Water Castles and Poor Service in Lower Saxony

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis delectable Wasserschloss – literally ‘Water Castle’ – 12 kilometres to the east of Osnabruck in Lower Saxony is first mentioned in records in 1160 but it certainly goes back to the early 11th century.

The castle is part of the Bissendorf Schledehausen community, which derives its name from the ancient local aristocratic family of Sledesen.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt stands on solid oak piles and the walls are on average 2.5 metres thick. In medieval times it was completely surrounded by water and the only access was by way of a ladder directly into the first floor.

This is my idea of how a real castle should look, complete with moat, soaring turrets and three resident ghosts at the last count.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAEnjoying home-made cakes with coffee served on the terrace is a great way of spending a lazy afternoon in summer, although at this time of year the whole place is shut up and left to the spooks. The autumn leaves and brooding skies however lend their own charm to the Wasserschloss, which would serve as a good stand-in for the Udolpho or Otranto fortresses in the old Gothic novels.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI’ve never actually had a proper evening meal here but some guests apparently think that the service is ‘strange’ and ‘uncaring’. These are probably reviews by American tourists who are more used to plenty of obsequious behaviour.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe English are more used to being treated like uninvited guests in restaurants, as if we should be grateful for being let in at all, let alone actually waited on. I was in a motorway service station on the A1 once and as I examined the menu the waitress said casually, ‘Hurry up, I haven’t got all day.’ I thought there must be a hidden camera somewhere but there was not and it turned out that she was simply a rude cow who should have been sacked years ago.

In America, she could have been pretty confident of getting her head blown off. I’ve read The Werewolf Complex and remember from my own ill-fated sojourn in California that the senses of irony and humour, and the ability to laugh at oneself and one’s country, are noticeable by their almost complete absence. It landed me in a certain amount of trouble.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe French are the worst for uppity eatery staff. In a restaurant in the shadow of Notre Dame the waiter could barely bring himself to take my order and absolutely refused to communicate in English, although he understood perfectly well what I was trying to say. He made me feel like something the cat had dragged in.

I think the Germans are perhaps understandably still sensitive about you-know-what and fall over themselves to play down any suggestion that they may be too nationalistic. The French however seem to be in thrall to a psychological complex or syndrome that I’ve often seen in individuals. There are quite a few people for whom I’ve done big favours who have at the first opportunity cut off all further contact with me, as if I’d done something terrible to them.

I think the old thing about being deeply offended if you’re unable to match or surpass a lavish gift may have something to do with it. It’s a sort of genetically encoded sense of primitive personal honour that probably goes back to the Old Stone Age and still expresses itself in otherwise completely baffling and illogical behaviour.

Maybe all the mental gymnastics involved in trying to negotiate the new dynamics of interpersonal communication in the light of this unavoidable obligation is simply too exhausting. It obviously in my own case at least makes many people cut their losses and ditch the relationship altogether. The suppressed sense of guilt, manifesting as offence at some imagined slight, ensures that it will never be renewed.

Either way, the relationship is effectively ended as soon as the favour is asked for, as you’re either damned for not granting it or else fall victim sooner rather than later to the subtle and treacherous Gallic Syndrome.

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