I studied German for seven years at secondary school and right through to sixth form, not that you'd be able to tell from my almost total lack of conversational German skills.
I haven't forgotten everything I learned, it's more the case that I was never very good to begin with. I'm pretty sure I only scraped a mediocre 'C' by abusing the senility of the frail German assistant, whose overly constructive feedback to my coursework consisted of crossing out my bad grammar and providing grammatically perfect German in red pen, which I could just type up. Like that would teach me anything apart from the value of the old and deranged. I wonder if she's still there, or if they've had her put down.
Another failed attempt to enhance our language studies was the semi-annual school trip to whichever uninteresting part of Germany could be reached in the least gruelling time by bus from North West England. I'm pretty sure no one came back from those trips feeling that their German skills had improved, but some of the excursions were memorable for having unrealistic stereotypes improbably reinforced.
I visited Germany four times in total. The first trip to Cologne/Köln in 1998 was unmemorable apart from an upstanding modern art sculpture that had water running down it, and was thus inevitably christened 'the sweaty dick' by the twelve-year-olds in attendance.
My second trip in 2000 was much better, mostly because myself and the other three year-nines invited along on this GCSE-level trip weren't really supposed to be there, and were presumably only offered the four days off school to make up the numbers and prevent the school from losing money on this already extremely stingy excursion. I guess they thought we were good at German or something? I wore massive glasses, which was usually enough to convince teachers I was good at everything.
This meant that me, Simon, Marcus and Craig were free of any syllabus obligations and basically got to spend the time dicking around in the charming little village of Cochem, once we'd got over that 'hilarious' name in its German pronunciation. The sweaty dick was dead and buried.
My fondest memories were buying a sausage we never planned to eat, solely for the 'hilarious' photo opportunities it opened up for the fourteen-year-olds in attendance, and going up and down a pointless hill on a chair lift (Sesselbahn) because it was there. Presumably the older pupils were off learning or something. Verliereren!
Image: Stars and Stripes
One year later, I was all grown up and ready to take on the GCSE trip for real this time, which disappointingly swapped cobbled Cochem for the dull, grey city of Koblenz. My next and final visit to Germany would be a trip to Aachen in 2003 (also the last time I left the UK before this blog), which I got to join for free by pretending to look after younger pupils or something. Fortunately, there were no threats to their safety that rivalled the insanity of the Koblenz trip two years earlier.
One of the first things we were told in German lessons, after 'guten Tag' and the explanation that the funny 'B' letter was actually a double s, was that anyone who doodled a swastika on their vocab book would receive a stern talking to. But really, we all understood that was a long time ago - we were two generations on from people who lived through the war, and despite the frequent jokes, we knew Germany wasn't really full of insane, racist white power Nazis.
So it was a bit of a surprise that the first Germans I spoke to specifically identified themselves as neo-Nazis, when they invaded our dorm and commandeered my friend's CD player to introduce us to angry Nazi punk in a tense cultural exchange. Eventually they bid us farewell with a cheery 'white power, ja?' and no fatalities.
The next morning when we went down for breakfast, we found a notice stuck to our door, featuring swastikas and broken English phrases along the lines of 'THERE WILL BE A WORLD WAR III' and 'YOUR QUEEN IS A BITCH.' I guess we didn't impress them after all. I'll never trust another Nazi - what are they like!
Germany was fun, I'll be back.