Thursday, 10 July 2014

The Germans

World Cup Final, Germany v Argentina

The familiar humming noise vibrated in my ears. 

A small plane was above, cutting across the azure blue, cloudless Majorcan sky like a pair of scissors scoring through a flawless length of silk.

'Pete's Bikes - 17? Impressionable? A prat? Rent a Quad Bike and take your life into your hands for 15 Euros an hour' read the banner, loosely attached to the rickety aerial contraption being piloted by an indifferent Spaniard.

One circling of the beach and it chuggered off, taking Pete's enticing message to the next resort. The firmament emptied and the chitter chatter of European voices were once again audible.

Rowett Senior was in the beach bar, reclining as he waited patiently for his daily cheese and onion toastie, he'd been joined by an elderly couple from Yorkshire. 

"What 'otel you stayin' at?" enquired Des, readjusting his fisherman's hat and carefully placing his newspaper onto the table.

"The German one, just over there. It's quite nice actually," responded Rowett Senior.

"Heh" uttered Des, coolly twirling his Pina Colada so that the ice cubes in his glass made a thrashing noise. He leant forward, fixed my father with a stare to show he was making the salient point of the day, maybe the whole holiday. Time seemed to stand still as this old man began to impart his wisdom......"The Germans don't stay in bad hotels".

That remark will always stay with me. 

I'm not sure why. Whether it's down to the way old Des delivered it, like he was some WWII soldier who had spent time amongst their ranks and had obtained this intel at great cost. Or whether it's because it's a hilarious stereotype that probably has no basis in anything - it's stayed with me. 

I don't care whether it's true or not, it's true to me damn it. The whole population of German are able to sniff out decent hotels if they find themselves in any location, any time period, facing any circumstances. God bless Des.

This was Sa Coma, 2008. The first time I'd really spent any prolonged period amongst groups of Germans.

I've never been to Germany. Germans have always been mysterious to me. The only exposure you tend to get to them is either as movie villains, football villains [because they've beaten England] or as walking stereotypes in Majorcan holiday resorts.

The kind of segregated places that make Apartheid South Africa look like a giant game of Twister.

My dad would always point them out on early family holidays, 'bet they're Germans' and sure enough you'd see a group of people with mullet hairstyles marching up the street, seemingly in their own world, wearing socks and sandals - although this was the mid 90s so perhaps dodgy hairstyles and fashion no nos weren't contained to just Deutschland.

Fast forward to 2008 and we'd booked up to go to Sa Coma and surprise my cousin who was over there celebrating her 40th birthday. They'd specifically booked this hotel because it was fantastic for her young children. A huge complex near the beach complete with a kids' club, computer rooms, water park, a mini golf course, a disco, all of it. We just didn't realise until we got there that the place was 90% German. The signs were in German, the hotel receptionists spoke German, the food and drink was German, the night time music was German [David Hasslehoff's hits and some folk music].

I'd finally get my chance to lift up the veil of the secretive Germans and see what the fuss was about.

The most troubling difference to the norm was the food. The hotel was all inclusive, we ate in the restaurants in the bunker and queued up daily for our slop.

As your espadrilles slipped across the tiled floors, if you lifted your head and glared across the restaurant you would see innumerable counters which held buckets of pork and beef smothered in garlic and spices. Alongside the meats were plates of potato shapes, gherkins and tubs of mayonnaise. 

The Germans would help themselves to a slab of garlic pork, pile the potatoes and gherkins as a side and add a dollop of mayonnaise with utter glee. Hmm, bit unusual, but when in Dusseldorf do as the Germans do as Des would say.

Our party followed suit. As someone who doesn't eat red meat, I picked up a plate of potato wedges and gherkins and sat down.


The gherkins were quite hard and not much more palatable.

A German with a peculiar moustache and a monocle, looking like a Bavarian watchmaker, screeched his wooden chair backwards and walked up to get seconds.

"Danke Frauline," he uttered, as a female kitchen worker passed him a plate of gherkins, before eyeing up my portion on his return.

The cuisine was strange, but it was our first day. Live and let live. The situation only became problematic when it transpired that garlic pork, garlic beef, potato wedges and gherkins were the only options...every day.

Rowett Senior became mad with hunger, one day he burst through the crowds of sandal-wearing Germans and found a 21 year old Spanish lad pushing a food trolley around, smelling of Hugo Boss complete with Ronaldo-esque gelled hair. 

"Senior!...Every's pork, potatoes, gherkins....every day....wha....wh...he.."

Rowett Senior grabbed the poor lad's shirt in sheer desperation.
"Why? When's there going to be different options?"

"I'm sorry....the Germans like it this way," our apologetic hombre murmured, before trolleying off.

Rowett Senior fell into a pile onto the floor and wept.

I think it was not until day four that my diet of gherkins had taken an effect on my sanity. I was walking around the mini golf course and started to hallucinate. The clubs had become spaghetti strands, the balls were hard boiled eggs, the fish in the pond were salmon steaks. Everything looked like the food I'd once known. The flavours that had disappeared. I was Homer, when he flips out on Chief Wiggum's chilli and meets the space coyote.

When Rowett Senior had told Des that the hotel was quite nice, he wasn't lying. The hotel was immaculate and had fantastic facilities - the food was just terrible for an English palate.


What was that?

"Psstsh, over heresh"

A dutch guy was sitting on the table next to us in the bar, dunking an orange peel into his Hoegaarden.

"You do knowsh that you don'tsh have to eat in the restaurant?"

The Brits, Dutch and Swedes would talk to one another in a sort of understanding of the minorities.

"Well..what do you mean mate?"

"The hotel opposhit. It'sh allied to thish hotel, you can use their restaurants if you book a table in the mornings. Get to reception at 9am. They have an Italian, Steakhouse and a Mexican. They're nicesh. The Germans keep it quiet so they can book all the tables".

Oh you beautiful man. Now it was your people liberating us from starvation.

Our family huddled together. We had to get up early the next day and book the Italian. Get to reception at 9am.

The sun had risen. 8:50am. We danced out of our hotel rooms and tip-toed down the corridor like a gang of ninjas. Down the stairs we ran. Through the empty corridors. Into the reception...

There they were.

Hundreds of Germans. 

They'd been waiting since 6am.

Oh damn! Damn!

All was lost.

There was no beating them.

We sadly shuffled to the back of the queue. At 9:02am a plump little Spanish woman paraded through reception, her high heels echoing around the great hall. The Germans were seething.


Supposed to open at 9am

They were tapping their watches. Tutting aloud. Waving their arms in disgust.

I started laughing. The stereotype you see in the comedies and movies about them being ridiculously pernickety about such trivial things is absolutely true. Or it was in this instance.

Other differences I observed related to manners. You never got a 'danke' for holding doors open or for passing back a wayward beach ball in the pool. Around the bars nobody ever said please or thank you.

'Einen coke' 

'Einen bier'

They'd barely look at the Spanish barmen. I always made sure I'd ask the staff how they were and thank them when they served me up a drink.

The Germans contempt for people in the service sector probably isn't cultural. I imagine you'd get a similar number of arseholes in majority English all inclusive resorts - especially those ones in Mexico and Egypt that are suddenly in vogue for the chavs.

German hotel, Sa Coma

There's definitely something to the German stereotype though. During our two week stay in their hotel they did get up really early and nab all the sunbeds; the food was very much pork-based; they weren't quick to thank the staff - however, I quite liked it. It gave me a much needed laugh, distracted me from the gherkins and I think I preferred the quieter nature of the guests.

It's really easy [and fun] to portray the Germans are being secretly evil, or harbouring plans for a 'third-time-lucky' stab at world domination because they so often come across as being an extremely serious people, a nation of librarians.

In the library of Europe the English and Dutch would be the rowdy types who keep talking [being shushed by the Germans] and generally causing mischief. Whereas the Germans would be the goody goody worker who never puts a foot wrong.

But then if, on one occasion, that German librarian got pissed at the work's party and made a scene, the English and Dutch co-workers would be compelled to take the piss relentlessly forevermore because it was so out of character. I think that's essentially the source of the fun behind the German bashing part of our culture.

The problem is that there is a real chance our mockery of the Germans masks the notion that we are now essentially the villains in the world of football, and the Germans are the good guys.

Lahm, Mueller, Metresacker, Kroos not only speak well in the media, but they play the best football at the moment and they come across as hard-working, nice guys too.

Compare with our Jack Wilshere, Cleverley, Rooney, Luke Shaw types. Too busy taking instagram photos of themselves; needing to be seen wearing over-sized headphones as they emerge from various forms of transport. Seemingly not really giving a toss about the fans.

The Germans will go over to their fans at the end of the game, hold hands and do a unified salute where they all raise their arms up and down.

Of course this is probably sensationalised. There's probably pictures of Lahm doing a post-match interview wearing over-sized headphones and Thomas Mueller might love a selfie.

But it certainly feels like the Germans are more in touch with the ordinary fan and old school values and haven't been corrupted by rampant greed like our brats.

It was embarrassing when Bayern Munich had to step in and subsidise tickets in their away game at Arsenal because the English club was avariciously profiteering off the goodwill of ordinary fans.

When Bayern Munich or Dortmund [who are owned by their fans] play against the likes of Chelsea [a Russian oligarch's play thing, with a sickening level of wealth] again it's easy to see who the bad guys are.

The English game is full of half empty stadiums, non-existent atmospheres. It's almost eaten itself. Compare and contrast with what we see in the Bundesliga. A league of full, bouncing stadiums. The whole town comes out to support its team. Tickets are cheap. People are drinking in the stands. The atmosphere is electric. It looks like really good fun.

The combination of having a national team comprised of hard-working, honest kids and a domestic league that looks after the working man makes the Germans....dare I say it.....quite likeable.

There you have it. Not only do they treat the fans better and protect football's soul but they've got a far better national team too. There's seemingly no benefit in us acting like twats.

If the Germans do go all the way this Sunday and lift the World Cup I can't see many people complaining. I certainly wouldn't.

I might even have a celebratory plate of gherkins.


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