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German Phonetic Spelling Code

From Hyde Flippo,
Your Guide to German Language.

Deutsches Funkalphabet - deutsche Buchstabiertafel

Spelling Your Name on the Phone - in German
English-speaking expats or business people in German-speaking countries often run into the problem of spelling their non-German name or other words on the phone. Using the English/international phonetic code, the familiar "Alpha, Bravo, Charlie..." used by the military and airline pilots isn't any help. (But that's how Berlin's famous "Checkpoint Charlie" got its name; it was one of three U.S. checkpoints: A, B, C.) German-speakers are used to their own Funkalphabet or Buchstabiertafel for spelling on the phone or in radio communications. Germans use their own spelling code for foreign words, names, or other unusual spelling needs.

The first "official" German spelling code was introduced in Prussia in 1890 - for the newly invented telephone and the Berlin telephone book.

That first code used numbers (A=1, B=2, C=3, etc.). Words were introduced in 1903 ("A wie Anton" = "A as in Anton"). Over the years some of the words used for the German phonetic spelling code have changed. Even today the words used can vary from country to country in the German-speaking region.

K wie...

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Here are the German 'K' words used in...

Austria: K wie Konrad
Germany: K wie Kaufmann
Switzerland K wie Kaiser

But most of the time the words used for spelling German are the same. Here's a small sample:

A wie Anton (Alpha)
B wie Bertha (Bravo)
C wie Cäsar (Charlie)
H wie Heinrich (Hotel)
Z wie Zeppelin (Zulu)
(You can see the full chart on the next page.)

If you also need help in learning how to pronounce the German letters of the alphabet (A, B, C...), see the German Alphabet Lesson of German for Beginners.

Before we move on to the full German chart, a few words about the history of phonetic alphabets.

As mentioned before, the Germans were among the first (in 1890) to develop a spelling aid. In the U.S. the Western Union telegraph company developed its own code (Adams, Boston, Chicago...). Similar codes were developed by American police departments, most of them similar to Western Union (some still in use today). With the advent of aviation, pilots and air controllers needed to a code for clarity in communication. The 1932 version (Amsterdam, Baltimore, Casablanca...) was used until World War II. The armed forces and international civil aviation used Able, Baker, Charlie, Dog... until 1951, when a new IATA code was introduced: Alfa, Bravo, Coca, Delta, Echo, etc. But some of those letter codes presented problems for non-English speakers. The amendments resulted in the NATO/ICAO international code in use today. That code is also in the German chart on the next page.

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