Birthday Nostalgia

So, last week was my birthday: 21 again, and more.

Where was I on that day of the year…?

  • 10 years ago: Doing pgce teacher training in Middlesbrough.  Not my cup of tea.  Ler’s just leave it at that.
  • 20 years ago: Started my first ever permanent job, working in the International Programme Liaison team at Mercury Communications Ltd.  I did a lot of telecoms courses in that year.
  • 30 years ago: At sixth form college in Middesbrough, re-sitting my O-levels.  That was where I started studying Russian.
  • 40 years ago: At Wolfenbüttel Primary School, near the East-West German border, being sent to the headmaster’s office to take a phone call from my Dad, then stationed at HMP Maze, Northern Ireland, to wish me happy birthday.

Have a nostalgic day, won’t you!


Berlin – what a city!

Berlin – the must-see city in Germany.  At the start of the month, Schatz and I spent three nights in Berlin, staying near the Friedrichstrasse train station.  Such an amazing city.  Three nights is not enough.  Realistically you need seven nights.

This was my third visit to Berlin.  Previous visits were Christmas 1992, then June 2003.  The major thing I’d noticed was that Berlin was looking less and less DDR-ish on each visit.  Even getting souvenirs with the DDR logo on them was much harder this time.  Even the DDR-era buildings were much less visible, except on Karl-Marx-Allee, liebe Genossen.

Go and see Checkpoint Charlie!

Go and see the Wannsee!

Go and see the Brandenburg Gate!

Have a touristic day, won’t you!

Joke du Jour

The year is 1982.

A Polish man goes to the government bank with 300 zlotys, but he cannot decide if he wants to deposit it.

“Why are you so worried?” asks the teller.
“What if you go bankrupt?”
“Your deposit would be insured by the Polish government!”

“What if Poland goes bankrupt?” asks the man, still worried.

“We have the guarantee with the whole socialist bloc backed by the Soviet Union!”

“What if the Soviet Union goes bankrupt?”

“Surely that must be worth 300 zlotys to you?”

Have a well-polished day, won’t you!

Es Lebe Margot Honecker

In memory of the late, not very great, Margot Honecker, the Hillary Clinton of East Germany…

A teacher in the German Democratic Republic asks his class, ‘Who wrote The Communist Manifesto?’ Silence. He decides to ask one of the boys directly.
‘Fritzchen, can you tell me who wrote The Communist Manifesto?’

‘It wasn’t me, honestly!’ is the anxious reply.

The teacher, appalled, tells his wife about the incident. She tries to calm him by saying, ‘You should give him the benefit of the doubt, dear. Maybe it really wasn’t him.’

The teacher withdraws to a dark corner of his favourite bar to drown his dismay, and ends up telling the whole sad story to a stranger.

‘Now look here, don’t you worry. I’m from State Security. We shall find out who did it.’

A couple of weeks later, the two men meet once more in the same bar.

‘Comrade! You’ll be pleased to know that it really wasn’t Fritzchen. However, his father confessed.’


Have a comradely day, won’t you!

The Continuity of History: Thoughts on Remembrance Sunday

Today, the second Sunday in November.  A poignant day in the British calendar.  Remembrance Sunday, when pretty much every church has a service of remembrance, including a two-minute at exactly 11 o’clock in the morning.  Particularly saddening is to visit even the smallest village in the UK and to see the war memorial there.  Even more saddening is to see the same surnames, brothers and cousins, the sons of village, then the year, 1916, 1917, 1942, 1943, 1944.  There was even one on the island of Foula, Shetland, a tiny clump of earth in the Atlantic Ocean.

This morning I attended church as usual.  Not quite as usual.

  • I travelled to church on my mountain bike, helmet camera on.  The weather was good.  Why not?
  • I changed into my Sunday best, including Corps tie and pullover.  That Corps tie seems to shrink every year.  The pullover covers it up.  (Normally I wear smart casual.  On Remembrance Sunday, I make the effort.)
  • I blu-tacked two notices to advise that we had a 2-minute silence at 11:00.  Sadly, some people need spoon-feeding.  Last year, a few people came rushing into church during the 2-minute silence.  Is it acceptable to rush into a church, anyway, I ask myself.  Fortunately the lady who arrived at 10:59 did not take umbrage when I asked her to wait outside till the silence was over.

Today is also by sheer coincidence the twenty-fifth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, an event which is chained together with Remembrance Day.

  1. WW1 led to:
  2. WW2, which led to:
  3. The Cold War, which led to:
  4. The building of the Wall, 13 August 1961, which eventually was pulled down on
  5. 9 November 1989

When I was a pad’s brat in the mid-1970’s, our family used to visit the main East German border at a village called Mattierzoll.  We once even went up to the Harz Mountains one summer to watch the Grenztruppen der DDR build socialism by reinforcing and upgrading the border.

Remember the war dead, the soldiers and civilians of all sides.  To quote Lt Col Tim Collins Iraq eve of battle speech:

If there are casualties of war, then remember that when they woke up and got dressed in the morning they did not plan to die this day. Allow them dignity in death.

To quote Winston Churchill:

In War: Resolution. In Defeat: Defiance. In Victory: Magnanimity. In Peace: Goodwill.

Give thanks for peace in Europe, and give thanks for the Mauerfall and the people who made it happen.

Have a peaceful day, won’t you!

Family In-Jokes

If I were sipping a port and enjoying a cigar, what would the Colonel say to me?  Possibly this, if he were being generous.

Mattierzoll 1978.  Master Ginge in Germany and family visiting the old East German border on a fine, sunny Lower Saxony day.  The bird song and Anglophone chit-chat is suddenly broken by the plaintive cry from an old German lady: “Erste kommt der kleine Bunker, und dann kommt der grosse Bunker.”  


Needless to say, this receives no sympathetic reaction from the British military contingent, but simply becomes a long-standing family in-joke (especially among father, son and uncle), still enjoyed and savoured over three decades later, causing tears of laughter (or the occasional groan) all round.


Example situations:

  • Had a bit too much to drink?  Get your mobile out at 2300 and phone Sunray in bed, mobile not switched off, and tell him, “Erste kommt…”
  • Tell your nephew that even though you can’t speak Russian like he can, you can speak German… “Erste kommt…”
  • Want to introduce your lovely German girlfriend over the phone to your mum?  Plead with her to say, “Erste kommt…” and then hear both the A-party and the B-party calling out, “No, no, no…” or “Nein, nein, nein…”

It is true, men are just boys in long trousers.  Do you have any family in-jokes or catchphrases that nobody else understands?