Heated debate after op-ed brands expats who don't speak German "arrogant"

Heated debate after op-ed brands expats who don't speak German "arrogant"

An opinion piece published last week in the Berliner Zeitung has sparked a heated debate after branding expats who refuse to speak German as “arrogant” and participating in a “kind of colonialism”. 

Berliner Zeitung calls out expats who don’t learn German

“Why do so many people in Berlin not learn German?” questioned Marcus Weingärtner in a recent opinion piece in the daily newspaper, adding: “Where does this arrogance come from?” In the article, Weingartener railed against what he sees as a significant proportion of Berliners - where 25 percent of the population doesn’t have a German passport - who have yet to sign up for a German course

Acknowledging that tourists are perfectly within their rights to expect to get by with English only, Weingärtner says, “I have several acquaintances of all genders who come from different countries around the world and have been living in Berlin for a long time. However, many of them steadfastly refuse to learn German.” 

Weingärtner bemoans the fact that he is then regularly called upon by these friends to help out with administrative matters like taxes and visits to the doctor, and goes on to describe this as “also a kind of colonialism”, before concluding: “I can understand that German in terrible language to learn. But I would like to see some desire to understand each other.” 

Op-ed provokes mixed response from expats on social media

The op-ed received mixed responses on social media. Many people pointed out that Germans aren’t always helpful to people trying to improve their language skills. “German is a waste of time,” one user wrote on X (formerly Twitter). “If your German is not 100 percent perfect or you hesitate for a moment to find the right word, they'll revert to English immediately. They're more pedantic than the French. Don't bother. Learn another language.” 

One user called JJ was similarly unapologetic, pointing out that German isn’t exactly the simplest of languages to learn: “If you want someone to learn something, make it easier.” Others pointed out that Germans don’t always make it easy for internationals to integrate, something that has been brought up in expat opinion surveys on previous occasions. Rita, an X user from Portugal, wrote: “Germans make it so difficult for expats to befriend them so they end up in result being around non-Germans all the time.”

Expats accuse Germans of being the same abroad

Other users argued that the opinion piece was a bit rich considering the way German tourists behave when they are abroad. Teodeco, an expat living in North Rhine-Westphalia, wrote: “These are often the same people who visit Poland or the Netherlands and [assume] that everyone can speak German," while a sharper version of the same response came from a user called uma: “Does this journalist know about the many towns and villages in Mallorca and other parts of Spain that have signs in German because Germans have actually quite literally colonised the place and refuse to learn Spanish?” 

Finally, others took umbrage with the author’s use of the word “colonialism”, with one user writing that it was “really notable the cultural desire in Germany to be a victim themselves for once, even when it means stretching terms like racism and colonialism beyond all meaning. Meanwhile, if you point out actual racism in society, get ready for consequences.”

However, some users suggested that Weingärtner might have a point. Troels Heeger, a Danish journalist, wrote, “As a Dane having lived in Berlin for more than 10 years I was regularly disappointed in my many compatriots in the city who despite having been taught German in school never made the effort to learn how to speak just basic German. So I totally understand the opinion.” 

Others also expressed confusion as to why the basic premise was considered controversial. A user called Hout, wrote on X: “Well, if you’re going to live in a country, you must learn the language of its people.” Another German-speaking user, Mohre, wrote: “Warum ist es so kontrovers die Landessprache zu lernen wenn man umzieht?” (“Why is it controversial to learn the local language when moving?”) 

Image credit: Mo Photography Berlin /



Abi Carter

Abi studied History & German at the University of Manchester. She has since worked as a writer, editor and content marketeer, but still has a soft spot for museums, castles...

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