Germany is always ‘dead fucking last’ on any British list of places to live or places to holiday-home. As the only Manx person living here on purpose I offer you the skeet – the good, the mad and the ‘same as it ever was’ of 18 months living on the bank of the Rhine in southern Germany a short paddle from France.
Germans are more like us than the inhabitants of any other European country. In spite of speaking very little German I feel less foreign in Germany than in any other country I have visited. My grammatically pathetic German has always been greeted with understanding, sympathy and most frequently with a perfectly spoken English response. On many occasions I have to ask people to please speak German because I am trying to learn. Until I open my mouth and they hear me speak or see my northern British teeth I am often taken to be a native.
By way of comparison I can offer my experience on the other side of the river where my un-french-chic clothing, my attempts at basic French conversation and simply the cut of my jib place me firmly in the not one of us category. I have written my French script on a card. I have spoken the short sentence in my best French accent, but in response to the inevitable shoulder shrug I always have to hand over the card and hear it read out in a language I was never taught at school and that in a lifetime I will never learn to speak. For me “Mulhouse” will always be ‘Mull–house’ not “Mlus” even if I have to find my own way there. I have learned the hard and long way that ‘tout droit’ is not ‘every right turn’ but straight on. I will never forget the faces of the helpful men sitting outside the café in the square as I cycled past for the third time taking every right turn around the streets of La Roche-sur-Yon in search of ‘le camping’. At first I thought the French were taking le piss, but I am understood so rarely even by young people, that I now believe they just do not comprend.
The car is Germany’s big, ugly, fast sacred cow. The drivers of the BMAudiWMercedeporscheVWwagens race across the country alongside the fields of solar panels to and from their eco-friendly insulated homes and carbon neutral offices. For those who live in the middle bit and do not live in the interesting parts around the North, West and Southern edges, the fast car is their only escape from living in a dull flat brown country.
No government would survive trying to stop these old boys behaving like spoilt children on the autobahn. Their greatest pleasure is to race up behind you as close as possible and show their disgust that you are daring to travel slower than they wish to. Having just overtaken they will cut in as close as a sheepdog trying to turn a sheep. If their cars had teeth they would give you a nip on the bumper on their way past. These angry German drivers try to stay on the autobahn as much as possible. This is not just because of the opportunity to go fast but because they are even worse drivers when faced with the hazards on the streets.
The two biggest hazards on the streets are the ‘priority to the right’ rule on side streets and the humble roundabout. I now only drive on priority roads (all main roads and those with yellow diamond signs). The other roads are stalked by drivers waiting to, perfectly legally, leap out and drive into you from a road on the right without stopping and cannot be negotiated without high doses of calming medication.
This is why Germans do not find roundabouts to be a natural way of getting round. They have been trained to give way to mad fekers who emerge from roads on the right without stopping and they struggle to even look left at roundabouts, let alone give way to cars on the roundabout.
It is illegal to indicate your direction on entering a German roundabout (the logic is that if you are indicating left on entry to the roundabout then you are going to do a u-turn). And because many drivers forget to indicate as they approach their exit it is all a mad guessing game. Freiburg has not dared replace the stop-start mess of American style traffic light junctions.
Everything else in Germany is exactly the same nonsense as in Britain, but a drier, sunnier, hotter, calmer, colder, cycling and environment friendlier, homeopathy afflicted, fish-less, less obviously drunken, un-track-suited, curry-less, mushy-pea-less, bureaucratic, serious, less run-down shabby and littered Britain.
But don’t tell anyone about this easy life, after all in the last 18 months I have not heard an English voice in a German flea market whereas on the other side of the river the markets are contaminated with strident posh home-counties English voices. Being ‘dead fucking last’ has its rewards.