Category Archives: Germany

Rosenmontag and Super Tuesday

The post serves a couple of purposes:

1) To inform you that I partied like a Rockstar at Carnival in Cologne and Dusseldorf, which is why I haven’t been writing.

2) To provide a little evidence that much of the world really does seem to be following the US elections. Very closely.

The following photos were taken during the Rosenmontag (“Rose Monday”) parade through Koenigsallee in Duesseldorf (I apologize if they’re fuzzy of not framed properly but we were in a crowd and we were really really drunk):

Rosenmontagzug

 

Rosenmontagszug2

Not only is the primary process being followed closely around the world, but the above photos demonstrate that some Euro-pundits are far more astute than I thought. Keep in mind that these photos were taken 24 hours before Super Tuesday. Quite the augur when you think about how much money Obama raised shortly thereafter. (I believe it was $3 million in 48 hours.)

Funny thing is, a couple of German party animals from the Ruhrpot slapping together a grotesque parade float have a stronger grip on reality than most of the major European media outlets.

The German and British press seem to be unconditionally kissing Obama’s posterior. His encomium as the “black JFK” was a bit too much for me. As far as Hillary goes, the Dutch have been loving HRC for years. (Strong women with short hair go over well here.) My Dutch in-laws are trying to register a proxy vote for her via Yours Truly.

So you read and hear a lot about Obama and Hillary, but not too much about the Republicans. If you’re lucky, you read something on McCain. There is so little coverage of the Republicans it’s not even funny. (In all fairness, there was little coverage of any other Dem candidates besides HRC and BO anyway – even at the beginning of the campaign.)

A German friend of mine (who’s former GSG-9, actually) summed it up best; he “doesn’t care who wins, so long as it’s not a Republican”. There’s an excellent blog called David’s Medienkritik that comprehensively catalogs the German media’s choleric coverage of Bush, Republicans, and America the “Wild West” (full of gun-loving, conservative, fat people, etc.). It sheds a lot of light on where these opinions come from. I only wish someone did the same with the BBC World Service; every third item is about how Bush sucks because of Iraq. The other two items are that break up these items are usually i) the latest warnings about global warming, and ii) Israeli oppression of the Palestinians.

I must say, watching Dutch, German, and English television, I’ve been surprised by the extent of the coverage and – dare I say it – the general fascination with the presidential primary process, especially in Iowa and New Hampshire. Listening to the anchors (and my wife), no one seems to believe that such powerful people have to kiss the ass of the “lowliest” farmer or pipe-fitter in such unrefined surroundings (churches, schools, people’s living rooms, etc).

I suppose that says something about European history/culture as well.

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On the Trail of the Kaiser’s Soldiers in Africa

Namibia Road Trip – Day #9: Ludertiz to Aus to Seeheim

On the road to Sesriem I’d picked up a locally printed book (“Mein Lieber Andreas! Treue Seele!”) that contained diary entries, recollections, and photos donated by German soldiers who’d been stationed in German Southwest Africa from the early 1900s until 1919 .

It held an interesting collection of details of daily life, which collectively gave a very rich picture of Namibia 100 years ago. The diary of one officer, a certain Unterzahlmeister Andreas Ohlsen, recounted his 1907 deployment route from Luderitz to the inland town of Keetmanshoop.

Schutztruppe Pad

above: A German map of the Ludertiz – Keetmanshoop route circa 1912

We followed his exact route nearly 101 years to the day.

Our Pad

above: The same route today. Note the Restricted Diamond Area (“Sperrgebiet”) to the south. The Namib Naukluft is to the north.

Naturally, this book contained quite a few memory holes. The diary entries were mostly fond recollections of soldierly bonding rather than details of their genocidal campaigns against the Hottentot and the Herero. I don’t think this was for political reasons. None of the horrors of war were present in their recollections. The losses of comrades-in-arms were glossed over. Their time in the POW camp in Aus sounded more like boarding school hijinks than 36+ months of purgatory in the desert. (I had to appreciate the story of how they secretly distilled schnapps – so-called “Kraal-Schnapps” – under the noses of the British guards.)

This wistful nostalgia was also colored with tragedy of another kind, as some of the Schutztruppe veterans writing in the book in 1943-44 were living in Koenigsberg. No doubt they were killed by the Red Army or had to evacuate only a few short months after fondly recollecting balmy African nights ’round the campfire singing dirty limericks.

Reading the experiences of these tough old soldiers humbled me a bit as I prepared for the day’s drive. I had over 200 miles of driving in front of me, and only two-thirds of it was on paved roads. I wasn’t looking forward to it, to be sure, but I felt guilty about wanting to complain.

Up until 1915, German soldiers arrived in Luderitz normally via steamship from Hamburg. After the damp climate of North Germany, I suppose the desolation of the Skeleton Coast and surrounding moon rock of Luderitz must have been a shock. In Luderitz they received their orders.

Once the Schutztruppen received their movement orders, the first leg of their trip inland would be via passenger steam train to Aus. The railroad track still runs parallel to the present-day B4 highway, but passenger train service stopped years ago. The final few miles of track to Luderitz were gone, but we could see where the tracks should have been; the embankment was still there, and it looked as if new ties had been lain. Perhaps the freight service would be resumed soon? In the meantime, a gaggle of five ostriches stood guard by the precious raw material left to lie unattended in the desert sun.
Our bakkie wasn’t terribly aerodynamic, so I expected we weren’t much faster than a steam train a century ago. In 1907 though, the rail ended in Aus and they had to switch to horseback. From Aus, we would leave the Schutztruppe in the dust.

In Aus circa 1907, German soldiers would be kitted out with food, water, weapons, and horses for the long trek to Keetmanshoop. They would form into a column, with mule-pulled wagons in the middle. At that time, hostilities with the local Herero and Hottentot weren’t quite at an end, so armed escorts were a must for any convoys carrying precious supplies further inland.

It was slow going on horseback. Water breaks were essential in that brutal heat. Additionally, the tracks they traveled on were not much more than ruts. Breakdowns were frequent, and wagons carried reserve wheels for this contingency. If an axle or more wheels broke, the wagon was offloaded and left behind as firewood for the next convoy.

The route followed a series of watering holes that had been converted into proper water stations with camp sites and hitching posts. It was critical to reach the next Wasserstelle before their existing ration ran out. I suppose the urgency of reaching the next station kept them focused.

In the account of Unterzahlemeister Ohlsen’s journey, it took a mule train over two weeks to reach Keetmanshoop. That’s over two weeks of riding in extreme heat. That’s two weeks of sleeping on hard ground. Two weeks eating by campfires, nights standing watch, and keeping weapons cleaned and maintained.

We covered that same distance in a truck in less than three hours.

And I still complained about my sore ass from the springs in my cushioned seat.

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And Wild Horses…

Namibia Road Trip – Day #9: Kolmanskop to Garub

Wild Horses of the Namib ahead

Caution: Wild Horses Ahead

There’s only one road inland from Luderitz: the treacherous and tedious strip of asphalt called the B4. Along this lifeline are two fascinating pit stops.

Kolmanskop Ghost Town

The diamond rush in Namibia began in 1908. According to our tour guide at the Ghost Town of Kolmanskop, over two tons of diamonds were extracted from the desert sand in less than a decade. Diamonds were so abundant, that wildcat prospectors could lie on their bellies and simply dig around the sand. In order to ensure the government got their cut during the mass extraction of mineral wealth, the town of Kolmanskop (Kolmanskuppe) sprouted up out of the dust and rock a few miles inland from Luderitz. This camp-cum-miniature city shipped in everything – including fresh water from Cape Town and coal from Germany. Once the diamond rush ended, the townsfolk disappeared, leaving behind a ghost town that can be visited today.

Kolmanskop

The desert climate has preserved a surreal, century-old snapshot. Summoning up the endurance to hike over the encroaching sand dunes, we walked through the abandoned homes, doctor’s offices, and commissary. Many rooms and fittings still had vestiges of their original paint job. Wires dangled from electrical fixtures. Doors still rattled on creaking hinges as the wind punched through the empty window panes.

A few neighboring buildings are still used by the government for workers going in and out o the Restricted Area (“Sperrgebiet”) . I assume they’ve purchased a more modern x-ray machine for cavity searches than whatever they used back in 1908…

The Wild Horses of the Namib

About 60 miles further west on the B4 is the Garub watering hole. There’s only a small sign off the B4, and we had to follow yet another winding dirt track rigged with sharp rocks and sharprt drops. Hard to believe it, but when we came over the next rise, there they were: The wild horses of the Namib desert.

The origin of the wild horses is still debated, although they’ve definitely been there for a century now. Most believe they’re simply the descendants of horses that escaped from ranches. Other believe they were released by the German Army during World War I to avoid handing them over to the invading Commonwealth soldiery.

Whatever their origin, they now eke out an existence in an incredibly harsh desert climate. I use the incredibly annoying word “eke”, because the horses did not look like they were living large. In fact, they looked downright unhealthy; they were incredibly skinny, with ribs and hip bones jutted through patchy, dirt-clotted coats. According to the board nailed up to the wall of the observation platform, the horses suffered an astonishing 60% mortality rate amongst foals due to the scarcity of food and water, the abundance of predators, and – increasingly – vehicle collisions.

Garub is an excellent place to spot the horses, as it’s the only permanent water source in the desert. The horses depend on it, and so did the ostriches, apparently. I had to admire their ability to survive in such a life-taking environment. And despite the searing heat there was a certain romantic feeling watching these horses ambling free, with any memory of subservience to man at least five generations in the past.

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Commonwealth War Graves in Namibia

Namibia Road Trip – Day #9: Aus

Aus graves

I’m a big military history fanatic, so I leapt at the chance when I saw a sign indicating a Commonwealth Military Cemetery outside Aus, Namibia. Even my wife’s usual objections were quickly overcome, as it turned out to be an unusual monument to a catastrophic historical event.

What made this Commonwealth Grave site unusual was that:

1.) Few of the dead were killed in action.

2.) The cemetery contains both German and Allied dead together.

Unlike the United States, which either transports its war dead home, or – in special situations – lays its Fallen to rest in land donated by Allied nations (e.g., in France or the Netherlands), the British Empire always interred it’s dead where they fell. Since the they were very busy ensuring the sun never set on the British Empire, they fought in some very remote locations. This little cemetery near the mining town of Aus, Namibia certainly falls in that category.

The sign indicating the cemetery was on the paved B4 “highway”, but it lead us over the usual winding track made of jagged rocks, loose boulders, and dust. Our truck slid sideways as we negotiated our way up an arroyo that angled 45 degrees.

“Are we going the right way?” My wife fretted.

“Sure we are,” I pooh-poohed her. Actually, I had no clue if I was correct. As we fought our way up out of the arroyo, I couldn’t even see where the road continued, or even if the road continued.

Sure enough though, we came over the top and we spotted a small cemetery amongst twisted fencing and scraggly trees…

Aus Grave 2

A professor of mine in college once quipped that World War I was nothing more than a re-shuffling of the international pecking order. Apart from providing an opportunity to decimate a generation of young men, the Great War also allowed the Triple Entente (i.e., Great Britain) to relieve the Central Powers (i.e., Germany) of any valuable colonies they might have possessed. When hostilities broke out in 1914, Commonwealth troops poured into Namibia from South Africa. They were met by the Kaiser’s men. The Schutztruppen.

The Kaiser had only posted a token force in German Southwest Africa. After a few skirmishes, the Schutztruppen surrendered en masse to the South African troops in 1915. They spent nearly four years in captivity in a camp hastily erected outside Aus.

During their time as POWs, the German soldiers were industrious; they manufactured bricks – originally to build better accommodation for themselves, but later for profit (they sold the bricks to the South Africans!), they put on plays, and they even distilled schnapps. I read one first-hand account of the German’s schnapps still being discovered by a teetotaling guard who confiscated the equipment. The men didn’t wait too long before resuming production, albeit more discreetly.

Upon the cessation of hostilities, German Southwest Africa was handed over to Great Britain (who already controlled surrounding South Africa, Bechuanaland, and the two Rhodesias), and German soldiers were forcibly “repatriated” back to Germany in 1919. But, the Germans did leave around 60 men behind. They still rest here in this Commonwealth Cemetery.

Death came to Aus in 1918, but not at the end of bayonet. The Spanish flu didn’t discern between nations, and I counted roughly 60 German graves and 60 South African graves. I found a number of markers showing that the men died within days of each other in October, 1918. Friend and foe weren’t buried together out of some fraternal gesture; I doubt the authorities had much time for “proper” segregation of the dead, not with so many bodies waiting above ground in the ruinous heat.

The POW camp itself is now gone, replaced by a farm and small dwellings. I found only a few crumbling walls and nothing else. It stood on another hill facing the cemetery. The cemetery itself could have been considered “unsightly” alongside a “proper” cemetery; there was no grass, and no flowers. But there was a sense of order in there not known to the surrounding countryside, if only because someone had swept the dust prior to our arrival. A few iron crosses were crumbling, but more than a few of the Commonwealth graves had fresh flowers on them, possibly laid by descendants living in South Africa.

Seeing those flowers helped stave off the overwhelming sense of futility and loss I usually experience in a military cemetery. These men didn’t die defending their country. They fought on land that wasn’t even theirs. These men didn’t fall in battle. They died of disease. No movie or novel has been written about this sideshow to a greater conflict that was ultimately a “reshuffling of the international pecking order”, and only a preview of the horrors to come.

There had no glory save what their surviving family and concerned citizens choose to bestow upon them.

Aus graves #3

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“Where’s Wilhelm?” – 24 Hours in Swakopmund, Namibia

Namibia Road Trip – Days #5 and 6: Swakopmund

DSWA War Monument

German War Monument in Swakopmund, Namibia. No doubt they were facing Herero women armed with sharpened mango slices…

The Brauhaus is one of the “real” German beer halls in the Teutonic Brigadoon of Swakopmund. It’s located in an outdoor shopping mall reminiscent of a German Altstadt (“Old Town”) and sitting there, I felt I could have been any traditional restaurant in Germany. The place eventually filled up with what I assumed I was a mix of locals and German tourists.

I was wrong.

Speaking to our waiter, I learned that all the Germans in the place were Namibians; there wasn’t a single German tourist among them (not from Germany anyway; German Windhukers, however, love to take their Summer vacation in Swakopmund).

This impressed me immensely. The German Southwest Africans were cut off politically from Germany in 1915. Despite being on their own for almost a century, they’ve been able to successfully maintain their language, culture, and society through a lot of tough times. They’ve only had television as a cultural, lingual, and informational link with Germany since the dawn of home satellite service, but they don’t look or sound any different from, uhm, German-Germans.

I detected no accent whatsoever amongst those I spoke to. Our B&B hostess explained that some German-Namibians do mix in Afrikaner words, especially those whose ancestors arrived speaking Plattdeutsch (a dialect spoken in Northern Germany that incorporates a lot of Dutch words), but she also knew a few locals who, 100 years on, still had perfect Bavarian accents.

“Bavarians,” she snorted. “They are a special exception.”

“Lady, you don’t need to tell me that. Believe me.”

As much as I love to poke fun at ze Germans (be they in Germany or Namibia), they’ve done an amazing job in Swakopmund:

1.) The streets are all paved and immaculate.

2.) The grass lawns of the municipal parks (two of ’em) are thick and well-watered.

3. ) They’ve constructed what look to be the first bike paths in Africa(!)

4.) The boardwalk and beach are spotless and safe.

We even did an early morning jog on Day #6, and were joined by a number of other runners and residents walking their dogs. The bike paths were being dutifully utilized by old women on three-speeds wearing gaily-colored crash helmets.

Swakopmund had German schools, German social clubs, a chamber of commerce, a radio station (right next to the Super Spar!) and all other possible social mechanisms to keep their cultural coherence. (I would be even more impressed at the Swakopmunders’ successful efforts after I visited Namibia’s other “German” city of Luderitz – where the local Germans have failed miserably to maintain themselves.)

What really threw me off kilter in Swakopmund was that the local Germans proudly sport the colors of the Kaiser’s Germany: red, white, and black. In Europe, these colors and the Kaiser’s flag have been co-opted by Neo-Nazis to get around explicit bans on swastikas and other Nazi symbolism. (With its impressive eagle and iron cross, the Kaiser’s standard is adequately militaristic for Neo-Nazi purposes.) In Swakopmund however, I saw it readily on t-shirts and bumper stickers. One portly gentleman even walked into the Brauhaus sporting a reproduction Suedwester slouch hat (kind of like an Aussie outback hat) with a red, white, and black cockade. He also had an amazing beer gut. (We couldn’t stop staring. He stuck it out like a badge of honor!)

Window #1 Window #2

“Collect the Whole Set!” Germanic bumper stickers for sale in a Swakopmund store. The rider in the slouch hat (top right) is the German Monument in Windhoek. The eagle sticker (lower right) says “I’m Proud to be a German”.

It was a kind of pride or nationalism that you never see in Germany today.

In one of the municipal parks, there stands a war monument to fallen German soldiers. It’s an impressive monument with two larger-than-life figures. I assumed the monument commemorated German dead from World War I, but was surprised to read a plaque with the names of soldiers who’d all fallen in 1904 and 1905. That meant these guys were killed fighting Hereros and Hottentots. At least one of them was killed during the final slaughter of the Herero during the Battle of Waterberg.

There’s no monument for the Herero dead here. There’s nothing to commemorate the Hottentott POWs that all perished from the flu during their internment by the Germans. Although these facts and the Herero genocide haven’t fallen down the memory hole in Germany (the German government apologized publicly), they seem to have here in Swakopmund.

No living German-Namibians carry war guilt from the Second World War, and the Herero genocide aside, I don’t blame today’s Swakopmunders for their ethnic pride. You can’t successfully maintain a coherent society in a physical and cultural oasis without being fiercely proud of your culture and your history – warts and all.

So there will never be any stigma attached to the red-white-and-black here. Not so long as it’s a question of survival.

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Surreality Continues as I Encounter the Gesetzbuch in Africa

Namibia Road Trip – Days #5 and 6: Swakopmund

The definition of surreal? Driving into an African desert and driving out hours later and you’ve arrived in Germany. I’m not kidding. I waved good-bye to the (black) African guy who pumped our gas in Uis (a town in Namibia), I drove a few hours, and when I pulled into the next town, everyone was German (and white). Dude, the Master Race has a city in the middle of Africa!

Top Three Indications You’re in Germany (even though the map says you’re in Africa)

Top Three Indications You’re Back in Germany: #3

#3 – a Street is a “Strasse” … and it’s named after a German WW I Flying Ace

Top Three Indications You’re Back in Germany: #2

#2 – Fun within City Limits is strictly “Verboten”

Top Three Indications that you’re back in Germany - #1

#1 – The Sign Says You Are!

This is not an aberration in the space-time continuum, but rather an accident of geo-politics. The town of Swakopmund is populated by the descendants of the German Southwesters who moved from Germany to German Southwest Africa (as Namibia was called during the period of German rule) 100 years ago. They are the descendants of the soldiers, farmers, and bureaucrats who used to administrate this Imperial Protectorate (my best translation of “Kaiserliche Schutzgebiet“) during Kaiser Wilhelm’s Reich.

How did this happen? Well, Imperial Germany jumped into the colony game very late in the second half. (It was practically overtime.) Most of Africa had already been contemptuously divided up amongst the European powers: England, Portugal, France, Italy, and Belgium (yes, even Belgium was able to feel like a big man swaggering around the Congo). Germany finally woke up and could only take the scraps: a sausage factory in Tangyanika, and the territory that is now Namibia.

Germany only administered German Southwest Africa from 1880-1915. Once the Great War kicked off (aka, World War I), the few colonial Schutztruppe the Kaiser had stationed in his only colony surrendered after a couple of actions against the Commonwealth troops pouring in from South Africa. The Schutztruppe surrendered, and the UK quickly snapped up it’s latest prize, no doubt keen to further exploit Southwest Africa’s mineral wealth. Although the German troops were “repatriated” back to Germany in 1919, the civilians were allowed to stay (wars were fought with rules back then, you see).

As the photos evidence, they never left.

Having lived in Germany for a number of years, I can say with great confidence that the residence of Swakopmund were still “keeping it real” five generations later.

To whit, I got smacked in the head with das Gesetzbuch (that German Book of Rules I explained during Oktoberfest) twice within ten minutes of arrival at our guest house. My first beating before I’d even crossed the threshold. The owner – I nice woman to be sure – greeted us outside. The reservation was made under my wife’s maiden name, and I made the mistake of trying to correct our Gastgeberin.

“Ah, but the important thing is that reservation is made under her maiden name.”

*SMACK*

The second beating occurred when we tried to go eat dinner in Swakopmund. For a lark, we decided on the Brauhaus, one of Swakopmund’s two German restaurants.

“You must have a reservation!” Our hostess urged. “They are always full.”

“Okay,” I shrugged. “How about 8pm?”

“How about 7:30?”

“Uh, how about 8pm?”

“7:30.”

“Okay, fine.”

“Excellent,”she clapped her hands in glee (she didn’t really, but I’m just using dramatic license), “I will make ze call.”

“But we wanted to eat at 8 pm,” my wife pointed out.

“Shhhh!”I whispered. “I don’t want to get hit with the Gesetzbuch again.”

“Zo.” She sashayed back into the room. “They can take you from 6:00 until 7:30 pm.”

Come again?

“Only from 6:00 until 7:30 pm?” My voice sounded pathetic.

“Yes. After zat, zey are full.”

*SMACK*

“We’ll take it.”

So there we sat, in beer hall in Africa. Completely surrounded by empty tables with placards bearing the word “Reserviert” on them. Kind of reminds me of my Misanthropic Oktoberfest Rule #2 .

We sat there eating excellent calamari steaks and whacking back bottles of Windhoek Lager, and watching the bartender and waiters stopping anyone who dared to enter the restaurant and sit down without a reservation.

“This is so, so, so damn Deutsch,”I marveled.

And I wasn’t wrong. They could have easily allowed these clueless tourists (all of them from Windhoek, it turns out) to stay for a beer or two. No such luck. As in Germany, ze Rules always outweigh profit motive. Always.

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“Make a Left on Robert Mugabe and Head Past Fidel Castro!”

Namibia Road Trip – Day #1: Windhoek

At first glance, Windhoek didn’t look too different from any mid-sized city in South Africa. I think I expected something different since the street names were so outrageous. A third of the streets were German (e.g., Schloss, Schoenlein, Planck) and ended in “strasse”, another third were Dutch (e.g., Hoogenhout, Van der Bijl, Papagei) and ended in “straat” or “weg” and the other third were named streets or avenues – some of them clearly local heroes (e.g., Namibia’s first President Sam Nujoma) and others were named after international heroes of the Left.

When I wanted to get a short-cut to a restaurant, the fellow at our guest house didn’t blink when he told me to “head down Rieks van der Walt straat, make a left on Lazarettstrasse, make a left on Robert Mugabe [Avenue] and head past Fidel Castro and Nelson Mandela will be on the right-hand side. You can’t miss it!”

Ooookay.

In retrospect, I see that Windhoek is an excellent microcosm of the currently peaceful co-existence between Namibia’s German and Afrikaans populations, and the earlier native African settlers (technically, only the San Bushmen and the Damara can be construed as true “natives” of Namibia – everyone else migrated in by land or by sea later on). I write “currently peaceful” co-existence, as that was not always the case. When Germany controlled what was then Deutsche Suedwest Afrika (“German Southwest Afrika”), Kaiser Wilhelm’s troops ran a series of brutal campaigns against the Hottentot and Herero tribes infamously culminating in orders calling for total destruction of the Herero tribe (specifically including non-combatants). This Vernichtungsbefehl was issued by the German theater commander von Trotha. It resulted in annihilation of 75-80% of the Herero people and has been provocatively called Germany’s first genocide of the 20th century.

SWAPO has been in charge since Namibian independence in 1990, and there never were any “revenge” taken. (Indeed, Namibians black and white seem to love the historical connections to Germany. During a remembrance ceremony for the Herero massacre last year, the Namibian government invited descendants of General Lothar von Trotha (all expenses paid) to take part!

Today, signs in English, German, Afrikaans, and Oshiwambo abound in the capital. Although whites are only 6% of the population, everyone understands Afrikaans and English (and in many cases German).

Since we only had one night in Windhoek I’d been recommended by a few locals to head to Joe’s Beer House for dinner. It’s considered the liveliest place to go, and we’d be lucky to get in without a reservation. As instructed, we got on Mugabe, completely ignored Castro, and made a right on Mandela. Sure enough, Joe’s Beerhouse was on the left. As with most restaurants in South Africa, you had to tip a parking attendant who wore a day-glo orange or yellow vest. His job was not so much to show you where to park, but to ward off any car thieves.

Joe’s Beer House is a huge operation. It was hard to take in completely, as the sun was setting quickly. It consisted of a number of interconnected buildings, and outdoor bars and huts. The hostess lead us through a maze of dining areas, bead curtains, and mosquito nets to get to another dimly lit hall. The walls were decorated with tons of crazy crap á la TGIFriday’s, but at least they were Namibian curios and antelope heads (and loads of old Jaegermeister bottles) rather than American stop signs and pinball machine parts. We were lead to a table in the back with all the other plebes who hadn’t reserved, and we shared our table with an Afrikaner family. To our right was a black family chatted away in Oshiwambo, and behind them a group roaring at each other in German.

I didn’t know if the Germans were tourists or locals, but I considered it a good sign that they were at the Beer House, but I needed to evaluate the place for myself. The litmus test for just how German these Namibians still were was of course – the beer. I tried Joe’s house brew called Hansa – and was badly disappointed.

It had no body (at least compared to German pilseners), and very little taste. Like the Aussie joke, it was “fucking close to water”. It tasted familiar somehow. I knew I’d tasted it before, but I couldn’t remember where. I kept screwing up my face to the annoyance of my wife.

“It’s beer,” she chided, “not wine.”

“Silence, woman. I’m trying to classify this dishwater.”

Bingo! That was it. Dishwater!

“I got it!” I exclaimed. “This shit tastes like Coors light!”

My second Namibian beer of the night was a bottled beer called Windhoek Lager. Man, what a difference. Now that’s good brew. It hit the nose like a tasty pilsener, but it went down like a lager. Great stuff!

My wife wisely stuck with imported German Weissbier, but she very unwisely selected spaghetti from the menu. It was overcooked to hell and the sauce was a reject from the Chef Boyardee labs, consisting of the run-off from a Bolognese with a shitload of salt and pepper. My meal, however was amazing: Springbok Filet Kebab served with corn fritters. It was fantastic; so good in fact, I think I cried.

So, moral of the story is Namibians do indeed know beer as evidenced by Windhoek Lager, and like their neighbors to the south, they know their game. But you better wait until you’re in Italy (or New York) if you want a decent plate of pasta.

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