Deutschland über us (in the accusative case).
Last week, a man by the name of Gunnar Lindemann took public transportation in Berlin and decided to share the experience with his 960 Twitter followers. It was the greatest thing I have ever seen.
Allow me to explain several things at once.
First, Gunnar Lindemann happens to serve in the Abgeordnetenhaus von Berlin (AB-guh-ORD-nutt-un-house), basically the German equivalent of, say, the New York State Assembly. Second, Gunnar Lindemann belongs to the AfD, or “Alternative for Germany” (Alternative für Deutschland), which is one of Germany’s eighty-twelve jabillion political parties, all of which are disliked in equal measure by most Germans, but only a few of which share both the platform and the grammatical mastery of Donald Trump (but I am getting ahead of myself). The AfD was, unsurprisingly, the first party in Germany to congratulate that country’s most dangerous export on his part-time residency in the White House.
Third, it’s fun that even an ethno-nationalist xeno-homo-transphobe climate-change-denialist Kinder-Küche-Kirche jerk-butt such as Gunnar Lindemann still takes and enjoys public transportation, because that is so Europe. (Could you imagine Paul Manafort on the Q train? I guess that is the most direct way to Brighton Beach.)
Kinder, Küche, Kirche #sketch
Fourth, the company that runs Berlin transit is the BVG, short for Berliner Verkehrsbetriebe (bur-LINN-ur vur-CARES-buh-TREEB-uh), which literally translates to “Berlin Intercourse Authorities,” because the German word Verkehr (fur-CARE) means “intercourse,” both sexual and vehicular. That, by the way, is why the final sentence of the Franz Kafka story “Das Urteil” (The Judgment) is superior in what pretentious twits like me call “The German” (as in, the following passages are translated from the German by me).
In the story, protagonist Georg Bendemann lives with his dad and he gets engaged, and then his dad gets super pissed about that for reasons that don’t make any sense, and says: “You were actually an innocent child, but more actually you’re a devilish human being! And therefore, let it be known: I sentence you to death by drowning!”
Because this is Kafka, Georg obeys his scary awful dad, and jumps off a bridge to his death. But the story doesn’t end there! Because this is Kafka! And surprise, our inconsistent narrator’s BEEN OMNISCIENT THE WHOLE TIME, and is just keeping stuff from us on purpose. (Kinda like what Georg and his dad accuse each other of! Perfect internal/external narrative symmetry!!!)
Anyway, the last sentence of “The Judgment” in English goes like this: “Just then, an endless stream of traffic came over the bridge.” But the original German goes like this: In diesem Augenblick ging über die Brücke ein geradezu unendlicher Verkehr. Literally translated, with German word-order intact so you guys can see just what I deal with on a regular basis: In this moment went over the bridge a downright endless intercourse [of traffic, OR IS IT?]. (I have tried to approximate this amazing, morbid joke with the phrase “came over,” but it’s not the same.)
Now, it’s highly improbable that the BVG were thinking about Kafka and the double meaning of “intercourse” when Gunnar Lindemann decided to live-tweet his commute — but that didn’t stop them from fucking with him.
Because here’s the fifth concurrent thing I need to explain: The BVG are an unapologetically progressive organization. Their slogan is weil wir dich lieben (VILE veer dick LEE-bun), or “because we love you,” a tagline that is extra affectionate because it uses both the informal “you” and the intimate form of “I love you” (usually reserved for havers of sexual, rather than vehicular, intercourse). The BVG launched that slogan by running a spectacular ad starring the late Turkish-German viral sensation Kazim Akboga, “Is mir egal” (“I don’t care,” but literally means “it’s equal to me,” because of EQUALITY):
(A full and “helpfully” annotated English version of the lyrics is here.)
Yes, the BVG is a true bastion of tolerance, except when it comes to making the train late by sticking your hand in between two closing doors (a.k.a. the “New York City Chivalry Shuffle”), at which point said doors will take your arm all the way off rather than allow your train to be 12 seconds late pulling into Görlitzer Bahnhof.
Anyway, while it’s heartwarming that even the BVG and AfD can come together over the universalizing German trait of extreme Pünktlichkeit (POONKT-lick-kite), or punctuality, the transit authority was not going egal into Gunnar Lindemann’s particular good night. So that’s when the A++ trolling began. (Or, as the Germans would call it, das A-plus-plus Trollen.)
As you’ll see here, Lindemann tagged the BVG in his breathless chronicle of his mundane journey across Berlin. “He seems to have an uncanny enjoyment of riding the train and bus through the city,” says Die Zeit’s Carly Laurence, hinting that the far-right politician feels the excitement of a big boy who ate all his steak and then got to sit behind the wheel of a very big truck for a special treat.
Sure, Berlin is a giant sprawling city that takes a while to drive across — a city positively teeming with immigrants, gays, feminists, environmentalists, and hundreds of thousands of native-Berlin-born people whom Lindemann’s party still wants to expel from the country. And so what happened next is that the BVG clapped back: “Our driver Dschamal also enjoyed [your trip] very much.” Dschamal is the German spelling of “Jamal,” a.k.a. “Your driver was black, and fuck off.”
Lindemann kept going — so the BVG did, too, pointing out that for every leg of his journey, his driver belonged to a group the AfD actively works to oppress: Hakan (Turkish); Zeynep (Turkish AND a woman); etc. Toward the end of Lindemann’s trip, the BVG got truly punchy — quipping, “Your driver Tarek says hi” — before delivering the ultimate death blow:
@AfDLindemann Gern geschehen. Viele Grüße von Tarek, dem Fahrer.
@BVG_Kampagne Grüße zurück an meinem Fahrer Tarek und herzlichen Dank für die stressfreie Fahrt durch #Berlin
@AfDLindemann Tarek sagt, es müsste „meinen" heißen.
Here, Tarek — a person of (likely) North African descent that the ethno-nationalist AfD does not consider a “real” German — has CORRECTED GUNNAR LINDEMANN’S DUMB-ASS GRAMMAR. Lindemann has attempted to say “Hi back to my driver Tarek, and thank you very much for the stress-free journey through Berlin,” but he’s done it wrong.
And that, at last, brings me to SIXTH, and most important of all: German grammar uses what German 101 teachers call (in an attempt at levity) “AC/DC prepositions,” which stands for “Accusative Case/Dative Case,” but which also (in an outdated reference to both electrical outlets and 1970s bisexuals) is also supposed to remind us that they “go both ways,” depending on the situation. Some German prepositions always take the accusative case, and others always take the dative; not so with the dastardly AC/DCs, one of which is “an,” which also has about a billion meanings (to, at, on, about, by, just to name a few of them).
So…when you “say hi” to someone in German, as in not actually say hi but SAY you say hi, as in “Tell him I say hi,” you “send greetings” to that person, using the preposition an and the accusative case on your pronouns or whatever, which Gunnar Lindemann did not.
Basically, a semi-prominent German nationalist tweeted a fairly obvious and glaring mistake in his precious ethno-pure German to someone he likely assumes doesn’t speak German “right” — and that alleged foreigner corrected the fuck out of him. (Imagine Paul Ryan tweeting YOUR IN AMERICA SPEAK ENGLISH at his kids’ Bulgarian nanny, and the nanny tweeting back “you’re,” except on the social media account of a giant intercourse authority, and you’re halfway there.)
Reports are unclear as to whether the BVG’s burns were sick enough to scare Lindemann off of public transportation altogether. But I am guessing that for his return trip — his intercourse, as it were, through the city full of people he wants to screw — he probably said zum Teufel (“to Hell,” dative case!) with the BVG and their top-notch trolling, and hailed an Übermensch.