"tour post", such as the German penchant for grungy music venues, with their unmarked doors and copious amounts of graffiti - and - rather surprisingly - loo paper.
So here are some other things that struck me during my week on the road (or on the train, rather) in Germany, in no particular order.
THE "ENJOY YOUR FLIGHT" MISNOMER
This one has been brewing for a long time...Have you noticed how the captain will always say something along the lines of: "Sit back, relax, and enjoy your flight!"? How odd. For given that in my case we are talking a short haul flight, with hard and relentlessly upright seats, overpriced meal deals involving brown sludge topped with hot water posing as luxury hot chocolate, and irritating scratch card promotions - that's always assuming you don't have a toddler kicking the back of your seat or a stag party in the same row - I don't personally see what is particularly enjoyable about it. I have heard rumours that on long haul flights with Qatar Airways your every whim is ministered to by almond-eyed Miss World contestants thinly disguised as flight attendants. Well, I know they are good for Earl Grey tea while flying over the Pyrenees, say.
IMMIGRATION ETIQUETTE: THE DEMISE OF SURNAMES
Not so long ago, I remember the gradual replacement of the term "Christian name" by the more neutral "First name" on documentation such as visas and landing cards. I can understand the rationale for that, because not every person passing through an airport is a Christian - far from it. But lately I have noticed a parallel trend to subsituting the term "Family name" for "Surname". What's that all about? Might "Family name" not count as discrimination against single people, who don't exactly constitute a whole family unit as such, albeit they will usually have had one at some point. But as a term for your "last name", it strikes me as overly populous. Just saying.
PICKING THE WRONG QUEUE AT PASSPORT CONTROL
We've all done it - and I seem to do it more than most - namely pick the longest queue at passport control, which turns out to have all the suspected illegal immigrants in it. In our increasingly multi-cultural society you would think that no particular ethnicity or other aspect of someone's appearance would strike the passport control officers as out of the ordinary. Perhaps decisions to stop and grill visitors at the border about the purpose of their stay is due to some irregularity with their passports, or a telling travel pattern that is somehow suggestive of illicit work.
I always used to think that a large amount of luggage might be the giveaway, but based on my own observations this doesn't seem to hold up. I've seen visitors get stopped who arrive with a single item of hand luggage, the better to deflect suspicion perhaps? Maybe they plan to hotfoot it down to M & S with their first week's wages and buy a triple pack of shirts and a pentuplet pack of pants. Or maybe they have got the art of handwashing their smalls down to a fine art. These are the sort of whimsical thoughts that flit through my mind during the long queue shuffling vigils at passport control...
CONCRETE VISTAS FROM HOTEL ROOMS
On this trip two of my four hotel rooms, in Stuttgart and Berlin, looked out onto a building site. For 50% of my accommodation to have such an uninspiring aspect struck me as well over the odds, and by the end of the week I was finding the sight of cranes level with my hotel window strangely reassuring.
WATER METERS IN UNEXPECTED PLACES
In Hamburg I was startled to find no soap in the shower cubicle, not even one of those annoying squeezy wall-mounted dispensers, whose displacement of soap I lamented in this earlier post. This meant that I had to nip out of the shower several times in the course of my ablutions to squirt some soap onto my hands from the dispenser over the sink before jumping back in again. There was, however, one unexpected fixture in the shower cubicle, namely a pair of water meters! We have a water meter under the sink in the kitchen, but this was my first encounter with two of the things in a shower. There was a red one one for hot water and a blue one for cold. Additionally, the shower had a hot and cold tap, also coded in red and blue. However, it took me a full five minutes of running freezing water from the red tap to realise that the hot tap was in fact the blue one. And of course meanwhile the cold water meter was cycling through merrily, swelling the coffers of the local utility company, Hamburg Wasser, as yet another punter was fooled into wasting water unnecessarily.
Okay, so this photo shows yet another unexpected place for a water meter - imagine this same style, but fitted to the wall in the shower!
ABUSING WASTE BINS
While we are on the subject of waste, there were two incidents on this trip where I flouted the strict German guidelines for waste segregation. For as is increasingly the way these days, public litter bins typically come with four compartments: Paper, Packaging, Glass and "Other Rubbish". However, I was in such a rush to jump on my train to Berlin that I rammed an empty Chinese takeaway container, complete with bag, cutlery and residual gloop, into any old hole out of the four without even stopping to look. And not an hour later, I bought a choc ice on the train, but didn't like it. So at one of the first stations we came to (sorry, Göttingen!) I leapt off the train during its two minute stop and hastily stuffed the ice cream detritus in another unidentified bin compartment, knowing full well that my abandoned Magnum would shortly have melted into a milky puddle at the bottom, whicht some poor refuse disposal operative would have to swab off.
This observation is also long overdue...for reasons best known to himself the bass player donated a packet of pretzels to me in Darmstadt, which I dutifully ate on the way up to Hamburg. What a spectacularly pointless foodstuff are they?! Yes, the best that can be said about pretzels is that they are a "rigid, cylindrical, salt delivery mechanism". And that is being kind.
After the Stuttgart gig, I was making my way back to my hotel about 1.15pm, when two lads approached me in the middle of the shopping centre and very politely asked if I knew a good pub that opened late. And there's me thinking that if push came to shove I could clock 'em with the glass water bottle I had mineswept from the venue. Well, I know what Stafford is like at night, so I guess my view is a bit jaded. Later I told this story to a friend, who remarked:
"Glad your 'late night encounter' wasn't as scary as it could have been. I guess speaking German helped - I wouldn't have had a clue what they were asking for, and may well have hit them with the bottle anyway."
A TRABANT LIMO
Okay, until I saw one of these with my own eyes, I would have dismissed the phrase "Trabant Limo" as a contradiction in terms, but not so. "Stretch Trabants" are very much alive and well in Berlin, and must surely be the last word in quirky and stylish transport for anyone attending a red carpet event. : - )
NB You can't see the cranes looking this way!
And here's a photo of yet another grungy venue in Berlin - you can't have too many, if you ask me.
Photo of Qatar Airways from globaltravelerusa.com, photo of visa application from docstoc.com, photo of UK border control from news.carrentals.co.uk, photo of water meters from makingthishome.com, photo of waste bin from solarnavigator.net, photo of pretzels from evilmadscientist.com, photo of Stuttgart from en.wikipedia.org, other photos my own