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Otherwise my novels, short stories, verse, family, music, memories, vulgar interests, detestations,
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Sunday, 20 December 2015

Weihnachtsmarkt 1. People

People not "things".

In France I revel in the linguistic complexity, the need to be specific, the way they provide directions; I respect the French, admire them, am encouraged to compete with them.

But in Germany (we were there for Cologne's Christmas market) I drive away full of affection.

As with the elderly woman in the little tourist train giggling and nodding as she overhears me speculate with VR and Occasional Speeder on a shop called Treff ("It's gotta be from treffen, the verb to meet...").

As with the student at the Chocolate Museum café, seeing me struggle to get out my camera as a Rhine barge goes by, says: "There'll be another soon" and there is. Who grins, but self-deprecatingly, when I ask who'll win the next World Cup: "Germany, but hey..."

PS: We buy our coffee there because of the view; the museum remains a mystery.

As with the fifty-year-old waitress at the Brauhaus Sunner in Wallfisch who squeezes my shoulder and asks "What else can I bring you darleengk?"

As with the guy at the market stall serving us with three potato pancakes (the minimum unit). Told only one of us wants the blob of savoury sauce, has to physically restrain his hand from adding blobs to the other two (It's traditional! you see.) but manages it, after a fearful struggle, because the customer is always right.

As with the fat guy (a rarity in Germany these days) inexpertly playing a game of curling. When I point to a stone chundering on to the wooden walkway and ask riskily: "Zu viele Bier?" (Too much beer?) he laughs uproariously.

Yes the Dom (cathedral) is magnificent, the Rhine enveloping, the market decorations welcoming - but none is human, none talks, none jokes. It’s contact I’m after.


  1. I'm with you on that. On my long walks the abiding memories are from encounters with, and observation of other humans. To maximise the former a certain amount of practice and technique is required as you aptly demonstrate by being the catalyst to get the exchange going.Without that such experiences would be much rarer.

    I could write a book-full, but just one here.

    Approaching Boscastle in Cornwall I took the trouble to chat with a couple of male octogenarians. They asked where I was going. I pointed to the steep hill climbing up from the other side of the village seen way down in the bottom. The unhesitating reply, "Eet's a reet coff up there"

  2. Ach ja, those happy Rheinländer! They're open and communicative after centuries of contact with others. I hear the sounds of laughter and conversation at the Markt and am with you in spirit, darleengk!

  3. Love that last picture Mr Bonden!
    Happy Christmas to you and yours.

    Susan ( HHB)

  4. Sir Hugh: You see a valley, a mountain, a panorama, a shoreline and you tell yourself it's beautiful (whatever that means). But it's a voiceless monologue.

    You see a person and they have the potential to agree with your opinion about the beautiful valley, etc. More magically, to tell you something else. It could be humdrum or uplifting but never mind, it opens up your other senses and you may be enhanced.

    RW (zS): Glad to be (sort of) a secular version of your own personal John the Baptist. Not looking ahead but celebrating the past and the vivid present. I ate a potato pancake to which only a little salt had been added and delighted in the fact that such a humble foodstuff could be so transfigured. But you've added rather more than salt; if I'd been better educated I'd have known I was not merely among Germans but among Rhinelanders. Now, retrospectively, you've added this extra precision and I'm the better for it. Thanks for that.

    HHB: I just can't call you Anonymous - I mean you weren't back then, were you? And not now either. Not Anonymous when out on a very early morning walk with Blue Dog; not when you asked me what I thought about Carol Anne Duffy's Rapture; not when writing about the shop you were going to open. If I remember these things (without electronic help) then you've done what we all hope to do: to leave some tracks elsewhere.

  5. A pleasure to read about your pleasure, RR. It's the personal interactions that one always remembers. For that to happen one has to be open and willing to start the process oneself. The rewards satisfy.

  6. I am quite envious of your visit to Cologne's Christmas market! My husband went to one, pewrhpas that one even, in Germany many years ago when on a business trip. He brought back some lovely tree ornaments. Vancouver's markt imitation pales in comparison.

    I too love that photo of you and Mrs B. Have a wonderful holiday season!

  7. Avus: When I started work as a journalist (actually a tea-boy in those days) on Monday, August 20, 1951, six days before my 16th birthday, I brought with me four O-levels, one of them Art, and a somewhat languid tendency to find out about things. Within a year I'd taught myself a second essential skill: to be able to go up to strangers and start asking them about the intimate corners of their lives. In the end that got me through 44 years devoted to banging out sentences about this and that on a keyboard.

    Those two abilities - the only things I can unequivocally boast about - seem to work just as well in retirement and I like to think the Germans appreciate my decision to go out into the world like a shorn lamb, confident I could shrug off my ignorance of the Don Pacifico Incident, the difference between a peninsula and a littoral, the occasions in chemistry when the mole becomes the unit of measurement, an exact definition of a noun clause, and whether Judah was in the north or the south of Israel.

    I'm being fanciful about the Germans but what the Hell, they seem willing to join in. A late-life epiphany.

    M-L: Nobody does Christmas markets like the Germans. And somehow they manage to de-commercialise the process; to ennoble the communal act. Wonderful to hear from you given the whimsical burden I've been to you over the years.

  8. A good opening sentence looking for contact in Greece with a waiter ,for instance, is asking "Ti kani to poulaki sou?"

  9. Ellena: Go on, cruel one. I'll buy the translation even if I have to pay in blood.

  10. I saw a chocolate museum in Peru last month. Stared a bit and did not go in (too much to see!), though I did come home with a goodly amount of chocolate. And I rambled off with only a list of 50 phrases, never having studied Spanish and never finding time before we left to cram. Amazing how far a bit of friendliness, willingness to make a fool of yourself, and a few starter words will take you.

    Sighing with desire over the idea of the German Christmas market.

    You sound like a great traveler in these posts, enthusiastic about people and places and food. I haven't traveled much, staying home with three children while my husband went to conferences, etc. I think he has gone over the 30-country mark. He loves to jump into the local cuisine and try whatever is on offer--had guinea pig and alpaca last month (which I did try.) We liked Chile best for the wine, Peru for the food. Lots of native herbs and flavors new to me. (And now my third child has started college. More travel!)

  11. Marly: I am married to a woman most other women find utterly strange: she doesn't care for chocolate. Because this is so contra-feminine many assume she simply hasn't been exposed to the best makes and she is showered with expensively wrapped samples from Switzerland, Belgium and who knows where. These she passes on to me and I eat them more out of a sense of duty and a hatred of waste than with any great enthusiasm. We were not tempted by the Cologne institution, shaped like a steam-ship and said to be welt-beruhmt..

    Your taste proclaims you. Chile not only has good wines but also the best bargains. Or did. I am a member of the UK's venerable Wine Society and their quarterly catalogue tells the inevitable story: prices easing up and bargains now switching to Argentina and Uruguay.

    As to your adventurous palate, your next stop must be Japan, assuming you haven't already been. The thumbnail that accompanies your comment could be captioned Dare Me! and I suspect you'll be disappointed by caramelised grasshoppers (sticky straw) and hundred-year-old eggs (wartime blancmange). However there's a dab of paste that comes with some dishes (breakfast in my case) and has an utterly unique taste - gasoline comes closest. I believe it is an unholy union between an extreme form of horse-radish and sea urchin. Ingest it without facial reaction and you'll be awarded a small star brooch.

  12. Wonderful last picture.

    I would never forget that VR doesn't like chocolate at all, but does like caramel.

  13. I agree entirely with Avus here. It is the people that make life ... I was going to add another word, but there is no need to. A heartwarming post for Christmas Robbie and so pleased that you enjoyed it. Vielen Dank.

  14. Lucy: It reflects our feelings well. You said a year or two ago, having read my short story about an elderly East German woman who had become custodian of a Gents in the West, that perhaps I "understood" Germany more than I did France. This was quite a blow at the time but subsequent reflection, plus this most recent short holiday, have combined and led to rueful agreement. There is so much about France that is a blur; this may also be the case about Germany but it doesn't matter, the affection I mention is real. Probably sentimental (and you know how I distrust that!) but sentimentality doesn't preclude truth.

    Blonde Two: I know you and I share certain feelings towards Germany. I hope these posts have to some degree cemented those feelings. I had in mind to use the German adjective liebesvolle (retrieved from an aria in Mozart's Die Entfuhrung) in Part One but dropped it. Lo and behold you have almost reinstated it with "heartwarming". Great minds...