Monthly Archives: April 2008

Hug a neo-nazi today

They get a bad press in Germany… but now this clip can exclusively reveal the difficulties neo-nazis experience on a daily basis. Is it time to hug a neo-nazi after all?

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Filed under comedy, German video, Life in Germany, World War 2

“Planet Germany” is reviewed in the Telegraph

This is an exciting moment for me.  My book, Planet Germany, has been reviewed in the Telegraph. (You have to scroll down a bit to find the right bit).

I think I might raise a glass of something bubbly tonight.

Thank you everyone!

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Filed under books

Those were the days…

Remember how the Germans used to be portrayed when we were younger? Growing up in the sixties and seventies our perceptions of Germans were entirely oriented around imagery from the second world war – whether it was films like the Dambusters, or series like Colditz and Secret Army, or comedies like ‘Allo ‘Allo or humourous sketches like this classic from Dave Allen.

What a let down it is to find out that Germans are actually quite normal people.

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Filed under Life in Germany, World War 2

German cuisine as you’ve never seen it before…

Nobody works harder than ex-pats to keep their national traditions alive. At least, that’s what I always thought, based on observed ex-pat rituals. So it was no surprise to find out that second and third generation German-emigrees are sometimes more German than the Germans… and cherish customers, rituals and recipes which no German would actually recognise.

I discovered this touching clip on Youtube – note the very German hat (you know how Germans make their children wear hats with odd tassles and pom-poms).

For anyone who was confused by that clip – a quick reminder of what real German cuisine is all about.

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Filed under comedy, food, German video, Life in Germany

Strange souvenirs and spiders

Does anyone else accumulate odd artefacts which gather dust and cobwebs on your walls?

I’m a flea market addict. I love browsing junk shops and bric-a-brac stalls and picking up old objects which my family of Philistines say just clutter up our home. To add to the dispute, I’m totally and completely useless at housework… and our house is the premier breeding ground for spiders in all Germany. So my flea market treasures normally have a delightful frosting of dust and some cheery swags of cobwebs festooned across them for good measure.

Here’s a picture of one part of my living room wall.

The clock came from a flea market just up the road. It still goes…as long as you remember to wind it up every day. And it has a lovely chime with deep bongs every half an hour.

The picture on the left is an icon of the Last Supper I picked up in Greece. And on the right is a French painting of some chickens which my father gave me once… I really love that one.

Under it are two moulds – also from a flea market. I’m not entirely sure what they were used for. They’re made of wax, they’re finely carved with figures in crinolines… and they man I bought them from said he got them from an old “Konditorei” (pastry shop) – though he wasn’t sure what they were used for either.

If anyone else fancies showing what they have on their wall, please do have a go! Leave a link here, and we’ll all come and have a look.

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Learn to speak German in less than a minute

We’re all told that German is a difficult language to learn. Its grammar is grisly, its pronunciation prickly and its cases catastrophic.

Well now I can reveal…exclusively to readers of this blog… that there is an easier way to learn German. It’s effective and quick. Throw away those grammar books and try this method….

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Filed under comedy, German language, German video

Do you speak English?

I think this video could be a metaphor for a phone conversation I had yesterday. It was one of those situations where I understood every single word… but nothing in the sentences made any sense.

Anyone else ever have those days?

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Filed under comedy, German language, Life in Germany

A very special circus…

Last week was Project Week at my daughter’s school. The whole school set itself the project of putting on a circus.

Working together with a small circus company the children had a week of learning to be clowns, acrobats, tightrope walkers, fire-breathers, fakirs, dancers, magicians, jugglers, uni-cyclists and trapeze artists.

Together with lots of parent volunteers, they erected a big top on the school playground.

They practised all week… and on Friday and Saturday they put on an amazing performance for all the parents (and grandparents and brothers and sisters…).

Not only was it really professionally done – but it was wonderful to see how ever the most shy children really shone in their roles. All of them learned to do something really amazing – something that made their parents’ jaws drop – something they’d never have believed themselves capable of. Whether it was breathing fire, or lying on a bed of nails, or walking on a tightrope.

The sense of personal achievement and pride which came across from each child was wonderful to see… and their faces were shining with excitement.

The whole week was videoed as a documentary, as well as the performances. I can’t wait to get my copy of the DVD.

Oh… and here is my Circus-performer, fresh from the show. She’d just been dancing in the dark with long streamers under fluorescent light… an amazing effect. Oh… and holding the hoops for the circus ponies to jump through (well, children dressed as ponies).

Oh… and I suspect this may be a model of me at the school gate….at least, she seems to be drinking my beer….

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Filed under Life in Germany

Beware the flying goose…

One of the things that’s difficult for me about living in Germany is the total absence of spicy food. German cuisine is bland. The best they can think of to spice it up seems to be mustard or possibly a dab of horseradish. As someone who likes curries and chilli dishes this just doesn’t challenge the taste-buds enough.

So over Easter I was excited to find this range of sauces being used in a restaurant we visited. It’s called Flying Goose Brand. The owner kindly told us where she’d bought it… and we duly toddled along and acquired a couple of bottles. The extra-garlic and the super hot chilli variety.

I have one thing to say about this sauce. It must never ever fall into the hands of our enemies.

I’d made a rice and stir-fry lunch and we thought we’d try the new sauces with it. All of us are used to spicy additives in our family. I regularly add chillies to our food. I chuck tabasco into most things. I have a large size jar of sambal there on the shelf… and a tube of harissa lurking in the fridge…

But the Flying Goose is something else again. It has truly caustic properties. It is so hot it feels like the skin is peeling from your mouth. Your tongue becomes paralysed… your throat is on fire and as the food slowly sears its way to your stomach you know you just made the biggest mistake in your life.

That was the extra-hot one. The extra garlic variety has the advantage that it is every so slightly less spicy… but it also has the disadvantage that nobody will ever sit in the same room as you again. The garlic content is overwhelming. You breathe garlic, you sweat garlic … the neighbours three streets away are wondering where that garlic smell is coming from. It seeps into the carpets and curtains. The walls absorb the smell of garlic. You are forced to demolish your home.

The effect lasts for days. It takes twenty four hours for the burning taste to subside… but by then the food is working its way relentlessly through your system and suddenly you understand why it is called Flying Goose Brand.  Whatever you ate goes through you, just like shit through a goose.

Actually, it reminded me less of a flying goose and more of the space shuttle on take off. Because the fire has not abated during its long journey through your intestines… if anything the after-burn is even worse than the initial flame.

Of course, at this point you realise you’ve left it too late to flee the country. Because Germany, with its inspection-shelf model toilets is not the place you want to be when Flying Goose diarrhoea strikes…

After about half a day you stop functioning like a human flame-thrower and over the course of the next week your system slowly begins to recover. Your appetite returns and the thing you crave most in the world is a spicy kebab….

Slowly, reluctantly, you reach for the Flying Goose bottle again….

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Filed under Life in Germany

An excruciatingly German form of advertising

The German postman brought me an invitation to attend the DRUPA today.

For those who don’t have much to do with the media business, the DRUPA is the printing and paper industry’s biggest trade fair. It’s held in Düsseldorf every four years.

For the rest of the population, the DRUPA is the creator and perpetrator of corporate anthems so hideous that even short exposure to them will result in insanity and inevitable death.

The instant I opened the envelope and found my invitation to DRUPA…. this song (and I apologise on my knees for making you click on that link) shot through my brain like lightening.

I first heard that song back in 1986. And it’s been running round in my head almost continuously ever since. The Germans call it an Ohrwurm. I call it a sadistic form of musical torture. I’ll be sitting somewhere, on a bus or in a business meeting… and all of a sudden the 1986 DRUPA song will pop into my head and I’ll find myself humming along to it. People near me feign a sudden interest in reading their bus ticket or last month’s sales figures… usually the seat next to me is empty. Nobody wants to sit next to the person who hums the DRUPA song under her breath.

There was a brief time when I didn’t have that DRUPA song on my brain. It was in 2000. That was when I had THIS on my brain instead. The millenium DRUPA anthem has the advantage of lyrics which seem to have been written by an infinite number of monkeys which makes them harder to remember than the previous version. So within six months I’d forgotton that one… my brain reverted to permanently humming the 1986 one – a sort of musical version of tinnitus.

Four years later, however, in 2004 THIS happened… the ABBA-revival version of the DRUPA anthem… complete with backing singers warbling “Super Druper” and some of the least probable lyrics of all time. Even the infinite number of monkeys couldn’t have achieved that!

So now we come to the present day. The invitation is sitting staring at me on the desk… and I know what will happen when I go. This year’s anthem is already written and it will be performed at top volume at the fair itself. If I sacrifice all for my career and attend the fair… I will condemn myself to four years of yet another DRUPA anthem on the brain….

I may have to go outside and shoot myself.

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Filed under Life in Germany