tales from a trip to West Germany

In 1986, my employer sent me to West Germany for a couple of weeks. Things happened…


The reason that work sent me there was to represent the Canadian affiliate’s telecommunications interests. I was the system programmer for the Canuck affiliate and knew the most about our telecom setup.

Initially, my manager Larry was supposed to go. As the date got closer, it was decided that they wanted someone who really understood the details of the system and not some mindless sycophant who couldn’t distinguish SNA from TCP.

I asked Larry if I’d need to present anything while over there. “No, no. Just your sunshiny self.”

As we began the meetings, they asked my sunshiny self to do a presentation of the Canadian networking setup. “What presentation?” I asked.

Beeping Larry, man. This is why no one wanted him there.


I flew from Toronto to London to Hamburg, getting to Hamburg on a Sunday afternoon. After sitting at the airport in Hamburg for a couple of hours, it became apparent that my ride from Hamburg to Wolfsburg wasn’t going to show up. Apart from a couple of obscenities (thanks Dad), the only German that I knew was “Sprechen sie Englisch?”

I used this phrase to start conversations about “Where’s my ride?”, “How do I to get to Wolfsburg?”, “How do I get to the bus to the train station?”, “How do I get on the train to Wolfsburg?”, and eventually “How do I get from the train station to my goshdarn hotel?”.

After a few days, I got the closest thing that I was going to get to an apology from the company: “Mistakes were made. We’ve put it behind us.”

Some of you may notice the absence of any equivalent of “That sucks. Sorry Dude.”


I remember hearing that the reason that French cooking is good is that the typical base ingredients that the French could get were pretty awful. The French took it upon themselves to make the awful base ingredients taste as good as possible. The message that I got from this was that I should try to eat local food instead of trying to make the locals make North American food. (This doesn’t apply to Chinese food.)

I felt vindicated when listening to the Americans pissing and moaning about the quality of their steaks.


One night, we were taken to a Chinese food restaurant. Our hosts thought that we might be tired of only having German food. We each ordered egg rolls amongst other things. It turned out that in Germany, egg rolls are huge things that take up most of the plate. We’d been dimly aware that what we thought of as Chinese food wasn’t quite what folks ate in China. We hadn’t realized that each country would alter Chinese food differently to make it their own Chinese food.


We usually had lunch at an on-site cafeteria. Once, one of us had some greyish sausages. As he was eating, he noticed that the Germans in the group were giving him funny looks. When he asked what was going on, one of them asked how he liked <something unintelligible>. He said that he didn’t understand what <something unintelligible> was. The Germans talked amongst themselves and then turned back to him and said “Brain sausage”.

He managed to keep the sausage down but he didn’t really want to.


We had more Germanys and Berlins when I was young. A bunch of us spent a weekend in West Berlin. Getting there was fun (see crossing the border cold war style ) but we relaxed a bit once we’d gotten thru East Germany.


When I saw West Berlin at night, I was reminded of a quote from Douglas Adams’ The Restaurant at the End of the Universe

Arthur: “The people … ! The things … !”
“The things,” said Ford Prefect quietly, “are also people.”
“The people …” resumed Arthur, “the … other people …”


My 27th birthday happened while I was in Berlin. I wasn’t with a real party-type crowd. They were a bunch of old folks in their 30s and 40s. They were I.T. folks for gosh sakes.

Partying in West Berlin was legendary. This could have been my wildest birthday ever.

People who know me know better.


After two weeks in various Germanys, I took a weeklong detour on the way back through my home town. After that, I flew home.

Since I’ve met Pam, we’ve never been apart for more than a week. Except for this trip. I’m not planning on doing that again.

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