It’s my way or the Autobahn

All of these tomatoes are unacceptable in the eyes of society and the law and must be destroyed.

I’ve been at my gym for three months now, but today, for the first time, one of the trainers muscled over to the cross-trainer where I was whirring away, signalled for me to remove my earphones, and said: “Where is your towel?”

Resisting the urge to make a Hitchhiker’s Guide reference (the guy doesn’t look like he reads much; he clearly spends the majority of his time plucking his eyebrows into razor-fine darts), I casually mentioned that I didn’t have one, and gave a friendly chuckle to acknowledge the fact that I was a bit of a square. The guy drew his whip-thin eyebrows down seriously and said: “Then I am going to have to ask you to stop your session and leave the gym. For hygiene reasons.” I don’t remember when scientists deduced that a towel was the perfect impermeable barrier to all bacteria and bodily fluids, so this seemed completely preposterous to me, and I said so. But after a good long German argument, the trainer didn’t back down; it was the rules, and I had to follow them or…there is no or. Our gym rules also apparently include the regulation that you must bring your gym-branded water bottle with you at every visit whether or not you’re thirsty; you also have to pay an enormous fee to borrow a card if you happen to forget your card on one occasion, hot water in the showers costs 50 cents, and I bet you probably also are under oath to wear a premium-branded sports bra for each workout regardless of your gender. For hygiene reasons.

The point is, there are a lot of rules in this country. You can’t do anything without checking first to make sure that it is permitted to even consider doing the thing in the first place. You are under obligation to shower at swimming pools before you enter; fair enough, but the rules explicitly state – in actual words – that you have to be naked when taking said shower. And don’t get me started about German nudity; today there was a woman sitting in the changing rooms completely nude, pensively eating a banana rather than putting on her knickers.

The rules for the new flat that I am about to occupy are equally terrifying. According to the deadly document on which I have signed my life away, I have to ‘durchluften’ (open all the windows to let the air flow through) at least four times a day, and ‘durchhitzen’ (same, but with radiators) in the winter. “Sorry boss, I’m going to have to run off for an hour or so, I’ve got to go home and open all the windows and then close them shortly afterwards.” I have to keep any vermin from infesting the flat (good luck to the cockroaches that want to climb up four damn floors), and I even have to sign to declare that yes, I will indeed clean the oven from time to time. On the plus side though, I am allowed to keep birds, tortoises, small rabbits, hamsters and/or fish at any time without notifying my landlords.

You mustn’t cross the street when the Ampelman is red. You must print out your bank statements yourself twice a month or you get a fine. You may not recycle glass on a Sunday. It is forbidden to throw a bread roll at a child. You will be imprisoned if you do a laugh which accidentally becomes a snort whilst travelling on the U-Bahn.

Yeah yeah yeah, Germans love rules, German bureaucracy is a bitch, heil heil heil. Actually, the most fun part about it all is how little most people seem to ever pay attention to all these bogus rules. Open the windows in your flat four times a day? Hell no; most people are too busy painting the walls with elaborate murals of penises or drilling an incompetently-erected extractor fan into the plaster above the stove. God knows what the Hausverwaltung would have said if they’d seen the flat belonging to my old silversmithing tutor, which she had filled with constantly-burning gas torches, pots of hot acid, giant heavy unstable metal rollers…

It is a constant delight, in fact, to see how little anyone cares. You’re supposed to register and deregister every time you change address, but I had a nightmare trying to register at my current flat because according to records there are about fifteen people all registered living in this one-bedroom shack because no-one ever bothers to deregister. Ever. You’re not supposed to eat or drink on the S-Bahn, but tell that to the guy gunning three beers and inhaling a döner kebab simultaneously. And crossing the street? Well, that’s still largely respected around here, but a few of us renegades like to show the rest of the world the true meaning of freedom when there aren’t any cars or trams coming.

In fact, the only rule that seems to be a constant is that a German rule must be: firm; uncompromising; and so outlandish that no-one in their right mind would seriously obey it. And so the Germans remain Frenchly laissez-faire about their rules, in general. But you really must always bring a towel to the gym.

Rose T