Sprechen Sie Deutsch?

The place: Bordar House Cafe, Masham, North Yorkshire.

The year: 2003.

The time: 11:00.

Sunray and I are both enjoying a 10 000 calories belly-buster.  If you want to eat well in England, eat cooked breakfast three times a day.


A random stranger walks in, decides he is God’s gift to comedy.

Looks like you two are enjoying that!  Is that your third one of today?

I look at Sunray.  Sunray looks back at me.  He nods and winks to me.  Mr Comedian wants to have some fun at us.  We’ll have some fun with him.

I am wearing my DDR (German Democratic Republic t-shirt).


I speak:

Wie bitte?  Ich hab’ überhaupt keine Ahnung was Sie sagen.  Tut mir leid.

Mr Comedian:

Oh, you don’t speak English.  Foreigner, yeah?

I point to my DDR logo:

Ja ja ja!  Bear-leen, Cher-mun-ee, ja.  Sorry, my English ist not gut.

Mr Comedian:

Oh right, bloody krauts, yeah?

G in G:

Ja, ja, crowd of chermans here, ja.  Big crowd at ze market place, ja!

Our man finally leaves us to our maple-cured bacon, baked beans and black pudding and sup our tea in peace.

Two minutes later…

Mornin’, Sunray!  Mornin’, Ginge in Germany!  How are you doin’, fellas?

Ron, one of the locals, had just walked in to order his Saturday bacon sandwich and had decided to greet us.

Sunray replies:

Morning, Ron!  Good to see you.  Come and sit down with us.

Mr Comedian hears Sunray, me and Ron chatting away (in English).  He realises the laugh is on him.  He scowls.  He purses his lips so tightly, that they look a cat’s anus.  He curses us as he leaves the cafe.

You two tw*ts think you’re so clever, don’t you!

Sunray and I laugh uncontrollably.  Ron asks:

Er, what’s the joke, fellas?

Have a Teutonic day, won’t you!




An old East Germany joke

A school teacher asks little Fritz : “Fritzchen, why are you always speaking of our Soviet brothers? It’s ‘Soviet friends.'”

Fritz responds: “Well, you can choose your friends.”


Have fraternal day, won’t you!



Conrad Schumann

Do you like quizzes?

Q: What happened on 13 August 1961?

A: The Berlin Wall went up.  (Pretty much overnight.  German efficiency.)

Next question.

Q: Who was Conrad Schumann?

A: A picture describes a thousands words.


So, he managed to escape from East Berlin into the West.  Was it a happy ending?  No.  Yes, it was good news at first.  He had escaped to freedom.  But 37 years later, after difficulties with his family still living in Saxony, Eastern Germany, the iconic freedom icon committed suicide.  A very unhappy, tragic, ending.

Have an iconic day, won’t you!


The Panache of Postboxes

Oz, a character in the hit 1980s comedy drama, Auf Wiedersehen, Pet, once observed that:

These German bricks lack the panache of British bricks.

Maybe that is true.  Maybe not.

But the Bundesrepublik‘s postboxes do lack the panache of British postboxes.  They really do.

German postboxes are all very modern and tend to look like this “lamp box,” albeit mostly without shrubbery.


Or they are like this pillar box (minus the cheery-looking Blondine).


All very functional, but no panache, I’m sure you’ll agree.

Now, take a look at these beautiful, yet functional, counterparts from the United Kingdom.

First of all, a classic and most unusual piece of Victorian street jewelry from Yorkshire.


Now this delightful wall box from the Dales.


Now this functional lamp box from the hamlet of Rookwith.


But my favourite is this one, the wall box to be found in the hamlet of High Ellington, also in the Dales.  Note it’s from the reign of George VI.  Also note how it is not fully built into the magnificent dry stone wall.  My question is, what do the residents of High Ellington do if they have a large letter or parcel to send?


Whatever happened to all the Kaiser-era postboxes in Germany?  And what did they do in the East with all the old GDR postboxes, like these ones?


Have a panache-filled day, won’t you!


Fun on Friday

The scene: a Moscow prison.  Two inmates share their experience.

“What did they arrest you for?  Was it a political or common crime?”

“Of course, political.  I’m a plumber.  They summoned me to the district Party committee to fix the sewage pipes. I took one look and said, ‘Hey, the entire system requires replacement.’  So, they gave me seven years.”


Have a systematic day, won’t you!

Which part of “no” don’t you understand?

January was quite an eventful month for me, to use British understatement.

On the 16th my Dad died.

The day after that I my left arm and hand and my right leg went lame.  I could not hold a pen, fork, razor or walk without being in agony.  Later in the week I was admitted into hospital with a suspected stroke.  Don’t worry, folks, it turned out I had an inflammation on the top of the spinal cord, very successfully treated with cortisone.

All this medical drama meant I had to spend two weeks in hospital.  Time to catch up a bit of reading.  My local padre even brought me a copy of Brothers Karamazov, although I wasn’t really planning to spend that time in hospital, if truth be known.  Ah, and the smartphone, the best friend of the hospital patient.  Hours of surfing Facebook and watching YouTube video clips.

As for visitors, well, I had a steady stream, including Schatz and various people from church.  I had advised everyone to check before coming to visit, as I was often (especially during the first few days) being whisked off to CT scan, MRI scan, endoscopy, ECG, etc etc etc.  Why check first?  Well, I refer the Honourable Gentleman to the answer I gave some moments ago.  I didn’t want anyone to turn up when I had just been whisked away.  And what if I already had another visitor seeing me?  What if I just wanted to be left alone?  Do I really need to explain the permutations?

In the case of Billy (Billy No-Mates) – yes.

Within minutes of my telling everyone by Whatsapp that I had been admitted to the local hospital, I received a reply from Billy:

What hospital?  Which ward?  What are the visiting hours?  Have you informed the chaplain?

Shucks, it would have been so nice to see the words, “Get well soon.”

Billy could teach rubber-necking at the Department of Rubber-Neck Studies at Nosey Parker University.  I did not want him visiting.

My reply:

I do NOT want any visitors until further notice.

Actually, I was bearing false witness.  I just didn’t want Billy visiting me.  Sorry, folks, unkind as it may seem, his presence would not have been conducive to good blood pressure, nor would his tendenciy to:

  • Talk at length about his recent circumcision op or his podiatry appointments
  • Make sweeping statements about other people at church being like pharisees
  • Drone on and on and on about how nobody was helping him with his problems
  • Be the subject matter expert (“Co-Trainer”) on everything from German funeral procedure to Nelson Mandela to crop rotation in the fourteenth century
  • Rattle on about any hobby horse of his but your own concerns

Fast forward to my second Sunday in hospital.  I was on day four of intravenous cortisone.  One side-effect of cortisone is it sent my blood sugar sky-high, making me very sleepy.  Oh, and two weeks of hospitalisation had made my muscles rather weak, meaning I was prone to wetting myself slightly.  Not nice when wearing grey shorts.

The time was 14:00.  I had had a deep sleep after Sunday lunch.  I was just waking up.  Or was I?  Was it, in fact. a nightmare?  I heard my nurse say in heavily-accented English:

Ja?  Room twenty-sree?  Zat is ze room.

That was my room.  I swallowed hard.  Even harder than when I was given my endoscopy days earlier.

  • Someone was looking for my room
  • That person did not speak even basic German
  • Someone who would turn up to visit me without checking first

Should I stick my sleep apnoea mask on again and pretend to be asleep?


Too late.  Billy walked into my room and greeted me.  Luckily I had climbed back into bed, and pulled my bedding up to my neck, thus hiding the fact that I had wet myself.  Some consolation.

But I was still groggy.  I had four days’ stubble.  Despite the cortisone, I still could not shave.

Billy takes a chair and sits next to my bed.  He proceeds to tell me he had found a flat, was getting a kitchen ordered, he wouldn’t have to move back to England, he’d proved everyone wrong, that the housing advisors from Diakonie were absolutely useless, and then asked how I was.

I tell a lie.  He did not ask how I was.

Ginge in Germany:

Billy, I did ask you to check first before coming to see me.


Well, I did text you, but you don’t reply.

Ginge in Germany:

I was asleep.  The cortisone sent my blood sugar up and made me sleepy.


Anyway, new flat… blah blah… kitchen blah blah… Bristol… yak yak… me me me me me me me.  Monologue...

Ninety minutes of me, me, me with a captive audience.  (I assume nobody wanted to babysit him after church service today.)  Then my phone rings.

It’s Schatz.  God has proved his existence.

Ginge in Germany:

Sorry, I need to take this call. 

Billy gets up and leaves, telling me he’ll visit me again in two days time.  (“Is that a threat?” I wondered.)

It’s always a pleasure to see my friends.

(Er, excuse me.  From whose viewpoint?  Not mine.)

I thank Schatz profusely for ringing me.  Else Billy would have graced me with his presence till beyond teatime… bedtime… the Radio 4 Shipping Forecast.

I go back to reading my book about East Germany.  Maybe I should lend Billy a copy.

He might then understand a bit more about respect for boundaries.

Have a respectful day, won’t you!


Everyone’s a winner

BFBS (British Forces Broadcasting Service) was the radio station for British servicemen and their families occupying stationed in Germany.  I also gather it had a large listenership in the German Democratic Republic and even in Poland, especially when it was time for the Badger Bill stories every evening.  (I just have this image of some elite unit of Warsaw Pact soldiers having to listen to these stories and then translate them to assess for any military intelligence value.  “Hey, Uncle Vladimir – what did you do during the Cold War?”)

Sunray was always a big fan of BFBS.

In the mid-1970’s one of the popular parts of the evening show was the yes-no game.  Can you go through a whole minute without saying, “yes” or “no.”  (Game shows were a lot less sophisticated in those days.)

On line 1 we have Corporal Phil Smith from Aliwal Barracks in Fallingbostel.  Are you ready, Phil?

I am ready.

So, you’re stationed in Fallingbostel?  Have you been there long?

About six months.

Enjoying it?

It’s alright, thanks.

And your wife is also enjoying Germany?

Yeah… argh…

You get the idea.

Now, our unlucky serviceman did not win the star prize, DM30 of LPs.  He did, however, win something.

Congratulations, Phil, you’ve won this evening’s booby prize -namely, half a beer mat, generously donated by Corporal Sunray of Northampton Barracks, Wolfenbüttel.

Er, cheers.

Ever since then half a beer mat has been a running joke between me and Sunray.  Every now and again, Sunray would go to his letter box, open up post from Germany and find a letter with an attachment.  Half a beer mat (torn, not cut).  The other half would arrive the next day.  Sunray would smile and shake his head.

Have a winning day, won’t you!