Normally, outsiders are welcomed with open arms in Germany and I have never felt any less then at home there. However in the pub where time forgot, the rules are inverted and the smokes of time hang in the air like spectres of the past threatening to consume any interloping non-Schwabisch, non-German visitors. They could smell the Englishness on me from a mile off.
The antiquated, gnome-like patrons of the pub are so mistrustful and suspicious that the whole place ends up feeling like the German equivalent of the League of Gentleman’s ‘local shop’. Ruddy faced old men with bulbous noses, misshapen through years of drinking beetroot schnapps as if it were lemonade, sit behind the protective barriers of their wheat beers, glowering menacingly at anyone under the age of 80 that has had the temerity not to wear Birkenstock sandals with dog eared grey socks pulled up to the top of the shins, or that hasn’t spent the last half a century growing a moustache so thick and wiry that it looks like it could be used for industrial cleaning. I have done Movember, yet next to these leviathans of facial hirsuteness I would have looked like a bald-faced eunuch.
As my wife and I walked in, it felt like we were the town pariahs walking through the Wild West saloon doors that the sheriff had banished us from. Everyone stopped drinking in order to stare; hostile silence filled the air, palpably thick and malevolent. They scrutinised us, looking us up and down from head to toe, and they knew we didn’t belong. Maybe my wife would have been fine on her own, but my Converse, my non-earth toned clothing, my lack of a shirt with a gilet worn over the top, my error strewn non-dialectal German were beacons that heralded the warning shots of otherness. My wife spoke to me in English. It sealed our fates. A meal of discomfort was destined to await us.
A resting ground for expiring testosterone, there was not a single woman in sight. The greybearded men communicated through an intricate array of withering looks and grunts and gurgles that sounded like an orgy taking place in a particularly grim corner of Middle-Earth. I tried to avert my eyes and keep them focused on my schnitzel and spaetzle, but when I failed I saw each and every pair of eyes peering spitefully, glittering with malice, over the top of the manifold copies of Bild Zeitung (the German equivalent of The Sun – though interestingly, unlike the Sun, Bild doesn’t bother with the pretence of a headline page and cuts straight to the tits and ass on the front page). I was sure that in their heads I was responsible for all of the bombed biergartens and smashed up Sportplatz that they had once lamented the losses of. In fact, I think that when they looked at my horrid English face, it initiated the air-raid sirens of their memories and I was sure that I was going to become the victim of a brutal attack involving walking sticks and dentures.
But I survived. After the most painfully awkward meal of my life, no attack was forthcoming. The crushing glances were enough to beat me in to submission. The trouble was, the food was so damn good that I couldn’t possibly go the rest of my life without visiting ever again. I would have to return to the battleground of cultural Armageddon, looking and sounding a little less English, a little less culpable for any war-time damage and a little more like Kaiser Wilhelm. I’ll get busy growing the Brillo-pad moustache my wife has always dreamed of, find myself a newspaper plastered with page 3 girls on page 1 and start practising my scowl in the mirror. That should see me half the way there.