I spend 6 days with Mrs M last week; well not with her exactly, but being in Germany amounts to much the same thing, the degree of social conformity you're faced with. The sight of grown men (and women) standing at a road crossing waiting for the red pedestrian light to turn green, even though there's not a vehicle in sight on a straight road, is chilling. They stand there, of course, not just to obey the rules, but because they are concerned to be seen to obey the rules. Then, of course, there's the fear of being shouted at, or worse being given on-the-spot fines for social deviance by the conformity wardens that roam the streets to keep order amongst pedestrians, dogs, children, cars, and litter. All this is said to be good citizenship, but that seems unlikely to someone who lives in England. No wonder Mrs M is called Mutti; what will they do without her, you wonder.
Cynics say that the reason the pedestrian lights take so long to change is because they are in tune with Mrs M's her style of politics,i.e., endlessly deliberating before reaching a solution to which she claims there is no alternative. We stood waiting with the Germans, of course. Partly this was in solidarity (a favourite theme here), but also it was in fear of being dragged in chains to Berlin to Mrs M's Social Conformity Star Chamber. As we waited, we were exposed to the countries high NOx levels from all the passing diesel BMWs, Mercs, Audis and VWs. If we'd not known what a problem German cities have with air pollution before we went, we would now.
We ate some expensive but rather good asparagus – the white sort. The Germans are crazy over this vegetable and the shops cash in. We went to a farm shop where we had the choice of Class I, Class II, Class II and unclassified asparagus all picked from the fields. All very formal; I was surprised there was no asparagus with a PhD. Not a patch on Evesham grass, of course.
There are regional (länder) elections coming up and the streets are full of posters with the smiling (sort of) faces of the would be elected. There are also posters with simplistic slogans such as: "More police; less criminality". My favourite was: "More teachers; better education". Actually, it was "better Bildung", but "education" will have to do as an approximation. It's the sort of crude equation that the NUT could have come up with in the UK, but in Germany, it was the Conservatives (Mrs M's happy CDU family) that were saying this. It can be a very odd place.
We went to the Netherlands to meet old friends – by efficient trains (which contrary to urban myth, do run late quite often; ours began late, but Mrs M sorted it out in time to make our connection). She was a busy woman that morning as the two policemen on the train had to call her to check the paperwork of three young (but non-German) lads on the train. They were turfed off (politely but firmly) before they got to the Dutch border as they didn't have the necessary permissions to leave the country. There are limits to free movement, it seems.
The Dutch hotel we had lunch in had AD Mirrors in the toilets. Have you seen these? You stand there in all innocence combing your hair or adjusting your make-up (I do neither of these, of course) and suddenly, up pops an advert from within the mirror because a movement sensor has detected you. If you shift position, to avoid the image, it pops up again in front of you. It's said that advertising policy wonks swoon (or worse) about these oh-so-perfect things. If I ever go back, I'll be carrying a can of spray foam.
I should end on a happy note – the bread. Whatever you say about the Germans (and as Michael Flanders noted 50 years ago, who doesn't?), they know how to make bread. Just as we can now teach them about beer (and we do), they have a lot to teach us about the stuff of life.
Despite all these Liberal complaints, we shall be back as it's an endlessly fascinating and friendly place, and we have off-spring there.