The Empire Strikes Back

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It has taken ten days to admit to myself that there is no amusing simile of “Take My Breath Away“. Which is a bugger since it was a perfect 80s Pop hook into this post and, possibly the most interesting thing therein. “Make my breath OK and “Slake my thirst away” burned way more mental cycles that could have been better spent on work related matters.

And they were still rubbish – luckily inspiration struck while lolling on the sofa having inappropriate fantasies about Carrie Fisher. Is it just me?* Allegedly** George Lucas originally modelled the Empire on Nazi Germany and that’s pretty obvious when you see the uniform Stormtroopers and universe domination policies. For the hard of understanding, I reckon he should have given Darth Vader a funny mustache and an Austrian accent.

But dodgy Berlin references aside, the city itself is really rather lovely nowadays. The post war Marshall plan allied to inspired and joined up architecture makes the cityscape a rather compelling whole. But first I had to get there. A lack of amusement is almost de rigour for air travel nowadays but the “London airports still provide at least some geographical hilarity. London Stanstead if really West Nofolk, London Gatwick is Reigate south and, in a couple of drafty warehouses, mired in the backwater of Bedfordshire can be found London Luton.

Now Heathrow and City airports are geographically consistent with the capital, but their proximity to London is nullified with their approaches being blocked by a traffic funnel stuffed to capacity. Luton (or GM factory perimeter as I think of it) works for me; it’s 45 minutes +/- 15 unless an elephant has escaped from Whipsnade and is rampaging over the local roads. The taxi driver navigated via narrow ‘b’ roads, the aforementioned entrance to the animal house and – apparently – random back gardens. But since the journey included no M25 or histrionic BMW drivers, all was good.

And it got better, the check-in bucked the current trend of some endless, mazy corridor starting outside the building. No one rugby tackled me for attempting to breach security with a potentially lethal bottle of water. Exchanging money was a transaction much improved by this cheeky couplet: “Going to have any time off for fun sir“/”No I’m going to Berlin to spend two days with some Germans“.

The security bod guarding departures was clearly DJ Jazzy Jeff in his spare time and pronounced my boarding pass as “wicked” while flashing me a smile from behind funky sunglasses. And on being frisked, my frisker asked if I could smile at the gun toting police as “they get a little down when they’re not allowed to shoot anyone“. Obviously the plane was still late since a passenger couldn’t be arsed to board way after his luggage already had.

Cheap landing fees means Berlin Shoenfeld is the London Luton of modern Germany – a cartographist would have better placed this windy airstrip in the southern suburbs of Hannover. And while flying Easyjet meant buying my own beer, the anarchy of the seat scrum and rumble more than made up for it.

So two days to follow in Berlin – a city with a little too much efficiency and not quite enough humour. I try to provide my own by randomly translating a language I can barely bastardise to hurdle important language obstacles such as where to get a drink. For example a 20 foot billboard for the local newspaper promised “Ihre Nachrichten. Heute Geliefert!” which instantly babelfished to “Genuine Russian Hamsters Available. Ready to Use Today“.

This provided sufficient entertainment to launch me into the pre-conference all you drink buffet. As usual, I’d given myself a stern talking too, focusing on a rich hinterland of frequent embarrassment and invoking drinking rule#2. Rule#2 goes like this: “When you’re on the company dollar, behave yourself, stay out of sight and turn up on time“. Not as raffish as Rule#1*** but far more likely to save you from a potential Career Ending Move.

And, EXACTLY as usual I waded into the event – jostling barwards through hoards of my betters – like a man with exactly one day to live. I was saved from anything other than a mild headache by two factors at play; firstly the lateness of my arrival has put given everyone else an opportunity – which to their great credit, they seized with some aplomb – to enter the state of the mildly catatonic. And secondly, my Yorkshire accent may have hidden any slurs as I performed random human Googles on peopled name badges, who had previously been only rather flat email correspondents. This allowed me the luxury of rocking up, shaking hands and breaking the ice with “”Ah you’re Bob Smith, nice to put a name to a face, is it me or is that an advert for Russian hamsters?

Such tactics saved me from having to fabricate a tissue of lies involving a drunken twin brother and a terrible case of mistaken identity. So after a day of being stuffed in a never end conveyor of food and a similar level of presentations, I was ready for a good, hard lie down. Sadly that was an option not available as our ever efficient hosts took us on a walking tour from the Hotel (which was previously bisected by the Berlin Wall and that must have made breakfast a bugger: “Quick, get a move on otherwise we’ll be machine gunned for stealing crumpets“) to the Holocaust Memorial (extremely poignant, guide apologising for the war, really quite moving) to the Reichstag (burnt down THREE times only the once by Lancasters).

Dinner was served in the dome balanced on the Reichstag, after a chilly tour of what I’m thinking of as the battlements. You cannot but notice how clean the city is, how integrated the architecture and how proud the people. London has none of these things but it does have a certain zest, an arrogant belief in its’ own importance and the thick end of ten million people trying to make your life miserable. The polarisation of these two great cities is that one looks forward while reflecting on its’ past, while the other glories in history and makes assumptions about the future.

It’s almost enough to persuade me to learn German properly.

* I had the poster and everything
** I read it on the Internet so I know this to be true.
*** Al’s Drinking Rule#1: “Life is to short to drink with assholes

3 thoughts on “The Empire Strikes Back

  1. Alex

    Well Carrie is pretty haggard nowadays so I reckon I could still be in with a chance. You – on the other hand – shall be spending a quality evening with google search and some tissues 🙂

  2. nickc

    “You cannot but notice how clean the city is, how integrated the architecture and how proud the people”

    That’s because they’re Berliners. They have the same preoccupation with cleanliness and rules that all the best parochial town councils aspire to. W*nkers.

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