The Secret Life of Binz (1)

Every now and then, I like to get away by myself for a few days.

Mammy O’Grady: Well, you always were a bit odd.

Me: Indeed. 

As I’d never been to the German side of the Baltic Sea, I decided that now was as good a time as any to check it out. I settled on Binz on the island of Rügen, picturing myself skipping along the beach in the autumn sunshine, the sea breeze in my hair, or holed up in my flat reading a book while rain lashed against the windows. Either way, I’d be happy.

After a relaxing four-hour journey, the Flixbus rolled into town just after midday. I still had three hours until I could check into my apartment (Germans are usually rather strict about this sort of thing so I didn’t imagine I could rock up early) so I grabbed my suitcase and set off in the drizzle to find somewhere to eat.

After a few minutes, I came across Oma’s Küche; perfect for a wet and windy afternoon.

Quaint and wholesome.

The waitress told me I could leave my soggy case inside the door and seated me at a cosy table in the corner.

I took this as a sign and ordered a glass of white wine and the potato soup (which naturally came with chunks of sausage). I picked up Oma’s newspaper/menu and started to read. I learned that the place was named for the owner’s granny, a kindly old soul who, even in the middle of the night, would get up to cook something hearty for her beloved grandchildren. Opa started a limousine service with a small fleet of London black cabs and they were in business.

I turned the page to see that children are banned after 5 p.m; it seemed that while Oma would do anything for her own grandkids, she wasn’t so tolerant of other people’s. It came as a bit of a surprise that the menu was peppered with smutty jokes. I mean, children read this – before 5 p.m. obviously. I finished up, paid and went to use the facilities, where I made a new acquaintance.

50 shades of brown??

On my way out, I noticed a sign that I’d missed on the way in.

Men: No shoes, no shirt, no service. 

Women: No shirt, free drinks. 

Did this place turn into Oma and Opa’s S&M Dungeon after 5 or something? I decided I wouldn’t come back to find out.

I still had a good hour and a half before I could check in, so I thought I’d have a stroll along the main street up to the pier. Despite the gloomy day, I immediately fell in love with Binz. It seemed that every sensibly-clad German in the country had made their way here and they were now happily striding around, rosy-cheeked and colourfully all-weather prepared. The buildings were absolutely gorgeous and the streets were spotless – not even a stray cigarette butt or a hint of graffiti – a far cry from the grime of Berlin.

 

I stood on the pier, the wind making my hair stand on end, and mused that if I hired a little boat, I could sail to Latvia from here in around 10 years. Or die a horrible death at sea. I decided the latter would be preferable and turned back to lovely Binz. As I still had a bit of a walk ahead of me, I headed in the direction of where I thought my flat was.

After around 15 minutes, I passed the Kleinbahnhof and was lucky enough to see the famous “Rasender Roland” (Raging Roland) pulling into the station.

Everything in this place is so fricking cute…

I carried on and eventually reached my home for the next three nights.

Along the way I passed my new neighbours…

… and sincerely hoped I wouldn’t be woken up by an errant cock at the crack of dawn.

I was greeted by a jolly older German couple who led me downstairs to the apartment and showed me around. The place was massive – two bedrooms, fully-equipped kitchen, and a gleaming bathroom. It was far too big for just one person but, as it was only €50 a night, I’d decided to go for it anyway. My new German mum collected my “Kurtaxe” (visitor’s tax), explained the rules (because Germany), and presented me with my Kurtaxe card a few minutes later.

 

I immediately felt right at home. I only hoped that I would have enough chopping boards…

 

My original plan had been to go to the supermarket, pick up some stuff for the morning and a bottle of wine for the night, drop it off and go out again, but when I realised how far away the supermarkets were, I decided to just go out with my teabags, milk, sugar and (€1.99 from Netto) Chardonnay in a classy Edeka plastic bag.

In a bid to satisfy my craving for sausage, I found a place on the main street that served Nuremberg Rostbratwurst . The waiter was super-friendly, and my food arrived in a matter of minutes.

Not even remotely phallic.

I was starving after all the walking and maybe the sea air so I devoured it almost as quickly as it had arrived. But, not wanting to head out into the cold night again so soon, I ordered another glass of wine and settled in with my book. The other diners were mostly in and out again in around half an hour – one old lady didn’t even finish her beer, which I think might be against the law in Germany.

I eventually made my way to the promenade for a moonlit saunter. It was a beautiful night – crisp and clear – so I’m not sure how long I walked for. I found myself outside Hotel Dorint, which is normally far too sophisticated a place for the likes of me. My bladder disagreed and in we went – me, my bladder and my Edeka shopping bag. I was pretty sure that I was the only person in the place who had a €1.99 bottle of wine stashed on their person but they didn’t need to know that.

It was just me and a German couple. The man was kissing his dog, which I find rather repellent, but it did provide me with a conversation opener.

Me: What’s his/her name?

Frauke: Willi. 

Me: Heh heh.

We got chatting and I learned two interesting things:

  1. Dogs aren’t allowed on the beaches in Binz from April to October.
  2. Even dogs have to pay the Kurtaxe.

Me: But that’s crazy! Dogs don’t have jobs! They don’t earn money! How can they pay taxes?! 

The answer is: Because Germany.

 

Part two to follow…

 

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Germans say the darnedest things

I recently started teaching a new group. As we’re still at that fun “getting to know you” stage, I decided to bring in some conversation cards to get them talking and find out a bit more about what makes them tick. There’s a question on each card so the students pick one and then try to speak about the topic for as long as they can.

For example…

First up, Fritz.

Fritz: Um, my question is “What animals are you afraid of?” I guess I’m afraid of snakes. And sharks.

Ulrich: Yeah, ‘cos there are so many of those in Berlin…

Fritz: And rats. I really hate rats. If I saw a rat, I’d be like a little girl – standing on a chair and screaming. 

Franz: Did you know that there are more rats in Berlin than people? 

Fritz: (Turns a little pale.)

Franz: Yeah, I think it’s something like three rats to every person. 

Hans: Yeah, I read that too.

Me: Heilige Scheiße. 

Franz: You don’t really see them though. 

Ulrich: Yeah, they’re a bit like cockroaches. For every one that you see, there are like 200 of them hiding close by just waiting to jump out. 

Fritz: What’s a cockroach?

Franz: Kakerlake.

Fritz: (Turns paler still.)

Waltraut: My friend has a pet rat. He’s so cute. 

Entire class: URGH. 

Waltraut: No, really! I stroke him and he nibbles on my fingers…

Fritz: (Thud.)

Berlin. City of lights – and rats.

Me: Right, I think we’ll leave that there. I prefer it when my classes don’t give people nightmares. Gerda, what’s your question? 

Gerda: What preparation do you do before you go on a trip? 

Me: OK, good. Better.

Gerda: Well, first I make a list of everything that I want to bring on my trip. Then I tick off the things that I already have. If I need something, I either buy it or borrow it from a friend, depending on how expensive it is. Then I buy a guide book. I make a list of all of the things that I would like to see…

Me: That sounds like a very German way to prepare for a trip. 

Gerda: I like lists.

To stop myself from wondering if she also laminates the lists, I moved on to the next stage of the lesson – making business small talk – a topic every German student wants to cover. With good reason.

We did a couple of listening exercises of people chatting at corporate events and then I put the students in pairs and asked them to write down two or three compliments they could pay their partner. They scribbled away diligently for around five minutes so I had high hopes for the speaking part of the exercise.

Me: OK, Hans and Ulrich, you’re up. 

Hans: I really like working with you. I like the way that you work. I like that you’re always friendly and willing to help other people…

Me: OK, good, but it shouldn’t be just a litany of one-sided compliments. Ulrich? 

Ulrich: He’s only been here two weeks. I don’t know him well enough to compliment him. 

Me: Erm, he has a nice watch…

Ulrich: I like your watch. 

Me: Sigh. Gerda and Fritz – your turn. 

Gerda: I would like to give you some compliments. My first compliment is that I like your willpower. My second compliment is that you give good presentations. My third compliment is…

Me: Jesus. Stop. You’re not supposed to just fire a list of compliments at him. When you talk to people in real life, you don’t just read a list at them, do you?

From the confused look she gave me, I suspect that she just might.

Me: It should be a dialogue, like we listened to. 

Gerda: But there’s no context. 

Me: Make it up! It’s one sentence at the beginning! “Oh, fancy bumping into you at the conference!” “Don’t you love our Christmas parties?” Use your imagination! 

Gerda deliberates for a moment or two.

Gerda: I like our Christmas parties. I had fun dancing with you. You’re a very good dancer. 

Fritz: Thank you. 

Me: You’re supposed to accept the compliment modestly. Anything to say back to her? 

Fritz: You are a good dancer too. You’re the second best dancer I danced with tonight. 

Me: Oh boy. I think we might need to spend a bit more time on this…

 

 

 

 

Take that, God

One of my favourite German dishes is Maultaschen. In case you haven’t heard of them, these are pasta squares filled with minced meat, spinach, breadcrumbs and onions, and flavoured with various herbs and spices. I can only recommend trying them.

Image result for maultaschen
Gimme. (Image source: stuttgart-tourist.de)

Last night, however, I was not eating Maultaschen; I was having a consolation drink with my pub quiz team in cosy HOME Bar after a particularly dismal performance. To cheer everyone up, I told them about my new favourite German word – Sandwichkind (literally, sandwich child). I guess “Malcolm in the Middle” was called “Malcolm is the Filling” in Germany, although I might need a German to corroborate that.

Image result for sandwich kind
DAS Sandwichkind (Image source: spiegel.de)

Norbert: Hey, you want to hear another funny thing? 

Me: Funny funny or German funny? 

Norbert: ?

Me: OK, go on.

While I was aware that Maultaschen (probably) translates as “mouthofananimalbag”, I hadn’t really given much thought to the origins of this delectable Swabian treat. Clearly I should have for it turns out that the Swabians are tricky, non-God-fearing buggers, as Norbert explained.

Maultaschen are traditionally associated with Lent, which is when all good Christians are encouraged to refrain from eating meat. Like me, the Swabians obviously decided this was a load of nonsense. So they invented Maultaschen, the idea being that because the meat is covered by the pasta dough, God won’t be able to see it. Genius, right? There’s even a Swabian nickname for the dish – Herrgottsbescheißerle – which means “small-God-cheaters”.

Me: Bah haha! That IS funny! 

Herr God, if you’re reading this, I made it all up. Can the Swabians and I still go to heaven? We’ll bring you some Maultaschen…