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Zigeuner Schnitzel

April 2005
I owed 21 euros to a town south of Eisenach. This was for a cookery book that I’d inadvertently ordered over the Internet, and they kept sending me email reminders so I thought I’d better drop by and pay it. The town is in the Thüringen Wald south of Eisenach, which is in what was not so long ago the DDR. The DDR has by no means joined the west in spirit yet and could be in a different place and time from the long-standing German west. The Germans have an immense problem in integrating the east and this is not helped by the attitude of many people in the west who still regard the ossies as whingers who’ve been given bucket-loads of money and who aren’t prepared to get up off their backsides.
We found a hotel in which we were given an enormous suite of a room and we took a walk round town, with the crumbling shops interspersed with highly slick-looking banks and some trendy shops, and on the village triangle were a collection of fascist young men, though not all that young, in black clothes and with severe haircuts and mingling around a Brixton Briefcase and holding cans of beer.
And we had dinner in the hotel along with a mercifully small number of smoking Germans. The people in the east smoke a lot. The people in west Germany smoke quite a lot compared with Britain but in the east it seems to be everyone who smokes. And on the menu was zigeuner schnitzel with pommes frites und salat and that is so 1960s that I had to order it for the sake of nostalgia. Zigeuner schnitzel is a slice of veal or pork covered with a tomato and capsicum mixture. This one turned out to be enormous and what’s more deep fried in batter, before having its sauce piled on top. The salad, like so often in Germany, was covered in a rather thick, sweet and vinegary, whitish dressing. The east is still miles behind. We went to bed in the silence, not even the dog in the yard making a hint of a woof. There’s still an air of silence that envelops the east.
The following morning in thick fog we found the town where I was to pay my 21 euros but it was so foggy it was hard to tell what it was like, though we found the house and paid our dues.

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