I've put in a picture of a house in Berlin because that's the house I've chosen for the birthplace of the heroine of the novel I'm working on at present. It's in Inselstrasse, for anyone who knows Berlin, near one of the arms of the river Spree and just a bridge-crossing away from the Fischerinsel, the island where all the museums are.
But I'm not posting about Berlin geography, but about language, or rather, about what it's like to write about Germany in English when you are yourself bilingual. It's complicated enough when you can hear your characters talking German and then have to render it into English, making the best fist you can of 'equivalating' - yes, I know that's not an English word - the English to the German, when there are some things that are best said in German, and some things best said in English, the same being true for French, and of course for many other languages that I'm not fluent in. And what do I do about Berlin dialect, the way Berliners have of turning all their 'g's into 'y's, hard into soft, like Uri Geller getting his fingers on a spoon? It's impossible to put this into English. It gets lost. Too bad. Some things one can just render into English, very satisfactorily - 'meine Olle' for example, translates perfectly as 'my old lady' - when one's getting vulgar, 'Arsch' is so easy to translate I'm not going to bother here, but Germans do tend to get scatological quite easily. That is, not nice ladies like my mother - and that's another problem, 'Gnaedige Frau' (irritating lack of umlaut-facility in this software, never mind) which literally means 'gracious lady,' but in my childhood it was still used quite frequently. 'Madam' is the best I can do, but it fails to give the flavour of the German.
I suppose what I'm saying is that there's no such thing as a true translation, only a finding of equivalents, and it seems odd that I, who've always hated translating, am finding myself effectively doing it. And in the novel I'm working on right now I've given myself an even tougher problem, in that my main female character is a returned emigree, therefore bilingual like me in English and German, but the boy, who also has a point of view, is entirely German, therefore thinks in German. In the past I've translated German names into English 'Alexander Square' for 'Alexanderplatz', but this won't work when I'm inhabiting the head of someone who thinks in English but thinks of the place-names in German - but in the boy's head, they probably should be in English, because this is English masquerading as German.
I'll work it out in the end, but I'd be fascinated to talk to or hear from other bilingual writers who write about their two cultures, and hear how they manage it. The thing is, though I get frustrated not being able to use German, I couldn't write entirely in German. My German is very good, but English is my main language.
All the same, hearing the cadences and rhythms of the other language in my head does change the way I write in ways that I'd have to spend hours analysing to define, yet I know it is so.