!” Well, I guess I did.
The day that you say “keene” instead of “keine” completely by accident is the day when you should seriously consider leaving Saxony. As luck would have it, I already had. Get ready Frankfurt, I’ll be back in two weeks.