I'm reading Brigitte Reimann's "Die Geschwister" (a story about two siblings living in the DDR, one of them planning to flee to BRD) and the author constantly uses two abbreviations "R." and "D.", for example:

Sie lachten: Zeig uns mal dein Wunder von einem Bruder. Uli studierte aber zu der Zeit in R., an der Ostseeküste, und ich besuchte die Kunsthochschule in D., und dazwischen lagen fünfhunder Kilometer Eisenbahnstrecke. [2007 edition, page 7]

There are many other mentions to both throughout the book.

Unless missed some earlier reference for what R. and D. refer to, those are used as some sort of universal abbreviations.

Being one-letters "words", these are difficult to find on dictionaries.

Given the thema and context, I'm inferring they refer to DDR and BRD.

What do they mean? What actual words to they stand for?

  • 8
    Rather names of towns. Consider Rostock and Dresden. Geography would match. - Perhaps related: there was a habit in 19th cent. literature to not name places fully but only by first letter, e.g. ... then the countess went to the town of M. and visited her confidante bla-bla-bla. Jan 26, 2018 at 18:06
  • 1
    So these may not be universal (german/germanic universe, of course) abbreviations? The average german would understand it as "unnamed cities"? (the point being: they are distant; it doesn't matter which cities they are)
    – rslemos
    Jan 26, 2018 at 18:50
  • 1
    Yep. Two cities that have the given initials, but aren’t disclosed (unless somewhere else in the text).
    – Stephie
    Jan 26, 2018 at 18:51
  • 3
    That has not only been a German habit. H.P. Lovecraft and Edgar Allan Poe used abbreviations like that a lot in their stories.
    – tofro
    Jan 26, 2018 at 21:10
  • 1
    Once upon a time it was quite common: I've seen it a few times (but usually rendered [Initial]— with a long dash) and always in places where the context suggested it was a mild form of [possibly self-] censorship to avoid offending a person or residents of a town whose name was chosen by the author. Jan 27, 2018 at 2:16

1 Answer 1


There is really not that much to guess into this quasi conspiratorial phrasing: Rostock is a place to study and Dresden has an art school:

Sie lachten: Zeig uns mal dein Wunder von einem Bruder. Uli studierte aber zu der Zeit in R. at [Universität Rostock], an der Ostseeküste, und ich besuchte die Kunsthochschule in D. [ at Hochschule für bildende Künste, Dresden], und dazwischen lagen fünfhundert Kilometer Eisenbahnstrecke. [2007 edition, page 7]

And regarding distance, train tracks might be or might have been longer in the GDR, or the author rounds up quit generously: enter image description here

But the distance given really doesn't leave much choice in possibilities. The GDR was a small enough country that 500km mark geographically polar opposites of location. You almost could not be any further apart than that: enter image description here

So these are rather not universal abbreviations. They are used here more like an easy to decipher code, maybe as a technique to convey some of the clandestine atmosphere and precautions needed by anyone planning a Republikflucht or Ausreise.

  • 2
    "The GDR was a very small country": Area: 108.179 km² which is quite the same size as Guatemala (108.889 km²). This is an absolutely average size for a country. Guatemala is the 107-largest country out of 252 countries (source) There are even more smaller that bigger countries. Jan 26, 2018 at 21:26
  • 1
    Yeah, fair enough. Always looking to China, US & Russia (and ignoring Canada…). Do you think the "very" is so imprecise in terms of these statistics as to detract from the relation of 500km as being on opposite ends of the whole country in its longest/widest extent? Jan 26, 2018 at 21:32
  • There are 47 countries which are completely or partial in Europe (partial: Russia, Turkey, Kasachstan, Denmark). Only 15 of then are bigger than GDR was, 32 are smaller. I, for example live in one of them (in Austria). Austria has 8 neighboring countries, only 2 of them (Germany and Italy) are bigger than GDR. The 6 other countries are smaller (Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Slovenia, Switzerland, Liechtenstein). Its really hard to find a country in Europe that contains two cities with a population of at least 100.000 people that are at least 500 km apart from each other. Jan 27, 2018 at 6:55
  • 1
    @HubertSchölnast To be fair, when the GDR stopped existing, two more of Austria’s then seven neighbors were larger than East Germany: Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia.
    – Crissov
    Jan 30, 2018 at 1:15

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.