Everyone in my life is talking about new SBS show Das Boot, which they pronounce to rhyme with “dad’s ute”. It's just not right.
I’m here to tell you it’s more in line with “dad’s goat” and teach you some German at the same time.
Many years ago, when I was 16, my family hosted a Bavarian exchange student until, after some time, our roles were reversed and I went to live with his family.
An independent-minded southern state of Germany and home to the producers of Das Boot, Bavaria is famous for the amber liquid and for inventing Oktoberfest. When he was staying in my parents' granny flat, my exchange student famously helped himself to my dad’s beer fridge, thinking it was meant for him.
The drinking age in Germany is 16, and soon after my arrival at his place a few months later, I went from sober private school boy to pub customer, to legally intoxicated passenger in my exchange student’s mate’s car.
I had not been an outlaw underage drinker in Australia, so this was quite an experience. The world swam a little out there on the Autobahn and when we arrived at the next pub, I found I could speak better German.
They call alcohol a social lubricant. And there’s nothing like chatting socially at a loud volume in a local dialect to make you forget textbooks and immerse yourself properly in a language. I'm definitely not advocating intoxication as a learning tool – I'm sure it was bad for my non-language brain cells – but soon I was chatting away like a local.
Many months and beers passed. I gained weight and my German improved. One final trip to a still-divided Berlin, including a day of catching trains without a ticket in communist East Germany (it’s lucky I’m not in a Siberian gulag), and I was home in Sydney and sober, watching the Oscar-nominated 1981 movie Das Boot on TV instead of doing my homework.
But the German learning stuck. Today, I look at the word Boot and I still see something that has a lengthy, flat “oh” sound in the middle. It’s the English equivalent of the long “ohh” you say when someone tells you bad news. Das Bohht.
Not a long “ooh” for excitement, nor a short “oh” to indicate comprehension, but a medium-length “ohh, now I see why too much alcohol is a bad thing”. Moderation, even in pronunciation, is the key.
Of course, Das Boot simply means “the boat”. In this case it’s short for Unterseeboot (literally “underseaboat”, shortened historically to U-Boot or U-Boat), meaning submarine.
Here's how it's properly said:
I don't think this is too difficult. We’re not even messing with genders – nouns in German can also be male (which would make it Der Boot) or female (Die Boot). Das Boot is considered neuter. Ships in English may have an “all who sail in her” femininity, but apparently to the Germans they’re just functional, genderless machines.
Perhaps that’s what makes a German WWII drama so compelling: less focus on “she’s sinking, Captain!” and more on the real human stories of people caught up in history’s worst conflict. On the German side, even.
Still, everywhere I go at the moment, fellow Australian viewers are confusing Das Boot with footwear. I mean, if you can pronounce “schadenfreude” correctly in an Australian accent (and I know you can), you should at least give this four-letter word a red-hot go.
Speaking of which, treat yourself to at least the opening scene of this great new SBS drama. You won’t forget it, and it lives up to its movie namesake in every way.
Das Boot sails Wednesday nights on SBS at 9:35pm. You can stream the entire series now at SBS On Demand: