As a widely respected Foreign Correspondent, I recently felt the need to travel to Germany so I could observe firsthand the front lines of this dangerous all-dominating worldwide struggle we have come to know as the Cold War. At least that's what I'm going to tell the Internal Revenue Service. The truth is, I went to Germany because this is the year I turn 40, and I felt the need to be surrounded by the largest possible quantity of beer.
They are very good at beer, the Germans, and what is more they tend to serve it in vessels the size of municipal stadiums. Thus a great deal of my Foreign Correspondence activity consisted of going with my traveling companions to historic towns, where we would drink beer at picturesque outdoor cafe's and read in the guidebook about how the town has a historic cathedral you could go look at. Or you could have another beer, which is the approach we generally took.
The way you order a beer in Germany is, you say: "I'd like a beer, please." Everybody in Germany, including domestic animals, speaks English, often better than we do. This is probably because their native language, German, contains very large words that it takes two and sometimes three alert people, working in shifts, to pronounce. The one German word you should learn is Einbahnstrasse, which you see a lot on city street signs and which you naturally assume is a street name. At least we did. "We're on Einbahnstrasse again!" we'd say, in frustration, while wandering around, lost. "It's not on this darned map!" And then one evening it hit us: Einbahnstrasse means one-way street. Ha ha! Bozo Americans.
But aside from the fact that they use foreign street signs, we found the Germans to be quite friendly. One evening at a large and densely populated beer hall in Munich we got into a conversation with a German named Norbert who was so friendly that after virtually every statement anybody made, he insisted that we all whonk our beer steins together as a gesture of international friendship. This was quite tiring because the steins held a liter of beer and weighed approximately 140 kilometers each.
Norbert had been to America and had formed a number of impressions, including:
1. "People eating too much peanut butter in the morning! This was a surprise by me!" (WHONK!)
2. "There is no sauerkraut! I asked by Burger King! I asked by Pizza Hut! No sauerkraut! This was a surprise!" (WHONK!)
He had a lot more impressions, but I was unable to write them all down and still keep up with the toasts. After a few liters we had all become major international friends, and Norbert promised to maybe visit us in Miami, which he knew by reputation ("Too much criminality!"). We parted with Norbert's traditional German farewell ringing in our ears: "Tomorrow, the hanging over!"
Besides beer, the Germans have a number of unusual customs, such as not destroying their public transportation. The subways are clean and vandalism-free, and they operate -- this will be a large surprise by you -- on the HONOR SYSTEM. It's the most bizarre thing you ever saw. There are no turnstiles or ticket-takers, yet PEOPLE PAY ANYWAY. Imagine what would happen if we were to implement such a system in a major American cultural center such as New York. The entire apparatus -- trains, tracks, stations -- would be stolen in a matter of hours. There would be nothing left but a network of dark aromatic holes in the street, which New Yorkers would continue to plunge into by the millions because it would be indistinguishable from their current system.
But getting back, for tax purposes, to the Cold War: Another thing we did in Germany was take a bus tour of East Berlin. "See Live Communists in their Native Habitat!" is what the tour brochure did not say, although it should have, because that's why we all went. Our guide was thoughtfully provided by the East Germans, and she spent most of the tour explaining how East Berlin is definitely going to be swell, once they get finished building it; it's going to have so many thousand shops and so many cubic meters of highways and so many kilograms of worker housing, and we should all come back and see it, once it's finished, provided our papers are in order. We made three stops on the tour: a museum of old stones from the Middle East, a Soviet war memorial, and a special rest stop thoughtfully set up just for us tourists. It was every bit as pleasant as we had anticipated, especially when we got back to the attractive yet functional Berlin Wall and a guard used a large portable mirror to check under the bus to make sure that no East Germans were clinging to the transmission. "Y'all come back now!" was the unexpressed message here.
Anyway, I definitely recommend that you all get over to Germany sometime, even if you are not required to do so for strictly business reasons. As I was. (WHONK!)