Sonntag, 15. Oktober 2017

How come these lucky Germans are superfit at everything they do? I'm out of breath just watching them.

Fit for fun. Or maybe just for fun? Celebrating seven years Sour CherryThat's Martin and me with our "Glücksbringer" 

'Did you know that two out of three traffic cops these days are women?’, says Martin. I've no idea why he suddenly asks this. Actually, we’d just been discussing what a great pumpkin harvest it’s been this year.

Basically, I'm more preoccupied right now with the rather curious-tasting Bier-Wein-Mix-Drink in my hand. Drinking beer mixes has always struck me as a rather unsmart way of getting tipsy. I mean, beer is beer and should stay beer. Mixing it with anything else – and wine of all things – should be made a punishable offence. Anyhow, it’s the first thing I’m offered on arrival at the Sour Cherry Photo Studio, which tonight is celebrating its Verflixte Siebtes Jahr, or Seven Year Itch. A propos, no sign of any Marilyn look-alikes here, sadly. We’ve all been instructed to bring a little lucky charm with us. Mine's a teeny-weeny Muschel I found on the beach in Poland. 

Martin is expecting a response so, faking mild interest, I answer ‘Ah-ha. How come?'

‘Well’, he explains, ‘other day I parked for just two minutes outside Witmanns to get cigarettes. When I came back a traffic cop was writing me a ticket. A woman of course. And guess what?’ 

‘What?’, I respond. If this is a guessing game, I'm uncertain where it's meant to be leading us.

‘I know her’, replies Martin, ‘she’s one of my customers. I do her tax bills!’ 

He speaks the last sentence like a punchline, as if it were an enormous joke. To tell the truth, I’m unsure whether to laugh or just feel sorry for him.         

Instead I say ‘And she still gave you a ticket?’

‘Yepp’, replies Martin, ‘I pleaded with her, of course but she simply handed me the ticket and said des wern mia scho moi sengs – 'we’ll see about that!'.

‘Well’, I say, weighing up Martin’s rather restricted options, ‘You could have just refused to pay’. 

Martin shakes his head at this helpful but hopeless suggestion. ‘Na, na’, he responds, indicating that this is a no-go zone: ‘Here in Germany you can get arrested for that’.

Thomas, who’s been quietly listening to all this, suddenly joins in the discussion. ‘Ooh’ he chips in, ‘I wouldn’t mind being handcuffed by a woman in uniform!’ To underline this sentiment, he takes three short steps forward, raises his hands in mock surrender and says “Please, take me – wherever you like!”

I’m bemused. Only in deepest Lower Bavaria can you be talking one moment about the size of pumpkins and then move on, so effortlessly, to share male fantasies about being led away in chains by female traffic wardens. Still, it’s been an enjoyable evening and I end up arranging to meet Martin the following day. We’ve managed to dare each other to compete in Crosslauf, the annual six-kilometer cross-country organised by Mainburg’s Sportverein. It comes as quite a relief when Martin confesses he’s totally out of practice too.

My guilty conscience is pricking me, because the following morning I rise at the crack of dawn and do something I never normally do – I go jogging. Leaves streaked with autumnal yellowy-brown hues flitter from the trees as I enter the dense woodland next to our home. The sky is truly Bavarian blue, not a single cloud to be seen, and it’s unusually warm for mid-October - 17 degrees, I’d say. It’s a great day to be alive. I arrive back home beaming with joy, and all geared up for the ‘real thing’ – six laps around the hills above Mainburg – this afternoon.

After lunch, however, it’s so warm that I flop onto a sun lounger under the shade of our apple trees. I immediately fall asleep, and proceed to dream about cruising over the Crosslauf finishing post to tumultuous cheers and applause from the crowds. Waking up at ten past two, I panic. I have just twenty minutes to get to the starting point and register for the run. And I’m not even sure where this particular Sportverein is. I have to stop at Majuntke’s Garten-Paradies to ask for directions. Pulling into the club carpark with screeching tyres, I speed over to the starting banner. The only person still around is a young girl at a trestle table counting safety pins into a Tupperware box. I immediately bombard her with questions: ‘I’m late, yes?’ ‘They’ve left, right?’ ‘I can still run, OK?’

The girl, sitting there with her pins, looks me up and down suspiciously. It's as if I’ve just proposed running the race with nothing on except white sneaker socks and my competitor’s number tag. I fear she’s about to turn me away, because she says ‘Na, online Omeldeschluss war heit fria. 'etz könna Sie gar ned mehr’. It’s a bit like she’s saying ‘Too late mate’. But then suddenly her eyes light up, she smiles and says ‘i vastehe, is ’s just for fun, gell?’

 Just for fun is one of those lovely expressions that Germans bandy around so liberally, as if they’re blissfully unaware that it's not actually German.
'Ja, stimmt', I reply, somewhat relieved, ‘es ist just for fun’

Surveying the scene, I spot an elderly man breaking into a sprint close to the starting point. At this moment the girl presses a quarter banana into my sweaty hand. – Do a boh Vitamin – ‘Here, take a few vitamins with you’, she says.

Thanking her, I race off, hoping to catch the man up. It’s hopeless though. He’s disappeared into the distance before I’ve even taken three or four steps.

Although I‘m running far too fast at the start – that’s the impression I have at least – I gradually find my own pace and rhythm. It’s much slower. It's also a lot more sustainable, which is good, if I’m seriously intending to finish the race before everyone else changes clothes and goes home.

All of a sudden I hear the sound of feet padding the ground behind me. It’s hardly likely to be runners who have started the race after me. And I’m right. These runners are already on their second lap. Glancing behind, I realise they’re signalling to me to move over to one side so they can overtake. It’s a bit like those big black Audis that scare the living daylights out of anyone foolish enough to take a Mitsubishi Space Star onto the autobahn. I notice that a number of runners who promptly proceed to overtake me are a fair bit older – and a whole lot fitter too.

It’s weird. When I was chatting last night to Martin – he’s nowhere to be seen, by the way – about doing the race, we both had in mind that everyone would be running at a much more leisurely pace, casually chatting to each other about what else they were doing this weekend, and maybe also commenting on the relaxing countryside they’re passing through. Absolutely no question of that here though. These runners are drop-dead serious – they’re in it to win. When it comes to sporting ethic, it seems that Germans apply exactly the same principle to sport as they do to work. You do the work first and then you take a break to talk. In Britain, of course, it’s the other way round. As the next person comes up to overtake, I call out ‘den wievuidn?' – ‘How many laps have you already done?’ Instead of giving me a verbal reply he simply offers the hands-up-in-surrender gesture and surges forward, leaving me behind almost instantly.

Next to overtake is a petit young blond in a garishly yellow Rösle Lycra shirt, rinsed with sweat. Her long ponytail, more Rapunzel rope than ponytail actually, is swinging at great speed from side to side. I ask her the same question: 'Den wievuidn?'.  This time I receive a slightly more specific response – she holds up four fingers. Presumably to indicate she has is now on her fourth lap. At this stage of the race I am still just on my second. 

Straggling towards the finishing post among a group of runners lagging quite a long way behind the rest, I can’t help feeling a bit of a bluff package – Mogelpackung, as the Germans say. But to carry on running would draw attention to the fact that I'm at least two laps behind the rest of the runners. Better to pretend I'm already finished and just hope no one spots the difference. Breaking into almost a sprint at the very last moment, I stride past the finishing line to a round of cheers from unsuspecting onlookers lining either side of the route.

Just as I’m reaching for a glass of water behind the banner marked Ziel, the girl who’d given me the bit of banana calls out Ah, Sie hom's aa no gschofft! She’s right, I had also done it – well, give or take a lap or two.

Right then Martin appears. Ah, Di hob i übaoi gsucht – ‘I’ve been looking for you everywhere!’ Martin actually finishes the race behind me. But then he reminds me that at least he’d managed all six laps. 

Go on Tim, you can do it!

Gschofft! I made it! Well, give or take a lap or two..

At the Siegerehrung, the presentation ceremony, instead of being awarded lovely shiny trophies or medals, the winners in each age group receive a five-liter barrel of beer. No one seems to mind. As everyone’s leaving, I go up onto the Sportverein balcony. Looking down at some half a dozen tennis courts and running tracks, I’m struck by how fortunate the Germans are. Everywhere you go, from the largest city, right down to the smallest Kaff – villages like our Puttenhausen – Germans reap the reward of extensive state-of-the-art sports facilities. I enquire about the price of an annual family membership. At just over 100 €, it sounds remarkably good value. I make a note to sign us up for next season. Or to do a Schnupperdog, a trial-out day, at the very least. 

Celebrating with a plastic cup of fizzy water, Martin and I agree we both need to get into far better shape if we’re to stand any chance at all in next year’s race. We arrange to do a few jogs through the woods together.

Celebrating with a cup of fizzy water - Martin, Hans - at 73, eldest participant in race - and me

Apart from my general state of health – I’d possibly been overoptimistic here – there’s something else I'm now starting to feel more respectful towards: Deutsche Pünktlichkeit. I’d often taken punctuality in this country a little bit on the light shoulder. Especially, for example, when they expect you to arrive at a party bang on 7 pm. To avoid standing at the host’s doorstep at exactly the same time as everyone else – not good if you prefer to make a grand entrance – I would always make a point of getting there between 7 and 8. Not any more though. From now on, I plan to be more punctual for absolutely everything. That includes registering for next year’s race the very moment it goes online. 

Fit for fun? Maybe not quite. For the time being it’ll simply have to be just for fun. But hey, I’m cool with that.

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