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Feb 8, 2010

Old gold from the GDR

Throughout the early and mid-80s I spent a lot of time on the "wrong" side of the Berlin Wall, where despite the best efforts of certain elements to complicate my life, more often than not I met the "right" kind of people. Today I live in the former East Germany, in a small town near Berlin, where I am in most respects happier than in any other place I have lived before. One of the things which I always found notable in the GDR was its standards of education; my friends and family in the "old" federal states may cling to their prejudices, but I note that many "impossible" things from the east such as 12 years to complete pre-university education are now the cornerstones for reform. And the west has a looooooong way to go to catch up on child care!
My first trips to East Berlin were to buy books, usually technical dictionaries for German, English and Russian. As a poor student living off a small allowance I found that ten marks for a high quality Russian/English dictionary at Das Internationale Buch was a lot friendlier than 120 DM for the same book in Saarbrücken. The old days of the screwy command economy had plenty of low points surely, but the quality of literature and technical references was not among them. I'm much in awe of the reference works for forestry, agriculture, hunting, dog training, etc. translated from Czech and Slovak by my neighbor Oskar Kasperl, and the many ancient multilingual glossaries I've collected, which were produced in the 1970's and 1980's, will keep their honored places on my reference shelf. They are not perfect, and often they are outdated, but they cover subject areas which are often very difficult to find terminology resources for. From the publisher VEB Verlag Technik Berlin, some of the resources I am fortunate to have include

  • Technik-Wörterbuch Hydraulik/Pneumatik (hydraulics/pneumatics) in English, German, French, Russian, Spanish, Czech, Polish and Hungarian
  • Technik-Wörterbuch Spektroskopie/Spektralanalyse (spectroscopy / spectral analysis) in English, German, French, Russian, Spanish, Czech, Polish and Hungarian
  • Technik-Wörterbuch Technische Akustik (technical acoustics) in English, German, French, Russian, Spanish, Czech, Polish and Hungarian
  • Technik-Wörterbuch Vakuumphysik/Vakuumtechnology (vacuum physics and technology) in English, German, French and Russian
& alia

Most of these were collected from eBay.de for just a few euros or acquired inexpensively from used bookstores and street vendors. As older translators and engineers retire or pass on, the contents of their libraries become available, and it is worth panning these streams for gold nuggets like those I've found.

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