Let’s get the 2012 German Literature Month party started in Edinburgh (as you do), where last August Matthias Politycki was spotted enjoying a pint of Belhaven, a Scottish beer, and granting it the Politcyki seal of approval. (Although I think this is approval in the sense of the best of a bad bunch.)
I managed to inveigle myself a meeting to discuss the World Writers Conference that Matthias Politycki was attending. But it didn’t take long (actually just one question: what would you like to drink?) to bring the subject round to the superiority of German beers followed by an imaginary and nostalgic flight back to Munich and the Augustiner, Hofbräuhaus and Spaten breweries! The next sentence established that we might have attended the same seminars at Munich University, had I not been busy
skiving sightseeing Bavaria at the time. In my defence, I had no exams at the end of that year abroad and so availed myself of an opportunity of a 12-month holiday that’s unlikely to come my way again.
Even so, just how small is this world of ours?
But back to literature, no beer. Actually let’s talk about both. We can by retracing a pub crawl that Matthias Politycki and a group of colleagues embarked upon in the autumn of 2009 and which he has now immortalised in an 80 page poem – London für Helden: The Ale Trail (London for Heroes: The Ale Trail).
1) The scale of the enterprise. Here’s the map, so helpfully provided of the 24 pubs that were visited in just one night (if the timeline of this epic is to be believed).
Heaven knows how many beers were imbibed. I certainly didn’t know there were that many beers in Britain, never mind in the East End of London and not just any old beers. Matthias Politycki was on the real ale trail. You wouldn’t expect someone used to the standard of beer produced by the German purity laws to behave any differently, would you?
2) It takes heroism to persevere when the first beer tastes like dirty mop water and others like herbal lozenges or even skunk (!!!!!).
3) Only heroes in my opinion will brave the highlights of British pub culture: the karaoke, the hen party, the graffitti in the toilets, fisticuffs towards the end of the evening.
4) And let’s not forget facing down the inevitable hangover. My head aches just thinking about this and indeed, Politycki makes no mention of the day after the adventure. Which tells me all I need to know. Ouch!
The whole thing is very funny. How can it fail to be when we’re discussing ales with names like Dog’s Bollocks, Mr Scrooge (Humbug Bitter), Tom Wood’s (Hop and Glory)? In addition, to balance the pillorying of English beers, Politycki peppers the text with jokes made at Germanic expense:
How to make a sauerkraut. Mention the war.
and with dodgy beer advertisements:
Spitfire – Spitze!
There’s no doubt that Politycki does not agree with the claims of marketeers, breweries and landlords that the beer is the jewel in London’s crown and yet he calls his poem a declaration of love for the city. How can that be?
Despite, but also because of the beer, the city is in a field of its own; and perhaps I have written all this so that I can remember those who live there and whom I would like to meet for a pint the next chance that I get. Humour is when you laugh despite …. Raise your glasses! But don’t forget to drink the contents quickly ….
London für Helden: The Ale Trail has not yet been translated in its entirety. All mangled translations in this post are, therefore, my own. You can though read a sample, translated by Daniel Killy, here. Wash it down with one of the beers mentioned and compare your tastebuds to those of the beer meister and poet, Politycki. Zum Wohl!