America, Asia, Countries, Europe

Olympics Flag Day

It’s a vexillologist’s dream, Olympics Flag Day… and there were 206 of them at the opening ceremony.

Of course the majority of them will never be seen again on the podium.

Now flags are really just the costume a country dresses itself up in.

Olympics Flag Day

So just like women and dresses it would never do if you turned up with your best flag.

And then you saw somebody there with the same drapery.

But that is exactly what happened at the 1936 Games in Berlin.

See the Leichtenstein flag

When Leichtenstein turned up for their first Games proudly displaying their blue/red split horizontal flag.

Only to see Games veterans Haiti flying theirs.

And so they did what every lady does… accessorise by adding a crown while Haiti added their coat of arms.

And Haiti has had a redraw

Of course the Olympics are the chance for every country and its athletes to meet people they’d never encountered before.

So just a couple of words here on some flags we’ll see a lot more of in the next couple of weeks.

Made in Japan

Nice one sun

Japan: The Rising Sun flag is one of the most distinctive and easiest to draw… if you’re Giotto.

Japan is said to have been founded by the Sun goddess Amaterasu in the 7th Century BC.

And is an ancestor of first emperor Jimmu… and surely a relative.

Chinese stars

Keep the red flag flying here

China: We all associate China with the Reds but, of course, Communism only dates back 70 odd years.

Not being political here but we prefer an earlier iteration, the Yellow Dragon Flag used by the Qing Dynasty.

Betsy’s bunting

And how it was

USA: The world’s most famous seamstress, you can learn the whole story of the American flag in the City of Brotherly Love.

Of how Betsy Ross sewed the definitive Stars and Stripes in Philadelphia.

And persuaded George Washington to agree to five-pointed stars rather than six because that was easier to sew.


Look who’s dropped in: Boris Johnson

UK: So, you thought you know the story of the Union Jack, actually the Union Flag, the Jack is naval.

It encompasses the St George’s flag of England and its then vassal territory Wales, the Scottish St Andrew’s Cross and the St Patrick’s Saltire.

As was inevitably the way of it the English wanted to tuck the Scots flag up in the corner and the Jocks to have their ceoss dominate.

Until they came up with the drape we all know.

Uber alles

Go for it Gretschen

Germany: The German black, red and yellow horizontal bands derive from the 1848 Year of Revolutions.

And are inspired by the black uniforms with red facings and gold buttons of the Lutzow Free Corps who fought Napoleon.

Happy to share

Pole position: Scotland or Tenerife

Scotland and Tenerife: Vexillologists everywhere know that Scotland and Tenerife share the same flag.

But for those who need a reminder I unpicked the threads of it.

You’ll not see the Saltire fly at the Tokyo Games unless, of course, it’s draped around the shoulders of Jock winners.

That would be a twist on Olympics Flag Day.

But it should have been me, it should have been me.


Countries, Europe, UK

German English anthems for the footy

Fur der Woche that’s in it Rainy days and Songdays celebrates German English anthems for the footy.

And no triumphalism here or throwbacks to the World Wars, just banging songs the British have taken to their hearts.

I’ll start off with a curve ball here with a prog rock concept act many outside Germany might not know.

To Be Or Not To Be

On the Elbe, Dresden

I’ll Call Thee Hamlet (Woods of Birnam): And you can’t get much more English than Shakespeare.

I caught these guys in Dresden where they were the headliners for the German Travel Mart.

And just for good measure Birnam lead singer Saxon Christian Friedel throws in a soliloquy.

Give a little whistle

Tear down that wall: Reagan said it about the Wall

The Scorpions (Winds of Change): The Hanover rockers’ biggest hit was adopted as the song of the Fall of the Berlin Wall.

Of course anyone who listens to the words beyond the opening whistling and before the chorus will know different.

And who says a song can’t have an unintended journey and follows the Moskva down to Gorky Park… and onto Berlin.

Did you ever think that we could be so close like brothers?

Model craft

Der Fab Four:

Kraftwerk (Das Model): And the Dusseldorf kings of synth pop who did wonders for the image of the German fraulein.

And also cornered the market in Tour de France music.

Da Da, Ja, Ja

And then there was three.

Trio (Da Da Da): And if learning a language was only this easy.

The rest from this Grossenkneten is German and our translator reveals it is staple pop fare boy loves/doesn’t love girl.

Ja, we know, Da, Da, Da.

Up, up and away…

Nena (Neunundneunzig Luftballons): And this Eurovision banger is one of those rare songs that is just as good in its native language and English.

And of course, there will be English red balloons to greet the home side tomorrow.

North Rhine-Westphalian Nena’s song is thd best of the German English anthems for the footy and no mistake.

And to misquote Nena although it will be her sentiment…

This is it, boys… this ain’t war.


Countries, Culture, Europe

Digging up Germany’s Jewish past

It is an uncomfortable subject but for all its horrors some heartening tales have emerged from digging up Germany’s Jewish past.

Erfurt, capital of the central German state of Thuringia, is home to the oldest synagogue in Europe at 900 years old.

And it houses the Erfurt Treasure of coins and jewellery which the Jews hid during the Black Death pogrons.

The Erfurt Treasure

The centrepiece of it is a golden wedding ring.

And it displays an engraved gothic tower and six Hebrew letters spelling out ‘good fate’.

A cellar of secrets

So where do we start. Well, the unrivalled collection was discovered under the wall of a cellar entry (I’m away to look at mine).

And moneychanger Kalman von Wiehe had the foresight to ferret it away.

It’s just as well too as the 1349 pogron befell the Jews with the Erfurt Massacre.

Window to the past

So where to display it then?

How about the Old Synagogue museum, the prayer house they revived and restored.

Now if only those walls could talk.

Strike one

They would surely tell a history of a warehouse, a ballroom, a restaurant and even two bowling alleys.

And it was to be their saving grace too as it evaded the eyes of the Nazis.

There is nothing to hide now though, and plenty to see, at the Old Synagogue Museum, opened as a museum in 2009.

The currency of the past

Now you’re asking why are we shining the spotlight on it now?

Well, because this is the year when the good people of Erfurt believe their application to be granted World Heritage Site status will be green-lighted.

On the right track

We are indebted too to Thuringia’s Carolina for opening up this unknown world to us during our Meet Travel Media digital fair.

And pointing out to us that Erfurt is only an hour and a half to two hours on the high-speed train from Berlin.

Berlin too is revealing more of Germany’s Jewish past.

We have the upcoming exhibition, tbe Yael Bartana: Redemption Now at the Jewish Museum Berlin ahead.

The exhibition will run from Monday, April 26, to September 5.

And it will showcase more than 50 of Yael’s works including video installations, photographs and neon works.

Berlin exhibition

If you don’t know Yael’s works, her masterpiece is her And Europe Will Be Stunned video trilogy.

That will be the one which represented Poland at the Venice Biennale in 2011.

Stirring, it imagines the return of three million Jews to Poland.

I first recall hearing of the Jewish story in Europe through Sir Lawrence Olivier’s epic The World At War series in the Seventies.

All of which I am devouring again over these lockdown days.

Dachau days

I had my first experience too of seeing a concentration camp site when I visited Dachau.

During, of course, a sombre break from my bus booze trip to the Munich Beer Festival.

Ich bin Berliner

I have since sought out the Jewish contributions to European life.

And the atrocities brought on them wherever I have travelled…

Pictures of Amsterdam, Hamburgers and ships,



Countries, Deals, Europe

Uber Oberammergau and get on your bikes to Berlin

Guten Tag. And our prayers are being answered with miraculous deals from Oberammergau, while they’ve got on their bikes in Berlin too.

Our German friends have been regaling us with all that’s been going on in Deutschland in the last little while in anticipation of us returning this summer.

And there’s always a bar

Der best Passion Play yet

Oberammergau, or Der Passion Play, dates back almost 400 years.

To when the villagers retold the story of Christ’s passion on their streets in thanks to the Lord for delivering them from the plague.

Sound familiar?

I don’t remember the prams in the original

The Passion Play, as we all know is held only every ten years.

And it was due to be performed last year but has now been pushed out to next year.

All of which gives the good burghers of the Bavarian village more time to make next year the best Passion Play.

Since, well maybe the one 2,000 or so years ago!

That’ll fit me

There’s good news too for the under-28s (a bit arbitrary but an age which I’m sure I can blag).

With a humungous reduction in prices through the Oberammergau site.

All for the new two-day World Youth Days spin-off on May 7 and 8.

The week before the main event, when 8,000 young people will descend on the picture-perfect village.

You probably won’t believe your eyes but they are offering a ticket with accommodation as a two or three-day arrangement.

With costs between €34-92pp in a double or multi-bed room including breakfast.

How they used to do it

And single rooms are available for an extra charge of €23- 34.

And as you know we’ve got a hotline with the Man Who Matters.

So we’ll keep you abreast of all that’s going on in Oberammergau through the year.

The Wheel Berlin Wall

Vibrant Berlin

It was anything but a picnic in No Man’s Land by the Berlin Wall back in the day when the city was divided into East and West.

But now that’s where Berliners recline on the grass with their food and wine, or beer.

Those that is who don’t cycle along the Wall.

Yes, Erich Honecker would turn in his grave which is, of course, in Chile, and not far enough away from Berlin, wethinks.

Now, it may all be more than 30 years ago, but then history is obviously all around you in Berlin.

And the Berliners are always rebuilding their city.

The new must-visit attraction in Berlin is the cultural multi-purpose Humboldt Forum.

While for history buffs you will want to check out the Potsdam exhibition, particularly when we actually get back out there to see it in person.

And the journey there on the S-Banh or regional train will make you feel that just like Churchill, Attlee, Stalin and Truman did way back in 1945.

Now how did that all work out.

And there’s more to come

Now our German friends gave us an expansive tour of what Germany 2021 and 2022 has to offer.

But once they got to the beer that distracted me and had me scurrying off to mein bierkeller.

So I’ll have to get back to you with the rest. But in the meantime check out their official site.



Countries, Culture, Europe

Danke Der Chancellor

I doubt whether there will be many of us  in the UK saying Thank You Chancellor for his budget this week, but in Germany they are very much saying Danke Der Chancellor in 2021.

This year Angela Merkel ought to be enjoying a lap of honour after 16 years as Chancellor but in typically understated style she is having none of it.

And she looked suitably embarrassed after a six-minute round of applause from her Christian Democrats party in Hamburg at her last conference as leader.

Hamburgers all round

It was perhaps fitting that the conference should be in Germany’s second city, Hamburg, as it was there in 1954 that she came blinking into the world.

Before being taken off to Templin in Brandenburg, 56 miles north of East Berlin because her father was taking up a pastoral position.

Nobody’s clothes horse, the image of Hleb in From Russia With Love always sticks in my mind.

She wouldn’t want to be compared to a Russian spy, of course, but wouldn’t care a jot about being pulled up over her outfit.

She once rasped at a journalist who had pointed out that she was wearing the same suit twice: ‘I am a government employee, not a model.’

From Angela With Love

Frau Merkel has had little truck with the Russians throughout her decade and a half in charge of the EU’s biggest country.

She remembers only too well the challenges of growing up in the old Communist-led East Germany which is evident to anyone who has visited.

Communist icons: On the walls in Dresden

And can see as I did in Dresden that the mark of the Communist era is still all around them.

Among Frau Merkel’s many successes, of course, have been the consolidation of the fledgling Unified Germany, her leadership during the Recession of the last decade and integrating immigrants.

Ich bin ein Hamburger

While she was happy to pass on the credit for World Cup victory for her beloved Germany national team to Joachim Loew.

Frau Merkel has also been praised for her handling of the Covid-19 crisis and while there have been obstacles since, and remember this is a country at the centre of Europe, they are emerging from the worst of it now.


Our friends at the German National Tourist Office are looking forward to a reboot, or a Das Reboot if you will, and they will revive their Beethoven 2020 250th Celebrations.

We’ll take Berlin

And they’ll be telling us all about it in the next couple of weeks when we’ll also have the pleasure of reacquainting the friends we met in Dublim from Visit Berlin.

All of which will be music to die Ohren of my own kleine Frau, born in Moenchengladbach, who has a hankering to visit Berlin herself when all this is over.




When the Berlin Wall came crashing down

Wall, huh, what is it good for? Absolutely nothing. Say it again.

With apologies to Edwin Starr but this piece of graffiti on the wall on the prom beach outside our family home in Portobello, Edinburgh comes back to me today.

On the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.

For FiftySomethings, and above, the Berlin Wall was the lasting symbol of Soviet Union and Iron Curtain oppression.

Photo by Ingo Joseph on

And its fall, although seemingly inevitable with the perspective of history, was anything but.

True, Ronald Reagan’s invective and Mikhail Gorbachev’s glasnost and perestroika relaxation of Soviet totalitarianism helped.

But it was the pressure of East Germans coming back on holiday from Hungary and amassing at the Austrian border.

And a bumbling DDR apparatchik which drew people out to bring down the wall.

And thank God that they did.

Photo by Palu Malerba on

With everything it is best to talk to and listen to those who were there.

And I was lucky enough to do just that when I attended the Germany Travel Fair, the Travel Mart in Dresden two years ago.

Saxon history

Where I heard from one Berliner about how a friend had been arrested in East Berlin because he had a rock’n’roll record.

And I also spent time with Saxon Ingrid who told me that it was important that they keep the wall mural of Communist rule in her native Dresden.

To remind us all of what Communist rule was like.

And that to airbrush history would be to repeat the mistakes that were made.

When they did the very same when they taught that Saxon history only started after the Russian Revolution.

I’ve dug out an Expedia break for you to go to Berlin… Friday, November 30-Sunday, December 2,

Staying at the central NH Berlin Alexanderplatz, from €286pp including flight and hotel.

Here was my take on East Germany…

And The Scary One is putting the foot down… she wants us to go to Berlin next year. Ja, mein lieber Sohn