There are some events in life for which you will just never know what to wear.
Weddings and funerals are fairly straightforward. Job interviews too have fairly standard dress codes. For everything else at this time of year you can pretty much dress for the weather. But a naturalisation ceremony? Just what should you wear when you become a citizen of another country? I haven’t the faintest idea and there’s nothing in the internet that will help.
I come up with four options, which by the night before the ceremony has been whittled down to two. The first option to be excluded was a suit and tie. I will only be in the office for ten minutes and there will only be me and Mr Pfister in his jeans. The next to bite the dust was my Scottish football shirt. By a strange twist of fate I become a German citizen on St. Andrew’s Day. That leaves me with two more likely candidates. Something from my impressive collection of Borussia Dortmund clothes or the jersey of the German national team.
Ardbegman became a German citizen last week without telling anyone, and sent me a picture posing proudly with his certificate in a Borussia Dortmund hat. Not to wear the team’s colours for my own ceremony means that I risk being outdone. On the other hand, I like the idea of the national team’s shirt. Not the current version, you understand — that is much too grey and sombre. Mine is a replica of the 1990 world cup winners’ shirt, with its gleaming polyester flash of black, red and gold slapped right across the front.
The stripes of the flag on the replica are broader, bolder and brighter than the original. Back when Lothar Matthäus picked up the trophy Germany was much less confident as a country, especially in matters of style.
Tasteful it is not. It is made by Addidas, Germany’s most loved and hated sports brand. Ever since Adolf “Adi” Dassler fell out with his brother Rudolf and the two founded rival shoe firms (Rudolf founded Puma), the three-striped brand has split the nation’s tastes firmly in two.
For some it’s the ultimate style item, for others it’s the ultimate sartorial symbol of sloth and idleness. Oh, and if you’re wearing it in Herzogenaurach, the Dassler brothers’ home town, then you’d better not get caught on the wrong side of the river. Both companies still produce here and the rivalry runs deep.
It’s a risky choice. Germany may have won that world cup but they did not win well. Back then everything about German football made you cringe. The bad tackles, the mullets, the defensive shutouts, the endless clichés about “German efficiency”. And Lothar Matthäus. Germans still cringe at Lothar Matthäus. I do not want to give Mr Pfister an unpleasant déja vu. As I go to sleep the night before the ceremony I have still not made up my mind.
When I wake up the next day I decide to be bold and I pull on the white nylon of Lothar and his boys. It might not be subtle but neither is the message that I wish to convey. The black-red-and gold is not a flag of convenience.
I have planned everything down to the last detail. Before I enter the office I pop into the wine merchant’s next door and buy myself a miniature of Eickeler Korn, the local firewater produced just down the street. I put it in my pocket and enter the immigration bureau five minutes early.
It’s a good job I have time to spare because the queue fills the second floor. People from all over the world are here, all waving various bits of paper in at the man behind the desk. I am conscious of a certain amount of relief that I will never have to stand in one of these queues again. Because I have an appointment I am allowed to go straight through.
Lothar and the boys would admire the efficiency of myself and Mr Pfister. Our appointment is supposed to last ten minutes, we wrap it up in eight.
I have to sign a piece of paper stating that the information I provided in my application is still true, Mr Pfister hands me another piece of paper telling me how to apply for an identity card and a passport and asks me to sign another piece of paper saying that I have received all of this. I have lost count of the number of documents I have signed during the process but when I look over at my file on his desk I see that it is now an inch thick.
Mr Pfister informs me that very soon the file will vanish. Once I become German, nobody is allowed to know how I became German. For this reason I cannot lose the next document that he will give me. Once lost, my naturalisation certificate can never be replaced. He asks me if I have any more questions; for the moment I have none.
He pulls out another piece of paper and asks me to read it aloud. It states that I promise to respect the laws of the Federal Republic of Germany and that I will do nothing to harm them. I do as he asks, stumbling over the words slightly. I sign for one final time, Mr Pfister passes me the pea-green certificate, shakes my hand and says congratulations. That’s it, I am a German.
I ask him if he’ll take my photo and he happily agrees. I’m sure he gets this all the time. I unzip my jacket for the moment of truth. My Pfister laughs and signals his approval. As a model of German efficiency I thought he might. There’s a bit of small talk about football and Christmas shopping and with thirty seconds to go of our ten-minute appointment I am back out on the street. I reach into my pocket for the miniature and, in honour of the occasion, I Ganbei! it.
Phase one of the operation is complete.
Phase two is much more fun. Just around the corner from the immigration office is the place that sells the hottest Currywurst in the entire world. The next phase of my mission is to go for lunch.
Of course when they say the hottest Currywurst in the world, what they actually mean is the hottest Currywurst in Germany. It’s not like you really get Currywurst anywhere else. Germany is full of stupid records like this. The biggest German Christmas market in the world is in Dortmund. Or Nuremberg. Birmingham or Edinburgh don’t even come close, strangely enough.
I go into the shop and order a double portion of Currywurst Sieben and chips. The scale goes up to ten plus. At 10,000 Scovilles, level seven is four times hotter than Tabasco.
If you manage level ten or more, you used to be allowed to take part in the German Scoville Masters, a world championship for Currywurst eaters that pitted the best fire eaters in the world (Germany in other words) against each other with sauces up to seven million Scovilles strong. The tournament was held right here, with an ambulance parked outside the door. If I ever left Germany I’d miss Currywurst, but I’d miss the weirdness even more.
I tuck in to my plate, watching reruns of past events on the television. Unsurprisingly enough, the reigning world champion is German and lives three streets away. As my blood pressure sinks as I mop up as much sauce as I can with the chips I feel decidedly unmanly watching the world’s best bite effortlessly into a habanero chilli.
For all that, I feel good. I have appointments with people right up until bedtime but just at the moment I don’t want to talk much. I was expecting a flurry of emotions at this moment but I’m quite happy just sitting here thinking about one thing at a time. One small step after another suits me just fine. I’ll strive for the bigger picture tomorrow. Keep it simple, as Frank always says.
Right now, all I want to is make the moment last a little longer.
I’m seriously thinking about ordering seconds.