Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Berlin culture clash - By Derek Lord

Recently my son and I boarded a plane for Berlin. After a short-lived relationship with a young lady from that city Barry had developed an urge to see the place and since I have always had a certain fascination with the former capital of the Third Reich we had booked a city break through our local travel agent a few weeks before the Icelandic volcano brought air travel to a standstill. It was doubtful whether we would get away or not  and, if we did, whether we would get back home on Monday as scheduled. The travel agent assured me that if we had to stay on for a few more days they would reimburse us for any added costs so that alleviated some of my worries. As we took our seats on the plane we found ourselves surrounded on all sides by a large group of inebriated Glaswegian males sporting T-shirts with the slogan Berlin Stag Tour 2013 emblazoned on the back. This was followed by a list of the names of all the participants in this Germanic odyssey.  This was perhaps not too wise a move given that there was every chance that this mob would fall foul of the law during their booze-fuelled stay, in which case the polizei would only have to catch one of the gang to know the identity of every one of his mates. On the front of their shirts was a picture of a large banger with “Would you like a sausage” printed underneath. Whoever designed the shirts had obviously some inkling of the eating habits of the German citizenry. As I was to learn over the next few days Germans seem to exist solely on one form of sausage or another. The members of the stag party commandeered the drinks trolley as soon as it appeared among them and it didn’t move for the next two hours as the stewardesses dispensed every alcoholic beverage they had. Tough luck on any of the other passengers who fancied a tipple but the trolley dollies seemed only too happy to lap up the attention they were receiving from the revellers and given that they were not the most pulchritudinous stewardesses I have ever seen this was hardly surprising. As the drinks went down the noise levels went up. By the time we reached our destination it felt as if we were sitting in the middle of a riot. I was never so glad to get off a plane in my life.

The following night I bumped into the party animals once more when I went into one of the many so-called Irish bars in the city. They were on an extended pub crawl and didn’t stay too long. I was relieved to hear that they were going home a day earlier than me. I couldn’t have stuck another two hours with that crowd.

The only other heavy drinkers I came across over the weekend were a squad of Englishmen. At no time did I see anything like the sort of behaviour that we get in any Scottish city at the weekend with drunken lassies tottering along uncertainly on their six-inch heels, screaming at the tops of their voices, while the young men throw up in doorways. And yet the Germans have much more lax laws when it comes to drink. There is no ban on drinking in the street. In fact every second young person is carrying a bottle of beer. This is possibly because a bottle of beer costs about 30p in a shop and about £4 in a bar. And you thought that beer was cheap in our supermarkets. So much for our politicians’ minimum price argument. In Germany the beer is less than half the price in the shops that it is here but the Germans don’t take advantage of the cheap booze to drink themselves into a coma. They drink sensibly. Their idea of a good night out is to sit in a restaurant with their friends and have a good blether while they eat and drink in moderation. One upmarket bistro that I visited even had a large smoking section sandwiched between the eating areas with huge extractor fans cleaning the air. Perhaps the Germans have learned not to be dictated to by their politicians after the trouble it got them into last time. In one pub I visited the topers were smoking away to their heart’s content. I asked the publican how he got round the law and he explained that he was willing to take the chance of being caught. It was either that or go out of business as his customers would just go somewhere where they could smoke and there are plenty of other pubs who cock a snook at the authorities. He said that he was amazed at the way the Irish and Scots had caved in to the anti-smoking legislation without a fight but he suspected that it was because the fines here are three times what they are in Germany. 

By Derek Lord

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