“The Germans think of everything”
Someone said this in an advert on Irish television more than twenty years ago. Extensive research (google and asking around) doesn’t yield a precise answer to what the ad was for. I remember it may have been said by a woman in a suggestive put-a-bit-of-butter-on-the-spuds-Andre kind of way.
The words pop into my head as a reassurance whenever I’m struggling to operate some sort of mechanical doodah. If the contraption has the reassuring GMBH or AG imprinted on the shiny metal surface near the manufacturer’s name then I know it’s made in Germany in a factory run by a stout man with a moustache who plans on retiring to West Cork.
Whatever difficulty I’m having getting it to work is probably my fault.
The doodah I’m wrestling with now is the lever that turns a train seat into bunks beds. We’re in our compartment on the overnight train from Paris to Munich.
As Soul Brother Number One James Brown might have remarked while recording his 1961 version of the song of the same name, Night Trains are fierce yokes altogether.
We don’t have them in Ireland. The country is not big enough. You might spend a day on a train but that’s due to a signalling fault at Portarlington.
So a compartment of our own on the Deutsche Bahn City Night Line is a big treat. (We’ll be back before you read this so burglars, you are wasting their time and anyway we brought the diamonds with us.)
Speaking of briefcases of stolen diamonds it’s impossible to have a train compartment and not imagine you are in a film playing a character on the run from the police. It’s no wonder it has become a cinematical trope. There is the refuge inside your little area, the tense corridor on the other side of the door that links all the compartments and the terrifying nameless void of ‘Europe’ in darkness outside the window. All of this is backed by the soundtrack of the clacking of the train.
This time, there are no terse border guards saying “Passsspoat Pleesse“. Instead there is an impeccably polite porter explaining how to turn seats into bunk-beds. The chief source of tension is peering out of our door to see is anyone else planning to use the shared bathroom. I have a stand off with someone three doors down as we both have our door open a little and wonder whether to take a chance but don’t want the excruciating politeness of a “No you go first. I insist” encounter in the narrow confines of the corridor.
At some stage during the night, the train slows. I ask in a panicked voice “Why are we stopping? They’re on to us! Giscard must have betrayed our mission!”
I contemplate making a run for it and taking my chances in the forest until my wife explains the difference between reality and make-believe and soon the train takes off again.
When next I wake, it is daylight and Germany. I get an awful craving for buttered bread. There is a knock at the door. It’s our German porter bailing us out with breakfast. I look in the bag. There’s butter. They really do think of everything.
First published in the Irish Examiner on September 16th 2013