Ever since H and I decided to book ourselves a midweek break in Berlin, I have had difficulty getting to sleep. Night after restless night I have lain beneath the sheets, palms sweating, eyes darting round the room, so gripped am I by the fear that H is going to somehow cause a major diplomatic incident.
We’ve spoken about H before, I know; about her talent for the vernacular and unwillingness to pander to the politically correct. Excited as I am about the trip, I can’t shake the feeling that my friend’s well-intentioned but unparalleled view of the world, transplanted into the vibrant, modern capital of our European cousins, will be the equivalent of travelling with an unexploded…
“I fear that H is going to somehow cause a major diplomatic incident”
I should stop there, shouldn’t I? The missing word has, after all, been banned from our travels. As have banner, rally, moustache, salute, and anything delivered in a ham Bavarian accent. H threatened to make a list of the banned words, then remembered ‘list’ is banned too.
“How’s the old sprechen sie deutsch going?” she asks. She is referring to the German language course I’ve been taking online (hoping that, by mastering even some very basic phrases, I’ll be able to take command of every conversation that transpires during our trip and thus reduce the likelihood of us both being hauled off by the Bundespolizei).
“Go on then. What’s German for hello?”
“Guten Tag. Guten Morgen if it’s the morning. Or just hallo.”
“Hallo,” repeats H, nodding. “And please?”
“Bitte,” I say.
“How about sorry?”
“Don’t think I don’t know,” I say coolly, “where you’re going with this.”
“Well, pardon me for finding it a little strange that you’re four modules in, and they still haven’t got around to saying sorry. You’d think…”
And off we go. Unexploded blank. To give her credit, though, H has been making an effort to try and take a more enlightened view on the local culture. She even bought a guidebook, in which – so she tells me – she was surprised to note only one reference to the period between 1933 and 1945.
“Well, I don’t imagine the people at Visit Germany see that as a major selling point. What did you expect? That it would be like Disneyland, with a Black Baron rollercoaster and struggling actors wandering around in oversized Eva Braun outfits?”
“There’s a Cold War museum,” grumbles H. “You can spy on your neighbours and the tour guides are all dressed up as the Stasi. How is that different?”
“It just is,” I sigh. “Is it too early for us to start talking about glueing your mouth shut?”
“Best glue my knees together too,” says H.
“Don’t want to risk me goose-stepping through the Brandenburger Tor.”
Dear lord, I hope they teach me the German for sorry before we depart.