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Having a Bâle in Basel? Know your exonyms!

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Welcome to Thessaloniki / Selânik / Solun. Photo: Gichristof
Welcome to Thessaloniki / Selânik / Solun. Photo: Gichristof

There comes the moment on the train journey from Paris to Cologne when Aix-la-Chapelle morphs into Aachen, just as when one makes the journey in the reverse direction Lüttich suddenly becomes Liège.

Many European cities have multiple identities and it’s always good to know in advance the various possible renderings of your destination station (and also major interchanges along the route).

An issue for air travelers too

This is not an issue peculiar to rail travel. Air travelers will come across such language issues too. The German city of München is called Monaco di Baviera in Italian, so all those passengers on Monaco-bound flights taking off from Italy are in for beer and sausages rather than Riviera chic.

Have a Bâle in Basel. Photo: Vitalyzator

At Turkish airports, you may run across flights departing for Selânik, a large Greek city that speakers of many Slavic languages call Solun. Yet most of us who frequent EuroCheapo probably know the place as Thessaloniki.

Connections

We helped a Brazilian friend fix up a journey through France, advising him to take the train to Mulhouse, from where, we advised, he would find plentiful onward connections to Basel.

“Great instructions,” he wrote back. “But I had a slight problem in Mulhouse. I watched two trains depart for Bâle before I realized that Basel and Bâle are the same place.”

Think local: booking systems

Some online booking systems require that you use unfamiliar renderings of place names (even, in eastern Europe, sometimes needing input in the Cyrillic alphabet).

And the same applies to booking machines on station platforms. For example, there is a super-cheap one-way train fare of €10 from Berlin to the Polish city of Szczecin. But to secure that cheap fare at the platform machines at railway stations in and around Berlin, you must enter the German rendering of your destination city, so “Stettin” rather than “Szczecin.”

What a world! The train that starts off bound for Genf arrives eventually in Genève, the bus to Cardigan ends up in Aberteifi and the city on the Danube that old English guidebooks allude to as Ratisbon is known to locals as Regensburg.

Test your knowledge

So, over to you, EuroCheapos. Here are ten place-names that relate to five cities across Europe. Can you pair the place names?

The first five names give the common local rendering of the city name (called an “endonym”). The second list gives the foreign language renderings of those same five names (what linguists call “exonyms”) — but in a jumbled order.

The endonyms:

Bratislava
Lille
Oxford
Wien
Wroclaw

The exonyms:

Bécs
Breslau
Pozsony
Rhydychen
Rijsel

Submit your answers in our comments section!

About the author

hiddeneurope

About the authors: Nicky and Susanne manage a Berlin-based editorial bureau that supplies text and images to media across Europe. Together they edit hidden europe magazine.

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