In Berlin by Colin Cotterill

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In Berlin the dogs are really tidy and well-mannered but the sparrows are wild and aggressive. One of the little bastards did a suicide dive into Jessi’s apple strudel and had the gall to scowl at her when she went after it with a spoon. In Berlin, the only place to find a telephone Sim card to call Asia is at the Turkish kebab shop and if you want to read an English language newspaper you have to go to the exotic publications bookshop on Fahtstrasse. In Berlin we’re constantly moving along the streets in a logjam of white faces, a feat you’d have go deep into the countryside to emulate in England.

In Berlin time means something. I suppose that’s one of the main differences between here and Pak Nam Lang Suan where clocks are just lizard motels. I had a phone interview booked from 1 to 2PM. The phone rang like a charm at 1PM and the end of the sentence, ‘Well, I think that’s everything, Mr. Cotterill’ landed slap on the count of 2. In Thailand not even the moon rises on time. In Berlin it’s light when you leave the last bar of the evening and it’s light when you wake up with a full bladder at 4AM.

In Berlin they don’t allow insects or people in flip flops and shorts, or litter or ethnic serving staff in German restaurants or people with small budgets. We did the tour thing; sat at the top of a double-decker bus and photographed 300-year-old buildings and murals along the Berlin wall and whole reconstructed suburbs. In Berlin, despite what Basil Fawlty says, it’s not a problem for an Englishman to mention the war because everyone here does. Seventy percent of the city was destroyed by the bombing but they still serve me with a smile in the home-made beer shop. The Germans drink lager out of bathtub-sized glasses and eat bread with meals and cake for dessert. I’m astounded the German football team can run at all.

In Berlin I had work to do. I don’t know why but publishers around the globe all have the same concept when it comes to Colin Cotterill promotional material. ‘Stick him in front of a palm tree at the botanical gardens’. I could save everyone a lot of money by just emailing photos of me in the garden at home. For my photo shoot I spent many hours smiling forlornly in front of exotic plants in the Berlin Botanical Garden hot house. I was the highlight of the school trip of several packs of very small children and guided tours paused to take photos of me. It’s just as well I have no pride whatsoever.

In Berlin I had to make a video to promote the new book. They left it up to the director to come up with a concept that would best highlight the man and the work. He picked us up at nine and took us out to the botanical gardens. There he had me marauding through the jungle in a pith helmet in search of something. He didn’t ever tell me what it was I was searching for so my motivation was low. After three hours I still hadn’t found it.

In Berlin I met the naked bookseller. Struggling bookshop owners deep in the German nether lands had the remarkably unique idea of shooting a nude calendar to remind people there was more to reading than twittering and twattering. I’ve read somewhere that the Mormon tabernacle choir and the Riyadh ladies burkha embroidering society are the only two groups on the planet who haven’t produced a nude calendar. In similar projects around the globe, twelve inappropriately designed people whip off their clothes and pose nude behind fruit or sporting goods or firefighting equipment. In this case the booksellers would be hiding behind…you guessed it…books. Sandra, a hearty mother of two, selected mine. Luckily there are three in the series already because, believe me, Sandra has need of all of them – in hardback. The publisher flew her to Berlin for tea and cakes with her favourite author. I was pleased that one person at least considered my books substantial enough to stand behind.

In Berlin they’re preparing for my reading tour next year. By then very few Germans will be able to look at a cactus or a bamboo thicket – or a bush – without thinking of me.

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