I was out and about in Mönchengladbach yesterday when I saw a sight which filled me with that kind of joy which only a Brit in Germany can experience. That same jovial smile crossed my features as happens whenever a Teuton wishes me a Gute Fahrt, or when I pass the Autobahn exit to this place.
The reason for my delight was a bus emerging from a side-street to my right. Not just any old bus.
I have to admit that the sight of this splendidly labelled vehicle caused me a brief moment of dilemma. You see I was driving through Mönchengladbach on my way somewhere… at that very moment, Helga the satnav was commanding me in her brusque tones to drive straight on. I had a purpose.
But those who know me well will realise that this brief flash of doubt was quickly over. To Helga’s immense dismay (and trust me, no real person can spit out the word “Recalculating” as fiercely as she does), I did the only thing possible under the circumstances.
I followed the bus.
Within a few miles I found myself in downtown Pongs. I quickly made sure my car windows were completely rolled up and the air vents closed… after all, surely a place doesn’t get a name like that for no reason.
Downtown Pongs… move along, nothing to smell here…
Luckily the refuse collecters were out in Pongs at the time… presumably Pongs pongs less today.
The 024 to Pongs is now my second favourite German bus. My favourite still has to be the vehicle run by this company…
Another example of an amusingly named German bus
I was in the German town of Brüggen this morning when I spotted a couple of hair and beauty salons.
Their names definitely did not tempt me to go in….
Hairstyling for the brave… or the bald?
Beauty free …. hang on, that means ugly, right?
Everywhere you go in Germany, there seem to be reminders of former markets. Not that Germany doesn’t have markets nowadays too, of course. But in past times, they seemed to have one market per type of produce, at least judging by the old street names. I was in Kempen this week which has a marketplace which claims to sell only butter (there was a market on at the time, though it seemed to be all fruit and veg).
A whole market just selling butter?
There was a bit of confusion about the Viehmarkt (cattle market) – which apparently used to be a horse market. These days it’s a car park. How appropriate!
A cattle market… formally a horse market…
I also visited Rheinberg which arranges its markets very neatly, next to each other. So you can pick up your fish and also the wood to cook it on. How marvellously well organised!
Wood sellers to the left, fishmongers to the right….
Whatever market is on, it’s so much more fun than buying produce in a supermarket.
German market scene in Kempen with street sculpture…
When I was in Wuppertal this week, I noticed that the Germans are economizing on street signs. Looks like it’s going to turn out to be a false economy…
Stick-on peel-off street signs in Wuppertal
Either that, or they’re planning to change the names of the streets on a regular basis….
One of the things which all British expats in Germany have yearned for over the years has been flavoured crisps. (For Americans reading this, crisps are what you call chips. Confusingly what we call chips is what you call French fries… but I digress….)
Crisps are a sort of soul food for the Brits. We take them on picnics, we order them in the pub with our beer, we nibble on them in front of the TV and hand them out to our children to keep them going until lunchtime. And British crisps come in all kinds of fabulous flavours. Salt and vinegar, cheese and onion, Worcestershire sauce (Americans – that’s pronounced Wuster), prawn cocktail, smokey bacon….
When I first arrived in Germany the crisp scene was dismal. There were two sorts of crisps. Plain or paprika. For about the first fifteen years of living here, nothing much changed. Oh, there were launches of other snack types… Pringles and Nachos and things… but real crisps with added flavours still remained a rarity – and any attempt at copying a gutsy taste like salt and vinegar had to be watered down for the German palate (balsemic vinegar and sea salt… it just doesn’t come close!).
So imagine my surprised and delight when I discovered the Germans starting to experiment with creating their VERY OWN crisp culture. A big round of applause ladies and gentlemen, for the first all-German flavoured crisp!
Currywurst crisps! Soul food for Germans?
Now that we are into the Summer the street entertainers are out in force. Of course there are plenty of international musicians … I’ve seen Romany groups from Eastern Europe, pan pipe bands from the Andes and even a man wearing a kilt and playing the bagpipes. But what does a typical German street entertainer look like?
If you ask me, the typical German busker is the Organ Grinder. There is one in every shopping centre at this time of the year. The instrument is often cobbled together from various components… and the traditional monkey has usually been replaced by a Steiff stuffed toy.
A German organ grinder….
This one has a nod to modernity with a Sesame Street puppet tacked onto the front… roll up ladies and gents… bring out your loose change….
Of course one of the most disconcerting things about living abroad is getting used to the toilet culture. Imagine my confusion today, while visiting a client’s offices which had both a male and female sign on the lavatory door, when I went in and found this scene.
His and hers?
Should I sit one the girls’ throne in the expectation that one of my male colleagues would join me, to use the urinal? Should I use my briefcase as a barricade against the door to repel invaders? What is the etiquette if someone of either sex comes in? Does one strike up conversation? What is the best subject? Should I stick to the weather or move to the more topical ground of digestive health?
The dividing screen provides the absolute minimum level of privacy… but allows for the possibility of eye contact. But what if the man using the urinal is exceptionally tall?
Germans – I need your help here. What is the correct local etiquette in a mixed facility?