It is wrong to generalise about a people. And yet, here I am in Hamburg in the cool north of Germany and the Germans seem so very German. Such large, obedient people.

I had lunch yesterday at a cafe table on the street. The menu was an anthem to beer, potatoes and, above all, meat: giant pig knuckles, sausages of a dozen types, bacon by the slab.

My schnitzel was the size of a place mat. It came with half a litre of beer, a tumulus of chips and a token salad that, in keeping with the token salads at other tables, went back to the kitchen untouched.

The waitress had the hair and eyes of Princess Diana and the body of Colin Meads. And in common with most urban Germans she spoke better English than many of the English.

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I had lunch yesterday at a cafe table on the street. My schnitzel was the size of a place mat. It came with half a litre of beer, a tumulus of chips and a token salad. Getty Images
I had lunch yesterday at a cafe table on the street. My schnitzel was the size of a place mat. It came with half a litre of beer, a tumulus of chips and a token salad. Getty Images

A one-lane, one-way street joined the main road not far from where I ate. The junction was governed by a set of lights for both vehicles and pedestrians. And not once over the course of my meal and a couple of succeeding beers did I see a pedestrian cross against the lights.

Though they could see that there was no traffic coming up the narrow road and that no traffic could turn into it they still gathered in patient little crowds at the kerb waiting for the picture of a little green man to give them permission to cross a self-evidently empty street.

The restaurant awning was hung with black red and yellow bunting, and many of the cars that passed had black red and yellow flags flying from windows and aerials, because later that afternoon the German team would play the first of their matches in the World Cup. The whole of the country would stop to watch and I planned to watch them watch.

A head appeared beside my plate, a head the size of a football, a head with ears and teeth, a head belonging to a giant mastiff, looking down with interest at what was left of my schnitzel. Round the dog's left foreleg, just above the knee, a wristband in red and black and yellow. The dog's owner whistled softly through a gap in his front teeth and the huge beast turned away from my plate with reluctant obedience.

The taxi driver who brought us into the city earlier looked terminally ill. Grey of skin and thin as a twig, he didn't offer to help with bags and he drove in silence as if conserving what little he had left. Until, that is, a huge new silver BMW drew up beside us at the lights. 'Look,' he said, in English, 'It is beautiful.'

I enthused politely as one does. "You Germans make very good cars."

'"Ja ja," the taxi driver said, and as he spoke he seemed to slough the grip of mortal illness and rediscover by some miracle the juicy joy of being. "Ja ja, BMW, Volkswagen, Porsche, Mercedes" - and here he patted with evident affection the worn and stubby gear stick of his taxi - "ze best cars in the world".

And then with vital signs a-flutter once again he went on to tell me with fierce local pride that that hotel in front of us had featured in a James Bond film, that Hamburg was the second largest of all German cities and that it was home to three and a half million trees and a thousand bridges. I doubted the thousand bridges but saw no point in saying so.

I couldn't finish my schnitzel, regretted not slipping some to the dog. On the way back to my hotel a tramp was sleeping on a bed of cardboard boxes on a bench, his begging bowl beside him as he slept. That didn't seem right to me. If you're begging you should at least be awake to mutter thanks. As I passed by on the other side of the road he woke, sat up, reached into his pocket and answered his cell phone.

The chips and beer and schnitzel flung me on to the too soft hotel bed. When I awoke I'd all but missed the football. I hurried down to the bar where perhaps 200 hefty men and women were ranged before a giant TV screen in perfect silence.

Ten minutes left and Germany were losing. Nobody noticed me arrive. All faces were intent on the screen, un-self-aware, drained with dread. The dread was justified. The final whistle went and Germany had lost. Within 10 minutes the bar was empty.