My second day in Germany started around 3am. I was so excited about my pizza that I had not remembered to get myself a drink. The lack of kettle in the room was a bigger issue than I thought. It is the first time in my life that I had ever woken up from having a dream about drinking water. I stumbled over to the bathroom and knocked back about a pint and a half of water to quench my thirst; damn those German pizzas are salty!
My colleague and I had decided that we would meet up at 9am and be ready to go when the event started at 10am. I set off at 8am, just in case they had moved the venue overnight, as the half hour walk was pretty much in a straight line and I couldn’t get that wrong. Arriving there at about twenty past eight, I had to get past the covid security team.
They were very serious. They asked for my covid passport that was in the form of an app linked to my NHS details. In the UK, when I went to my first in person event, they asked me to show them the app but they didn’t check it or the details in any way at all. The Germans checked the app and made sure that my driving licence information matched my face.
Once in, I messaged my colleague and agreed a meeting place with the plan of having a bit of breakfast before the event started at 10am. We would plan the day, work out who was doing what and then execute…..except nothing seemed to be open at all.
My colleague had mentioned that she spoke German at a decent level and so that became the challenge, to see if she could find out where we could get a breakfast. We walked up to a lady that must have been in her early sixties who was dishing out lanyards and floorplans and my colleague asked her, in what sounded to me like, perfect German.
She responded in German and I could work out that she was saying nothing opened until 10. As we said our thankyous and said goodbye, she shouted across to us ‘No teatime for you Englanders’. We laughed but felt humiliated.
We killed over an hour with no seats, no breakfast and a face full of mask. It really was like the League of Nations with all sorts of countries represented from Europe, Africa, Asia and both Americas. It felt weird after being locked in at home for so long, but oh so good to know that there was another world out there.
By the time the event opened we were ready to work, but we had to have breakfast first. We plumbed for the first place that sold coffee, tucked away in the corner of the main hall and stood next to a bin and ate a huge bratwurst covered in sauce and mustard. Fortified by caffeine, pork and the world’s spikiest bread bun, we were ready for work.
My colleague, emboldened by her conversations in German so far, was feeling confident enough to approach a stand and speak to them in German. She was terrified but I backed her 100% and she set off with aplomb. I had no idea what she was saying, but it sounded German and, to me, very convincing.
I think she wished that the world would have opened up and swallowed her whole when the guy that she had aimed her chat toward responded with a scrunched up face and a guttural “WHAT?” right back at her in English. It was then that I noticed that he had a little Spanish flag on his ID badge signifying that German was as much of a mystery to him as it was to me!
We walked back home that night absolutely exhausted and mentally drained. We decided that we would try to eat locally rather than heading into town and, knowing that there was nothing around my accommodation, we decided to drop my gear off at the flat and then walk to my colleague’s area around a mile away.
We walked through underpasses, past tram lines and through very pleasant residential streets and cold and damp conditions. The Halloween paraphernalia was still on doorsteps but rotting away slowly and sadly, like a sad memory of the fun that had passed.
My colleague dropped off her kit and we walked around trying to find somewhere to eat. There was very little about and we couldn’t make a decision as it all looked pretty bleak. We decided that tapas wasn’t going to be much fun and we spent so long looking through the window of the Greek restaurant without going inside it had become awkward.
We decided to check out a lovely looking bar, The Zum Armen Mann (The Poor Man) and see if they served food as they seemed to have a menu pinned next to the door. As we walked up the handful of steps to check out the notice, we were welcomed by a young lad that was obviously the bar owner with his little apron on and a sports cap.
We asked if there was any food and he said there wasn’t but that there were bar snacks and was so polite and pleasant that we couldn’t really bring ourselves to not go in. I was so glad that we did.
We walked through to the back of the bar and sat in the far corner where it was quiet and we wouldn’t be interrupting the regulars. The little man in the apron took our beer orders and, literally, did a double take when we asked for two large beers. We were smart enough to know that ordering two pints would have had a similar response to that of the Spanish guy!
When he brought the two drinks back to table he marked them down on our beer mat with his pen and that became our tab for the night. We clinked glasses and started to chat about the day’s work, but mainly the Spanish guy. Every time my colleague spoke to me I just shouted ‘WHAT?’ in her face. It was funny for me at least.
It was great to sit in the bar as if we were flies on the wall, free to watch everyday German life acted out in front of us. It looked as if these guys had popped into the bar for a few drinks before returning home and were drinking half pints. Every one of them. Half pints.
They played darts, they laughed, they joked and they argued but all in good nature. The bar was festooned in Fortuna Düsseldorf football strips, scarfs, pennants and all sorts of other nick-nacks. It felt, sounded and looked like the bar in Auf Wiedersehen Pet, right down to the slightly different looking fruit machine.
The drinks were flowing nicely and we were having a right good catch up and then, out of nowhere, the guys at the next table that were playing darts suddenly had a burger delivered to the table!
When the little apron guy came back we asked him what the deal was and he looked and us as if we were mad and showed us the menu where the list of food options were listed out. He looked at us as if we were mad for even asking if there was food…..THIS WAS THE SAME GUY THAT HAD TOLD US TWICE THERE WAS NO FOOD!
We ordered burgers and sausages and the drinks continued to flow. At the end of the night, apron man came over and totted up our pen marks on the beer mat and I demanded that we all shared shots, apron man included…..it was that sort of night and I needed a little confidence booster before my walk home in the dark past the train tracks! I still have no idea what we drank but it certainly took the edge off the cold night air!
I floated home in that way that you do when you are three sheets to the wind but by the time I got back to my digs it was well past midnight. I had done around 15,000 steps according to my phone and I passed out happy and content and oblivious to my piss poor pillow.