Were you born in Dublin or in “Baile Átha Cliath?”


The lady in the bank squinted at my passport.

“Were you born in Dublin or in Baile Átha Cliath?” she asked.

“They’re the same place,” I said. “Baile Átha Cliath is the Irish word for Dublin.

She paused. “Can I just fill in Dublin?”

“Sure!”

“Thank Goodness. It’s much shorter,” she said, beginning to tap on her computer.

Earlier at the town hall, where I had gone to register with the police (it’s a blanket requirement rather than a sign of criminality here) I was seen by a woman whose sister had married a Northern Irish man.

“He comes from Coleraine,” she said. “But I still haven’t got around to visiting.”

Kate Katharina at her most patriotic

I felt compelled to tell her about the wildness of the west, the incessant drizzle and the friendliness of our people.

“Now I really want to go!” she said.

I told her she should.

Just in time for my move back to Berlin, the Irish Times is concerned this week with the relationship between the Germans and the Irish. In their aptly-titled series “A German Complex,” journalists are writing about Kerrygold and the idyllic German view of the Irish.

As the product of a German-Irish relationship and a literature graduate, my favourite article in the series so far has no doubt been the descriptions of the Irish by German writers and poets.

I was personally flattered by Heinrich Heine’s opinion, expressed in 1828, that an “amalgamation of the two elements would produce something excellent” and was strangely moved by Johann Georg Kohl’s conclusion in 1842 that “this island of misfortune and discontent, this country of so many incongruities otherwise unknown in the rest of Europe – can quite justly be called, like Prospero’s, an island of wonders.”

The observation which really stopped me in my tracks came from Philipp Andreas Nemnich in 1806, who found that “the Irish often express themselves too obligingly. They seem never to be able to turn down a request, and yet they never keep their promises, no matter how often one reminds them.”

I recognised myself immediately. Like many of my fellow Irish, I too am inflicted by a rather pleasant disposition. I find myself smiling at strangers and being very polite even to people I dislike. I make offers I expressly do not wish to be taken up and then curse myself when they are accepted.

All that wouldn’t be so bad if I simply didn’t bother to keep my promises, as Nemnich claims most Irish people fail to do. But I have inherited the unfortunate trait of reliability from my mother and invariably end up keeping the promises I did not wish to make.

I wonder what Philipp Andreas Nemnich would make of me.

I was asked earlier this year to carry out a Vox Pop in Berlin to find out what German people thought of Ireland. The old stereotypes prevailed: Guinness, green pastures and traditional music were the most common responses.

There’s a lot they know less about here though. Our wonderful writers for one. Our excellence in cultivating potatoes. Our uncomplicated kindness alongside our cynicism and repression.

The poor lady at the bank now knows about our national language though. Then again, she’ll find that out as soon as she lands at Dublin airport and is greeted by a poster of the beaming Westlife lads and a “Fáilte” signpost.

I love the Irish language, but don’t get me started on the signposting in Dublin airport…

So to all our potential German tourists, I hope you enjoy your stay as much as I enjoy recommending it.

Go n-Éirí and bóthar leat because the road signs sure won’t bring you any luck.

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15 thoughts on “Were you born in Dublin or in “Baile Átha Cliath?”

  1. I agree with the wonderful writers! Before I came to London, I was not even aware that there are quite a number of novels with Irish authors and I have made good friends with an author in the making too! 🙂

    How’s things going in Berlin at the moment? Settling down well?

    • I’m always so proud when I see Irish writers on the spines of books at flea markets in Berlin! 🙂

      I’m settling in fine. My flat is lovely and my flatmates are too! At the moment I’m just trying to get paperwork sorted so hopefully that won’t take too long. Think the homesickness will kick in after a few weeks and when LSB is in Edinburgh. How is London treating you?

      • Excellent that you are settling into your flat. Where do your flatmates hail from? I have three and they come from different countries(Brazil, Italy and English) and gratefully we get along well:)

        If you get busy exploring and learning, you wont have time for homesickness. That’s the antidote. London is alright but getting cold – my friend is coming over from Singapore this Saturday. Took some days off to relax and we are heading for the Paralympic next week!

    • You’re so right about exploring and learning as the antidote to homesickness! It really is the only thing that never fails!

      My flatmates come from Germany and Poland so it’s a nice international household!

      I hope you have a lovely time with your friend at the Paralympics! Worthy of a blog post ? 🙂 Don’t forget to wrap up well! It’s still warm here: this summer seems like the longest of my life! Bizarre. Don’t think I’ve ever had so much heat over a sustained period..

      • It’s nice to have abit of a mix – chatting to them will also inspire new blog posts about cultural differences too!
        Thanks, did I mention I went to the Olympics too? I took many photos and had all intentions to blog a couple of posts..I should actually get down to it:p And maybe the dog racing I went last Sat? I had a couple of insights which are quite interesting 😉 Keep reminding me!

        It’s cold today!! Started on my boots – second day in a row and was pondering about taking out my winter clothes! :S

  2. Yes, ‘explaining’ Ireland is always an experience. I now automatically say ‘I’m Irish, from Ireland – it’s beside England’ otherwise they wonder how an Icelander is allowed to teach English in Korea. This sometimes turns into a dsicussion as to whether or not Ireland is the same as England. A comparison between Japan and Korea usually sets them right though.

  3. The amount of times I’ve had trouble spelling “Baile Átha Cliath” to native Dubs is ridiculous. My father had a habit of putting the Irish form of my address on any kind of subscription/bill you can dream of, and I also got into the habit of doing it from that.

    I was shocked though at how limited an understanding some Irish people have of Germany. I suppose I was privileged to go to a school that taught German as well as you possibly can in the leaving cert, and study it in college as well. But the first thought I always had of Germany before I started learning the language, was delicious sausages, the Brothers’ Grimm (childhood favourite), Wagner (blame Inspector Morse), Bach (Lyric FM), and Beethoven (see previous). Then later on I started learning about cool things like say… German cinema. Michel Haneke, Fatih Akin, Uli Edel etc… And became old enough to drink and discovered wheat beer. Then visiting the country got rid of any idea of supposed “severe” Germans who obey rules with obsessive-compulsive zeal. Every been to a Berliner night-club? Copper-face jacks looks tame by comparison.

    • It’s not a bad habit actually 🙂 I used to work as a post woman in the Christmas holidays and I can vouch that An Post go to great lengths to ensure that all mail gets delivered, regardless of the language or handwriting on the envelope.

      A lot of Irish people are surprised to learn that German is the language with the most native speakers in Europe. The Brothers Grimm are a wonderful cultural asset, as of course are all the classical composers; modern art here too is so innovative.

      Absolutely with you on the wheat beer. Can I confess, I’ve never been to Coppers but I can imagine it’s very tame compared to some of the clubs here in Berlin!

      Thanks for stopping by, was lovely to hear about your impressions of Germany!

  4. Not all experiences of Ireland from our Teutonic cousins, it seems, are quite so filled with visions of Guinness, green fields, and comely maidens. I should think that you will be interested by the following, recently published in Swiss magazine Die Weltwoche (apparently poorly-aligned teeth, drunkenness, and genetic defects are but some of the ills that ail us):

    http://www.liveleak.com/view?i=7a1_1346175628

  5. Pingback: Saturday Morning « katekatharina.com

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