“I would like a dead grandma as my main and I’ll have the cold dog for desert, please”, says the man at the table. It appears like I am translating the contents of a horror novel maybe, or a witch’s tale for children. But far from it. It is a culinary trip into the food history of the former East Germany and ‘dead grandma’ and ‘cold dog’ are very iconic dishes there – the former being black pudding as a sort of mash like stew served with potatoes and sauerkraut, while the latter is a yummie chocolate concoction of layering biscuits with chocolate and letting the chocolate set so you can cut it into slices as a cake.
What this means is that it pays off to know about the cultural context as well as simply the vocabulary and grammar when you are translating as a professional translator. Or otherwise you would be very alarmed if someone was about to eat a ‘Bee sting’, wouldn’t you? But it is yummie and a cake, not a potential death trap! And sometimes you need to go further and know some of the regional differences too, as a ‘Jägerschnitzel’, a hunter’s schnitzel, is something completely different in the East of the country than it is in the rest of it. And they are very defensive about it!
Accuracy and the Professional Translator
And then there is accuracy. For a professional translator it would be fatal to confuse a Bratwurst with a Bockwurst or a Knacker (which translates into ‘cracker’ by the way). They are very particular about their Wurst, because often everything ‘goes around the wurst’ over there, when things becomes serious. Yes, you have to know about your sayings too…
Oh and the bread! The whole country eats their Brötchen, or rolls to you and me, for breakfast. And then their sandwiches at lunchtime. But just to confuse you, they call them differently all throughout the country! And if you don’t know that, then you might wonder what marvellous new word you have just come across, only to find out that you have heard it at least a hundred times before, just in ten different variations!
I think I am getting hungry right now and I do fancy a slice of ‘Lukullus’. What’s that now, you’re wondering? Well, it is also the ‘Cold Dog’ from above, just with a nicer name. You see, another perk of translating – knowing that there is more than one word for the same thing! Guten Appetit!
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If you would like to know more about some of these dishes, then you might find some on this useful website.