Friday, April 14, 2006

The Long Good Friday

As I was walking home from the store last night, I realized I'd forgotten something. I really have to start writing everything down, it appears. Ah, well, I told myself as rain began to pelt out of the sky, I'll get it tomorrow morning.

But I wouldn't, actually. Because today is Good Friday, and Germany is closed.

This happens to me every year. The vagaries of the church calendar around Easter, and the fact that I live in a country with a state religion (two state religions, actually, depending on what part of the country you live in), means that I always get caught up short. I knew when Easter was this year because someone told me a couple of weeks ago in relation to something we were working on, but which days are open and which are shut still eludes me.

It would be a courtesy, I think, to post these closings. I remember back in America, you'd see a sign saying "We will close at 6 pm on December 24 and will be closed all day December 25. We wish you a happy holiday." And I'd think "Well, duhh." But now that I find myself in this bewildering situation, I think that maybe a guy who's just arrived from Bangalore or Bahrein might appreciate this little notice.

Actually, I should have figured this out, I realize in retrospect. When I got to the store yesterday at 6:15, the lines were all the way to the back of the store. I don't know if it's some sort of postwar memory, or maybe just a post-Wall memory, but there's this sort of ceremonial looting of consumer goods before long weekends here that smacks of a fear that supplies are so limited they may vanish forever if you don't grab as much as you can right now. I call it the Rathausrinderfleich Syndrome. Rathausrinderfleisch (City Hall beef) is rather hard to find these days, but it goes back to the immediate postwar era, when meat was very scarce and the Allies brought in canned meat and sold it at the Rathaus. The gold cans were beef, the silver pork, and except for information stamped into the top of the can, there were no labels on it. It assumed a nostalgic cast, and people got to like it, even though it was notably inferior to the fresh stuff. You can still find it in some stores, still unlabeled, but no longer a necessity. Who knows; maybe it's essential to some dish I'm not aware of, some inspired improvisation that eased the hard times fifty and more years ago.

This will happen again, in I think six weeks (not that I'm sure) when Pfingsten, or Whitsun, comes along. Once again, there'll be no warning, and there'll be hordes of people building up their stashes. And, if I'm not careful, once again I'll get caught short.

As it is, there's a solution available to me, one I'm not at all looking forward to: I'm going to have to walk down to the Friedrichstr. station, where there's a grocery store, and buy what I need. The rationale for this is that travellers need their supplies, so the government allows limited opening hours for stores in train stations. They're inevitably jammed with people like me who have been inconvenienced by this capricious state of affairs.

And there's a subtext to all of this, too. You're just plain Supposed To Know. If you don't, you're a foreigner, and you don't fit in this culture. You deserve what you get for your ignorance. People shouldn't have to tell you. In the end, once again, it's your fault.

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