How British culture is being promoted on Berlin's gigantic buses

In this blogposting…
* Robinson’s German Journey:  Day Five
Jetzt setzen Sir fort….

You should know by now where and when our next AGM is - but, just in case you don’t…

It’s at the usual time of 1100 on Thursday 17 May at the Newcastle Art Centre on Westgate Road, which is near Central Station and more or less opposite the Assembly Rooms.  It’s a very genteel venue but we’ll soon put a stop to that, one way or another.

See you next Thursday.  Or else.



Picture it.

It was late on Sunday night - after midnight.  It was still quite warm, though, and I was sitting at a street-table outside Eckstein, a street-corner café popular with locals.  Several people had recommended it to me because it’s food is good and cheap, even by Berlin’s inexpensive standards.

I’d eaten my pork chops with spicy mashed potato (topped with broccoli and cheese - mmmmmmm) and I was drinking my second glass of beer - all the while trying to communicate with the waiter in really atrocious German.

I was actually quite shocked at how bad my German was, considering I studied it to A-level standard at school and then for a year at university.  In the intervening 45 years, though, it had evaporated more completely than I would have thought possible.  To be unable to say ‘how unspeakably sensational the civil engineering exhibition ought to be‘ is understandable.  To stumble over ‘how much for a beer and a sausage‘ is quite another.  It was fortunate that the waiter took pity on me and didn’t bring me a baked apple in fish sauce or a firkin of schlitz, which is probably what I had ordered.

The waiter (Stefan) brought me a copy of Die Zeit, the upmarket daily newspaper, and challenged me to translate a news item on the front page while he upturned the chairs on the tables.

I sipped my beer and read the item closely.  It was perfectly clear to me what it was about, and I told him so.  A pregnant young woman, who had been fishing from a bicycle, was injured by a passing rabbit and had been taken - by a rat-catcher, for some reason - to the local hospital.  Here, after a lethal dose of morphine, she recovered completely and is now threatening to sue the airports authority for the loss of her shoes.

It all made perfect sense.

I heard a barely-stifled groan of pain coming from a table behind me, as if someone was having a tooth extracted.  I turned to see a rather  - er…. flamboyant - older gentleman burying his face in his hands with obvious despair.  His shoulders were heaving with either laughter or uncontrollable weeping.

In near perfect English, he asked me to pass the paper to him and I did.  He then proffered an alternative translation of the news item which did, indeed, feature a young woman on a bicycle, a hospital and some morphine.  So I was nearly right.

This was Herr Doktor Pfeier (which rhymes with higher).  And he cut quite a dash.

His shirt was of the deepest, plushest crimson and his tie, slightly awry, was bright, daffodil yellow.  This unhappy combination was offset by his incredibly ill-fitting jeans, which looked, under the street-lights, to be a strange, purple colour - like a bruised aubergine.  He was wearing a thick, tweed hacking jacket which did not, alas, hide quite enough of his shirt and the whole, indifferent outfit was topped off by a fedora that had a feather in it.

He looked lovely.

I was put about when he told me that he hadn’t heard German so badly mangled for years.  Emboldened by a soupçon of Dutch courage, I suggested that a language as perversely awkward as his had no right at all to be so assertively cheeky.  After all, I was doing my best….

But I had chosen entirely the wrong person to discuss matters of language and words with.  Herr Doktor Pfeier revealed that he had been - ‘in my flourishing years‘ - a professor of linguistics and that, if I was prepared to share a bottle of Moselwein with him, he would be happy to pit my language against his ‘until the unseasonal sun rises into the heavens once more’.  My reluctance to agree to his challenge was pure pretence, especially as Moselwein was involved. 

For my opening gambit, I suggested that we speak English as if it was German.

To get the measure of this, you have to understand the most troublesome and irritating aspects of German.  Firstly, all Nouns start with a capital Letter.

Secondly, it is necessary all Verbs except one to the end of the Sentence to shove.

And thirdly, German is very good indeed at huge, long, composite Words building up.

To demonstrate how mind-mangling these oddities can become…. a sentence like ‘I told the underground train driver that he should not have stopped there‘ becomes ‘I told the Undergroundtraindriver that he there stopped not have should’.

The ensuing conversation between us in German/English was finally overtaken by the Moselwein and soon it was Doktor Pfeier’s turn to have a go at my language.

His armoury of criticisms was impressive.  He had a dig at English spelling - wound/sound, break/beak, shoe/woe, cough/through/rough/thorough/bough.  He quoted language ‘hiccups‘ that had never occurred to me, like the precise meaning of the word ‘quite’.  (I'd never noticed that it means different things in ‘quite right‘ and ‘quite nice’.)

But by the time we were arguing the toss about English’s lack of a negative interrogative, everything we were saying was bathed in wine-induced guffaws.

With great reluctance - and considerable physical difficulty - I scrambled to my feet, hugged him Goodnight, downed the dregs from my glass and staggered back to my hotel.


When I called into Eckstein the following afternoon, I discovered that I’d left without paying my bill.  Doktor Pfeier had paid it for me - and had left a considerable tip, as well.


Post comments on this blog or email me:  truckshunters@googlemail.com

1 comment:

Sid said...

That explains why a young lad from the back streets of Byker had so much trouble trying to do his German homework.