The Most Boring Election in German History

Ed Philp here once more, filling in for Andrew Hammel on vacation. Thanks Andrew!

It is now just under three weeks until the federal elections in Germany. As of writing, it still looks as though Angela Merkel’s CDU party will cruise to a slight victory, feeding more off a desire for a change of face at the bridge than a solid platform appealing to the majority of the electorate. In spite of the intervention of both George Bush and God (the Iran issue and floods in Bavaria), this election campaign has shaped up to be the most non-carbonated soy-based beverage offered to the German electorate since – I don’t know – perhaps Wilhelm II? The only political actor who has injected any fire into the debates so far has been the German Jack-in-the-Box Gregor Gysi, who can work himself into an absolute froth in front of any podium or camera. Actually, at the entire party convention of the Lefties (die Linke), the only figure of any interest was Katja Kipping, a young, photogenic socialist candidate with bright red dyed hair. Katja rennt…

If you missed the past three weeks of politics in Germany, here is a recap:

          Stoiber insults East Germans by calling them frustrated „calves“.

          East German voters largely agree with Stoiber, leading to a further rise in CDU polling in several eastern provinces.

          Flooding takes place in Bavaria, prompting all German candidates to buy green waterproof jackets, just in case they have to fly down and sandbag Bavaria’s dikes.

          All parties decide that visiting a damp Bavaria is less important than pointing fingers at Stoiber and accusing him of failing to properly finance Bavaria’s dikes (Bavaria has dikes; financing Bavaria’s dykes would be so much more interesting, especially with beery Oktoberfest around the corner).

          Merkel selects Paul Kirchhof, a tax reformer with some ambitious plans, as the likely CDU Finance Minister and shifts political debate to Turkish entry to the EU.

          German voters, to whom neither tax reform nor the EU are of much interest right now, rediscover that a host of websites featuring dancing caricatures of Merkel, Schröder & Co., are still more fascinating than actual political debates themselves.

This election has not only been lacking in vigor; it has also been missing any color of any sort. The incumbent workers‘ party, the  SPD has chosen beige, accented with a hint of red, as its primary color, a sure signal that industrial unrest and rest room decor in Germany is headed for a new period of bland compromise. The CDU, known in Germany as the „Blacks“, is running with apricot and peach tones of all things, visible on all of their posters as well as on Merkel’s jacket at virtually every political function. The Greens have stayed with – well – green, and the FDP continues its use of Subway-Sign yellow 136. And while the hair of Die Linke may be sponsored by Arcor, their posters look as though they were designed by class VI b of the School for the Differently Abled using a potato and some cheerful colors.

It is just a few days to go. Whatever the result, I want to see some fireworks, some energy and some real enthusiasm on the part of the parties for the chance to govern one of the world’s largest economies. I want to see „Vote or Die“ T-shirts on prominent celebrities, Rock den Stimmzettel concerts and drinks named after politicians (the "Lafontaine" – anything fizzy and expensive; the "Merkel" – a glass of Rottkäppchen with a 17% sales tax – any other suggestions?). Either that, or really good post-election parties to get myself invited to.

In one of my next posts, I’ll look at the tax reforms on the table a little more closely.

A German Joys Contest: Pick My Religion!

I will shortly depart for a vacation to fabulous Slovenia and mysterious Hungary, but directly afterward, I’ll be stopping by the Citizen Registration Office to renew my visa here in Germany.  I have little doubt that, as usual, I will be asked to write my religion on an official government form.  This always strikes me as rather dodgy.  I don’t particularly think the government has any business knowing what religion I practice.

So I take an irresponsible American approach, defined by the motto: "Ask a silly question, get a silly answer."  At first I was an atheist, which seemed the safest way to avoid church taxes.  Then I found out I could name any religion I wanted without getting taxed, as long as it wasn’t Catholic or "Evangelisch" (Protestant).  So the next time I renewed my visa I became a Buddhist, since I’ve always had a thing for the Noble Eightfold Path.

But why should my next answer be limited by my own creativity?  There’s a whole world of possibilities out there I might not have thought of.  Although I have thought of a lot, including the Yazidi.  They worship a blue peacock and can’t eat butter beans.  So far so good, but they’re also prohibited from wearing dark blue, which is one of my favorite colors.  So no Yazidi-ism for me.  I’ve also thought about putting down "Worship of the Flying Spaghetti Monster," but that won’t fit on the form.

So, dear readers, get to those comment boxes and give me a religion!  Whoever has the most creative suggestion will dominate my spiritual development for the next year, at least in the eyes of the German state.  What more precious reward could I offer?

Public-Private Partnership at its best

Germany will never emerge from its current economic crisis unless the public and private spheres learn to cooperate effectively to achieve important public ends.  Die Partei, a vibrant youth movement and political party formed by the editors of the German satire magazine Titanic, is giving this tired cliche critical insight a privileged place in its election campaign. 

The initials of Die Partei stand for "The Party of Employment, Law & Order, Animal Protection, Promotion of Elites and Grass-roots Democratic Initiative."  That’s a lot to address in Die Partei‘s upcoming 90-second television campaign commercial, which will be broadcast on 14 September at 5:55 PM on ZDF.  Nevertheless, in a bold new initiative, Die Partei is, through eBay auction, offering a product placement or advertisement to be broadcast right in the middle of its own campaign ad [my translation]:

No joke! 

Die Partei (founded by the editors of the satire magazine Titanic) is making you a serious offer.  According to your wishes, you can have a 25-second TV spot, worth almost 10,000 Euro, or a 90-second product placement [English in original]…

These 25 seconds will be placed inside a campaign commercial for Die Partei…. If you wish to advertise weapons, tobacco products, cheap liquor, etc., we will place your product in a clearly visible location for maximum promotional effect during the entire 90-second campaign commercial.  If you would like to advertise some other product or service or just sent a TV-lovenote or something similar, send us a 25-second spot on VHS [or another popular format].   

GUARANTEE: When you satisfy the above conditions, but your spot is not broadcast for reasons beyond your control, you will immediately get your money back.  We cannot be responsible for any further economic damages, such as paying your production costs.  You can, however, be certain that any non-broadcast of your spot, for instance on legal grounds, will have publicity and perhaps legal ramifications that will bring your product to the public’s attention.  That’s a promise.  If you have questions, ask them quickly, we don’t answer so quickly. 

As of the time of this writing, the bidding was up to 7,050 Euro.  The auction will soon close; get your bid in quickly!

To put this in historical perspective, I’d like to quote Horst Koehler, Germany’s new Federal President.  When he took office, he promised to help make Germany once again a "land of ideas."  I think you’ll agree this is one whose time has come.  I am President Koehler will soon visit the offices of die Partei to congratulate them on this bold initiative.

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Sie and Du

Silent Eloquence has an amusing post on the distinction between the formal "Sie" and the informal "du" mode of address in German:

I am convinced the only reason it exists is to confuse the hell out of non-Germans.

I didn’t realise what a pain it is, till now – I have finally reached a stage where I feel confident to try out meaningful conversations (beyond how are you and whats your name and have a good weekend) in German – and all of a sudden the Sie – Du conundrum looms large in the horizon. Its grammatically simple, really – it affects the verb declination a little bit,thats all. But the big question is – who do you use Du with and who do you use Sie with?

Ahh, the perennial question for learners of German as a foreign language.  She wraps up the post with a fervent wish: "I wish Deutsch evolves too, like English, to have only one form of You.  And that the evolution happens within the next couple of months!"

I remember also breaking my mind on Sie/du when I was learning German.  At this stage, it looks just like an unnecessary annoyance.  But in the course of time, I’ve learned to modify my views a bit.  So here are a few observations:

1.  Germans themselves have problems with whether to address people formally or informally.   This often happens at professional conferences, where people mix with one another without previous knowledge of their position.  You might start out talking to someone who also works in IT, or the legal department, at some other company.  Because you’re about the same age, and have similar backgrounds, you might start to "duzen."  Then, in the course of the conversation, it turns out that you are just an ordinary grunt, but the person you’re speaking to actually runs a department of 100 people, and might even be in a position to give you a job one day.  Do you switch to "Sie"?  I’ve heard lots of howlingly funny stories about such situations.  Or when a very old professor begins calling you "du," but seems to be addressing someone else in one of his fits of absent-mindedness.  Do you continue with "du?"  Was his "offering you the ‘du’", as the Germans say, intentional? 

When you see Germans twisting themselves into knots over this question, it becomes easier to deal with the problems yourself.

2. The existence of Sie and du gives you, the foreigner, a chance to "declare yourself exempt" from some of the seemingly unnecessary stiffness and formality of German social interactions.  Whenever I’m in doubt about whether to siezen or duzen somebody, I just say "Listen, I come from the U.S., and am not very familiar with the Sie/du thing.  Should I be using Sie or du with you?"  This question has usually never been posed to them before, and often renders them literally speechless for 10-15 seconds.  But they usually recognize that it’s a legitimate question: it shows (1) you’re speaking their language; and (2) you respect their social customs and are anxious not to offend.  But, at the same time, the question says "Shit, you can’t expect me to read your mind or magically guess what’s appropriate in all situations.  I’m not from here.  Let’s just resolve the issue at the outset, and then move on."  This gives you a little bit of cultural space for you to move around in.  Plus, the rare person who’s offended by the question brands himself an asshole who can be safely avoided.

3.  Although some Europeans might like a less formal mode of interaction, it’s important to realize that many of them feel the distinction still serves a valid purpose, and don’t want to see it eliminated.  As Roland Barthes once rhetorically asked: "Why is an ‘informal’ relation (as we greedily say) more desirable than a coded one?"

a.  First, having Sie and du establishes that "du" really means something.  You don’t just casually offer the ‘du’ to people, it signifies a real bond.  The comparison is often drawn to the U.S., where everybody uses first names to each other and engages in a lot of superficial heartiness.  But does calling someone "Bob" instead of "Mr. Jackson" really mean anything?  Vide the sentence "Bob, I’m sorry, you’re not working out for us.  You get 2 weeks’ severance pay, if you want any more you’ll have to sue.  It’s been a pleasure working with you, Bob, but you need to leave your office in 2 hours today or we will consider you a trespasser.  This gentleman from security will escort you, Bob, to make sure everything goes smoothly."

Another example: when you shop in Germany, the staff and cashiers are identified by badges that say "Frau Kohoutek" or "Herr Richter."  It’s a subtle way of recognizing that the work they do has dignity and is necessary.  Whenever I go back to the U.S., I always ask the cashiers whether they really want to wear a name badge that says "Hi!  I’m Cindy!"  A lot of them don’t.  And they also don’t want to be forced to stand up all day behind the cashiers’ counter, but they are.  [I then try to convince them to join a union]   

b.  Complexity can be interesting.  A friend of mine, a French professor name Mikhail, once responded to my complaint by pointing out that he still referred to a very long-term colleague, with whom he’d gone on several trips, by the formal address.  It wasn’t a sign of remoteness or hostility, just a quiet, dignified recognition of the difference in position between them, and the origin of their association.  Of course, having different modes of formality adds complexity (Japanese, I’m told has 5).  But then, cooking an elaborate 4-course meal is surely more complex than stuffing yourself with fast food from a paper bag while speeding along the freeway to your next appointment.

That is how I’ve come to view the issue.  But of course, that’s no help to people learning German, who are horrified to find that they have to master several entirely separate ways of conjugating verbs, and make a split-second choice — as they speak — between them.  All I can say is: get a good language teacher.

Administrative Update

Time to bore you with some administrative news. 

German Joys‘ Supreme Commander and President-for-Life will be going on a much-wanted vacation until the twelfth of September.  He’ll be mixing work and pleasure in a fact-finding mission to the newly-admitted EU states of Slovenia and Hungary, and obtaining valuable professional qualifications in old-school EU nation Holland.

Never fear, though.  Content will continue to magically appear on German Joys through the miracle of pre-poned posting.  (Yes, German has a word for pre-poning as well as post-poning.  I am trying to bring this into English.  I would also like to know why you can’t simply "pone" something).  I am also hoping that Culture Minister and Field Marshal Ed Philp (the titles have gone through some inflation here at GJ) will step up to the plate with a few of his always-piquant posts. 

If I make it to an Internet cafe, I will try to post some observations from the former Eastern bloc.  I should warn readers that Typepad, for all its merits, often screws up formatting on mobile-logged posts, so I hope you will bear with me if some of my contributions end up looking odd or jagged.

With that said, it’s off to Ljubljana and Budapest!

Why the Judges Wear Red

The German Federal Constitutional Court (FCC) (Bundesverfassungsgericht) have decided that Gerhard Schroeder’s decision to call for and lose a no-confidence vote was within his "margin of appreciation," to put it vaguely European-ly, and therefore that the new elections scheduled for Sept. 18th can take place.  No big surprise.

Here’s a picture of some members of the Court, similar to many that have been flickering on many TV screens lately.  I am now going to answer a question some of you might have been asking yourselves: why the bright-red judicial robes and hats?

The answer comes from page 80 of Der Gang nach Karlsruhe ("The Route to Karlsruhe," the city in which the Court is located), a recent popular history of this fascinating Court by the German legal journalist Uwe Wesel.  I turn to this book whenever the official treatises on the Federal Constitutional Court were too turgid, abstract, and boring, which was very frequent. 

Wesel discusses not only the major decisions and doctrines of the FCC, but also the personalities on and around the court and the political context in which it operates.  What’s more, he does so in crisp, lively, tangy prose.  On page 80 he describes how the Justices chose their robes.  By the early 1960s, The judges of the FCC, Wesel writes (in my informal translation),

no longer wanted to wear the same robes as their colleagues [on Germany’s other high courts].  They formed a Robe Committee, and had a theater director from Munich visit, carrying a thick book full of colorful costumes.  From this book they chose the most fitting costume.  They were the robes worn by the highest judges of Florence in the 15th or 16th century.  Thus we have the red robes with white band and red cap.

I know, it’s utterly useless trivia.  But still good to know, no?

Sweden Basking in Socialist Success

Ahh, Sweden’s got it all: a well-functioning social welfare state and good growth and productivity figures, according to this recent report in the FT:

The key economic statistics are good, [Swedish Prime Minister Goran Persson] argues, with low inflation, low interest rates, and with the economy finally moving from the export-dominated growth of previous years to domestic-driven growth, which promises rapid job creation.

American-style capitalism?  No thanks:

"The U.S. is competitive, but not as competitive as we think. We are too self-critical in Europe, even though we have a much better social system and in Sweden are just as productive. On unemployment, it is overlooked that the U.S. has approaching two million people in jail and out of the labor market."

More on How Not to Deregulate

Many of the commenters to my post about the rail network have made valuable points about the German rail system — notably, the fact that it is been partially de-regulated, and that the availability of trains even to somewhat remote places varies from Bundesland to Bundesland.  Of course, I happily defer to the commenters, who seem highly knowledgeable. 

I was merely reporting my personal experience of die Bahn, not attempting a formal assessment of its performance.  I travel mostly in Nordrhein-Westfalen, where the rail network is very dense.  I have often ridden trains in which I was one of perhaps 5-6 paying passengers on the whole train.  Although there may be different service providers, the experience as a passenger is of one uniform entity.  When I book an ICE train from Duesseldorf to Hannover, for example, I know exactly what that train will look like.  It will be sleek and white.  It will be filled with comfortable seats, helpful blue displays, and doors that open and close automatically, just like the doors on the U.S.S. Enterprise.

The key point I was trying to make is that whatever de-regulation has happened in Germany, it hasn’t wrecked the entire rail network.  In Britain, it is now a settled consensus among all political parties that the deregulation of the rail industry is a catastrophic failure.  Costs have skyrocketed and service suffered.  Here is a conclusion from page 14 of a recent parliamentary report:

As public sector support for the railway has tripled, underlying spend has doubled and revenue has remained static; while the SRA’s graph reveals the industry’s inability to sustain and improve its performance. The taxpayer has paid progressively more in this period for a declining service. …[T]he enormous increase in the cost of the railway places its future in grave serious doubt.  It is essential that costs are brought under control for the future of the railway.  Professor Roderick Smith of Imperial College gave evidence to us that the cost of one entirely new railway system was in the range £11 – 27 billion. The sums which have been used ineffectively by the Government’s railway structure in propping up the present, poorly performing system, could have paid for a large proportion of a new railway network.

And what kind of service have these billions brought to British rail travelers?  The graph below, also from the above-mentioned report, gives you an idea; it shows the on-time performance of British trains dropping from 90% to 75% in the aftermath of the 1996 privatisation, which split the British rail system into 100 competing service providers.  Oh, and don’t forget the string of recent train crashes in Britain, in which dozens of people have died and thousands were injured.

All I wanted to say to Germany is: don’t let this happen to you, and be thankful for what you’ve got!

Rail_performance

Regulation Done Right; or, a Hymn to the Deutsche Bahn

Over in The Independent, former British press secretary Alastair Campbell, first slags the triviality of British newspapers, "which seem to be full of irritating articles by contributors anxious to tell us all about their summer holidays."  He then proceeds to do just the same, telling us all about his holiday in France.  He’s got sturdy Anglo-Saxon opinions about that country: lovely place to visit, but the people are depressed and cynical, and seem to be trapped in a strait-jacket of unnecessary regulation they don’t know how to get out of:

[I]f you talk to the same kind of French people we have been talking to, you could hardly underestimate their sense of depression and decline.

…I can report that virtually every one of the French businesspeople we have met this year has expressed strong opposition to the 35-hour week. Perhaps more surprisingly, the opposition seems to be shared by virtually every one of the French tourists we have talked to. Their complaint is not that they work less than they did — that bit seems to please them. It is that they now have more time for leisure and holidays, yet severely reduced spending power. Restaurants report the French to be eating and drinking less. Hotels report that Belgian and Dutch families tend to be the ones taking the de luxe bedrooms and expensive set menus.

The French, Campbell says, have just plain regulated themseves into oblivion.  For a contrary view, though, read this piece by Paul Krugman, who cautions Anglo-American observers not to assume that French policies have "failed" simply because their economy is weak.  If you value time over money, you might just be content with a slow-growing, highly-regulated economy that guaratees you 2 months of effective or real vacation a year.

Further, Alastair might want to stop crowing about how, in his words, "no sane Brit" would accept the level of regulation one sees in France.  Sometimes, regulation is a good thing.  God knows, here at German Joys there have been some outbursts against the many-tentacled German regulatory state.  But anyone who’s tried to travel by train in Britain lately knows just what a nightmare the wrong kind of deregulation can unleash.  British train service is now provided by a variety of different semi-private companies, who appear to have some obscure quasi-competitive relationship to each other that I was never able to figure out. 

I wanted to get from Oxford to Chipping Campden one find Sunday, and was alarmed to find all service counters closed.  This in a country where Sunday closing laws have been battered into meaninglessness, and in a city with 150,000 inhabitants.  No problem, I thought, I’ll just buy a ticket from the machine.  Said machine waited patiently while I fed 8 pounds of change into it; then regurgitated every penny at the end without providing me either a ticket or explanation.  I thought I could see a little man inside, with glowing red eyes, laughing himself silly over my mounting rage.  Good thing the machines didn’t work, though, because I would have ended up buying a worthless ticket — the route advertised on the train schedule had recently been cancelled.  I only learned this because a security guard took pity on me.

In Germany, by contrast, everything’s run by the stodgy old Deutsche Bahn.  And die Bahn, as everyone calls it, is a miracle of efficiency, reliability, and capacity.  The reason it’s hard to get around England on a train is that private entrepreneues cancel unprofitable routes (or unprofitable policies such as having Sunday ticket counter service).  You may desperately need or want to get from Oxford to Chipping Camden, but if it’s just you and 3 doddering old ladies, that’s not enough to make it profitable.  You’ll just have to dodder about in your own villages.  In Germany, though, there will always be a Sunday 3 PM train from Bad Scheidungsklage to Niedervollweib.  Always.  Because die Bahn doesn’t care, and doesn’t have to care, whether it’s profitable to run a train from Bad Scheidungsklage to Niedervollweib.  What’s important is that every citizen have a chance at mobility. 

Many Germans, displaying the whiny, negative pessismism that poisons everything it touches, complain about die Bahn.  Have these whiny weenies no shame?  I travel constantly on the German train system.  It can be expensive if you pay full-price, that I admit.  But by and large, with only trivial exceptions, it promises to take me exactly where I want to go, in fact does take me there, and does so safely and in style.  To complain about this gentle giant of an institution is like complaining about a slightly blackened crème brûlée in the midst of a famishing Nigerian village. 

All hail the bureaucratic, highly-regulated, state-owned German railway network!

German Word of the Week: Hurrapatriotismus

It means "rah-rah patriotism" or jingoism; a blind, reckless, willful extolling of the virtues of one’s country at the expense of all (or certain) others.  I like it because it evokes a crowd screaming "hurra" after various exhortations; quite a resonant image. 

I am happy to report that there is very little of this indeed left in Germany.  Every card carrying member of the educated classes rejects patriotism with a sneering ferocity that I often find a tad extreme.  But then again, George Bernard Shaw once said "You’ll never have a quiet world till you knock the patriotism out of the human race."

I don’t have a real-world example at the ready; doubtless many of you readers will.  But what I do have is even better: a description of Hurrapatriotismus from someone who saw it in its rawest form.  I speak of the bilious Englishman Henry Mayhew, who wrote, in 1865, a 2-volume book entiteld German Life and Manners (full title: German Life and Manners, as Seen in Saxony of the Present Day: with an Account of Village Life–Town Life–Fashionable Life–Domestic Life–Married Life–School and University Life, &c, of Germany at the Present Time: Illustrated with Songs and Pictures of the Student Customs at the University of Jena). I previously quoted this masterpiece of cultural chauvinism here.

Here is Mayhew’s prim and disapproving accoung of Hurrapatriotismus among the Jena students:

During our residence in the Thuringian capital, the city was lighted, for the first time, with gas, and it was astonishing to hear how the benighted townfolk rave at the expense and uselessness of the innovation, asking one another where was the need of so much light in the streets at night-time, and vowing that the old oil-lamps were good enough for them.  And yet the beer-befuddled fools would go off to their tavern that night, and sing in their cups, about their "Deutschland!  Deutschland! ueber Alles (Deutschland, before everything!) though not one of them would forego a single glass of small-beer for the sake of bettering it.

With boys this sentimental and inactive patriotism may be excusable; but with men, whose deeds you expect to correspond with their words, the continual windbag-braying about their love of their country becomes rank fustian, when you know how much is required to be done for it, and how not one of the pot-house brawlers is ready to do the least thing for its advancement — beyond, indeed, marching through the streets in some boyish procession, with a big banner flying, and a band of music playing at the head of them.

[Vol II, p. 77]  The next two pages go on in a similar vein, even calling Germany a "Mud-Utopia"!

The Marxist-Leninist Party of Germany

Yes!  It exists!  Read more about it here.  (Note their complaint that the "bourgeois" German press maintains a "deathly silence" toward their existence.)

Pl01_die_soz_alter But most of all, go visit their campaign poster section, and enjoy a trip down Marxist memory lane.  So colorful!  So piquant!  Actual pictures of Marx and Lenin!  A demand for a 30-hour workweek with the same salary!  And, best of all, socialist workers in overalls with healthy, cheerful, big-boned New Women waving red flags over their heads!

Oh, if only I could vote in Germany…

Compliment them on their glasses

Well, the millions of sweaty, chanting young pilgrims are gradually leaving the Rhineland.  Now we just await a worldwide wave of births in April 2006. 

The high point for me was seeing a crowd of tanned young French Catholics invade my local far-left Kneipe, called Tigges.  They begun chanting surreally rhythmic French drinking songs (yes, remember Catholics get to drink and smoke — one of Catholicism’s undoubted advantages as a religion).  They seemed perfectly oblivious to the anti-war, anti-nuke propaganda all around them which positively crackled with anti-papal animus.

I found them and their ilk a friendly and cheerful presence, and kind of regret that they’ll be gone.  Apparently German Joys Editor Emeritus Ed Philp has a more nuanced view.  In the interests of equal time, here are his observations on the Pope-fest:

Ed Philp here once more. It’s World Youth Day in Cologne this week, and thousands of young Christian "pilgrims" (without the buckled hats or the turkey) are converging on Cologne and Düsseldorf to see the Pope and take part in uplifting ceremonies designed to reinforce faith – the faith – and to collectively reinforce Christian spirituality in today’s secular world.

Heck with that. The entire Rheinland region has suddenly been turned into a giant youth hostel, with all of the accompanying backpack tourism, sweaty socks and youthful opportunity I remember from my trips through Europe in youth hostels. I’m probably typical for any North American in this regard – I associate youth hostels with sex. Usually drunken, try not to wake up the other six people in the room sex, and at least try to remember what country she is from, if you still can’t pronounce her name sex, but sex just the same. I’m already disappointed by this World Youth Hostel though.

All of the churches are advertising "If you have just two square meters of spare space in your home, you can take in a pilgrim". At the church I visited recently, there was no-one who could tell me whether this measurement could include my bed. There was also no special sign-up sheet for those people interested in taking in only young, female attractive citizens of Sweden, Denmark or Norway. God help you if you get quartered with some earnest young German from Böblingen or Obereiterbach. The only thing you can do is to compliment them on their quirky triangular glasses and remind them that Christianity is a religion based on love. Lots and lots of love.

And I think all of Germany is disappointed in the Catholic tour guide Benedikt. This isn’t a teacher who is going to go to bed at 9 pm, pretending not to notice how the entire class quietly leaves the youth hostel again to go and get wrecked in a beer garden or disco. No – this Pope is German, and he is going to be chaperoning until late at night, and up early the next day to pass out the yogurt and train tickets. This is his country – he knows the beer gardens and discos, and he won’t need a translator when the incriminating photos show up in the Bild Zeitung the next morning.

Disappointment all around. On a side note, I love the slogan for this year’s Youth Day – "Wir sind gekommen, um IHN anzubeten – We have come to pray to HIM". Except that with the three German pronouns, masculine, feminine and neuter, "IHN" is a pronoun based on der and is used to refer to anything masculine. I’m going to spend the week asking young Christians why they have come so far to go down on their knees before the table (der Tisch – ihn), the chair (der Stuhl – ihn), the dried fruit (der Dörrobst – ihn), or anything else masculine. I thought Pride Day here was in June.