When I started writing Stealing the Future I didn’t waste much time thinking about spelling and transliteration. Of course, I had some decisions to make quite early on: I decided to leave the umlauts as they were and not make ä into ae, ö into oe and ü into ue – that just looks ugly, and most English language readers, I imagined, would be quite happy to ignore the strange dots over some of the vowels.
But the ß quickly got replaced by a double-s – in my head I could see a reader confused by archaic symbol (it died out in English at some point in the late middle ages). What where they to think of my publisher’s proofreading abilities? A capital B (or worse, a Greek β) randomly appearing in the middle of words? Change it to ss, and all will be well (although some German readers have already complained about the missing ß, but, well, bad luck).
Those were the easy decisions – I also had to work out what to do with street names (that’s a post for people interested in orthography) and, more interestingly, whether to call West Berlin, well, Westberlin, Berlin (West), B(W), West-Berlin, or the independent political entity of Westberlin. It turns out that what to call what we English speakers naively and simply call West Berlin is a deeply political and historical question.
Find out more about these thorny issues in the following posts: