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I saw an ad recently, posted by the Berlin transportation service (Berliner Verkehrsbetriebe), captioned, "was alles geht, wenn man vorher nicht fragt."

What is the force of "alles" here? Is it simply "what all happens when..." or "all that happens when..."? "was" here is not short for "etwas," is it? I would have understood more clearly had the sentence read, "was geht, wenn..."

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  • Doesn't affect the question heavily, but "a Berlin transportation service" is somewhat an understatement for the single, state-owned operator of all underground railways, trams, ferries and public buses in Berlin. Jul 2 at 18:03
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"Alles" in this case alludes to "a large number of things" or something like "all of that".

Was alles geht, wenn man vorher nicht fragt.

could be translated as

What all is possible, if you don't ask beforehand.

The idea is that if you just get to work and don't worry beforehand about why it might not work that much, a whole lot of things suddenly become possible.

The sentence is an exclamation, like "What a big dog!".

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  • I think there's still some cultural or linguistic factor missing here; what would we be asking about if not for the BVG? Is the slogan being intentionally vague? I suppose one can't expect ads to be taken literally, but I feel people would be confused if the New York City Transit Authority came out with "What all is possible, if you don't ask beforehand."
    – RDBury
    Jul 2 at 15:55
  • @RDBury Since about 2017, the BVG has gotten some renown for their cheeky and often self-deprecating PR campains, especially on social media. For example, see here or here. This slogan probably is in this vein. Jul 2 at 17:54
  • @RDBury Additionally, public transport in German is currently experimenting with a lot of new things. For example, around where I live, they are testing self-driving small busses. A version of the slogan fitting for New York might be something like "Who knew what's all possible if we just don't declare it impossible from the start". Jul 2 at 17:59
  • @RDBury Or it might be even simpler: As you maybe remember, for the recent soccer game between Germany and Hungary, it was planned to light the arena up in rainbow colors. But they would have needed the UEFA's permission, and the UEFA said no. In response, several other soccer arenas and other places light up their places in rainbow colors. Among those was a BVG station. So the slogan would mean something like "Look what's all possible if you don't need to ask for permission". Jul 2 at 19:53
  • Thanks, that was the context I was missing. I had noticed that BVG was using self-deprecating humor in their website, but I didn't realize that Was alles geht ... might be part of it. Apparently the phrase Berliner Schnauze is related(?); this is the first time I've heard of it. I realize that an advertising slogan may be difficult to explain; I certainly wouldn't want to try to explain "Coke is it".
    – RDBury
    Jul 3 at 14:55
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It means something like "Look at those (manifold) things, that are possible, if one doesn't ask". So the alle tries to show all the possibilities that are possible and emphasizes that there are very many of them.

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