Mallotze: Germany’s Overseas Territory

Do you know how many Federal States Germany has?  If you Google it, use Wikipedia or check a book (in case anyone still does that these days), you’ll find the official answer stands at 16.  I found out last week that this number is wrong.  Germany actually has 16 Federal States within its borders and one overseas territory: Mallotze.

You may think you’ve never heard of Mallotze, and I wouldn’t blame you; I never liked the geography questions in Trivial Pursuit either.  Is it one of those pretty little islands in the Caribbean that people only hear of during Hurricane season?  A lesser-known African nation perhaps, swallowed up by all those other central African nations you’ve hardly heard of (did you know there are TWO Congos, for example?)  Or is it a tiny enclave like Campione d’Italia (a pocket of Italy in Swiss territory, which you’ve probably never heard of but I’ve actually been to – just to be smug.)  Well, let me enlighten you, because none of these are correct.  Here’s a map pinpointing the whereabouts of Mallotze:

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Yep, that’s right.  Mallorca, or Majorca as the Brits call it because we can’t deal with anything remotely foreign, is now a German colony.  Ok, perhaps not in the official sense, but it may as well be.  Picture the scene: I landed at Palma airport last week, and as I walked through to baggage claim, I heard nothing but German spoken around me.  Admittedly, I’d just flown in from Hamburg, but the airport was packed and we were only an average sized plane.  That’s odd, I thought, I’d expect to hear other languages in a European airport, at least a bit of English from my kinsmen, or a smattering of Spanish.  But looking at the arrivals to Palma airport between 06:00-09:00, a whopping 32 out of 50 flights come from Germany.  A further four are from the German parts of Switzerland or from Austria, which is basically the same thing (although don’t tell them I said that.)  That means that 72% of the flights landing before 9am in Mallorca are carrying German speakers.  In fact, four million Germans visit the island each year while around 36,000 permanently call it home.  This in a place where the total population is only 860,000.  It’s no wonder I thought I’d landed in a German territory.  Mallorca has been invaded.

Historically, Malle, as it’s affectionately known in Germany, has had a long relationship with German tourists, especially those looking to party.  Forget Shagaluf, it’s the areas of S’Arenal and Platja de Palma where the real party is at, and the Germans there make the half-naked Brits passed out on the beach at 2am look like amateurs.  One of the 15 beach bars along this stretch of sand was the famous Ballermann 6 (and if you only know a tiny bit of German, you probably know how the number 6 is pronounced).  This name has become synonymous in Germany with excessive drinking and party culture – there was even a 90s movie about it.  Ballermann is a colloquial word that means to get absolutely shitfaced – which is exactly what the Germans visiting this particular part of Mallotze have enjoyed doing for the past forty years.  That’s an impressive record and it makes Magaluf look like a kindergarten.  The bar was famous for serving plastic buckets of Sangria with long straws to encourage people get as drunk as possible in a communal setting – the epitome of class.  I must say, I find the idea of serving sangria in a bucket wholly representative of German efficiency; it gave people a convenient and clean place to puke.  In Magaluf the Brits just puke on themselves, or each other.

So bad a reputation has the cult of Ballermann gained in Germany that the bar was eventually renamed ‘Beach Club Six’ earlier this year; the plastic buckets were swapped for proper glasses, and they’ve stopped the ‘Schlagermusik’ parties (I’ll save an explanation on Schlagermusik for a later post, it deserves its own.)  The bar itself has been revamped and looks practically civilised.  But the long legacy of Ballermann lives on in the hearts of many, and whilst the Germans have now spread from this area to take over the rest of the island, they do still come here to party and reminisce about the good old days – as demonstrated by the bar full of sixty year olds that I saw last Sunday afternoon, all of them three sheets to the wind.

My impression of Mallorca as the 17th Federal State only continued as my week there progressed.  One evening, in a typically Mallorquin restaurant far outside of the usual tourist haunts, we asked what would be suitable for our three-year-old niece to eat.  Imagine my surprise when the waiter responded, in perfect German, that they could give her ‘Schnitzel und Pommes’.  He drew the line at giving her an Apfelschorle, but still, I was impressed (and a little dismayed) at how far Germany has infiltrated the traditional Spanish cuisine.  Every bar we walked past, no matter where on the island we were, served Hefeweizen as well as San Miguel.  You can get Currywurst and Doner Kebabs in every town.  There are four branches of Hamburg-born steakhouse chain, Blockhouse.  There is even a German fast-food chain, Wurstmeister, that was set up a decade ago in Palma by a couple of Germans who didn’t want to go home.  The only Spanish I heard the entire week was spoken by employees in the supermarket.  Most of the natives have either swapped to a German passport or they’re huddled in caves, trying to avoid the onslaught.  Mallorca is now a German island.

Just to demonstrate how ingrained love for Mallotze is, type ‘Malle’ into YouTube.  You’ll be greeted by countless music videos about Mallorca by German popstars.  The first, an awful dance hit by Mia Julia, shows people partying on a beach as a blonde in tiny hotpants sings ‘You’re the coolest place in the world, you are our life and everything that counts…here on the beach we’re never alone, in Mallorca I am at home.’  (Mia Julia is a former porn star who has tried to revamp her career as a singer and appeared a few years ago on Big Brother.  Perhaps everything that represents Ballermann?)  It’s not only the dance hits that show the passion Germany has for its overseas Bundesland.  One of my favourite trash TV programmes here is called Goodbye Deutschland, an amazing car-crash-telly show about people leaving Germany to pursue a life abroad, often with a disastrous ‘I don’t want to watch their misery but its strangely compelling’ outcome.  So many people leave the mainland for Mallotze that Goodbye Deutschland even has ‘Viva Mallorca’ specials (which I LOVE.) . If you speak German and haven’t ever seen it, here you go and you’re welcome.

So the next time you head to Mallorca, be prepared.  You don’t need your Spanish phrasebook, and I believe there is even now a Christmas market complete with Glühwein.  If you’re lucky, you might still be able to find tapas somewhere.

Auf Wiedersehen, Majorca.  Willkommen in Deutschland.

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Five Reasons to Visit South Africa

Hello readers!  I wanted to explain my sudden break in blogging.  I was off to a good start but even the newest bloggers need a holiday every now and then, and I am no exception.  I am just back from an incredible, life-changing and thought-provoking experience and whilst it has nothing to do with Hamburg, my head is still too full of magic to ponder issues with the Standesamt and the fact asparagus is in season.  So instead I’m going to give you five reasons why you should visit South Africa, which is where I’ve just been.

Number 1:  It will give you perspective on your life.

There’s nothing like taking a stroll through a township to remind you that a vast cultural divide still exists in South Africa, more than twenty years after Apartheid ended.  We were shown around Langa Township in Cape Town by Sam and it was a humbling four hours, especially the moment when we visited a ‘hostel’ (a communal accommodation), where we met a lovely lady who was living in a tiny room with her three children.  The dark, basic kitchen was shared with the many other families living in the hostel, yet mattresses lined every wall – so many people are squeezed into these cramped living conditions that many are forced to sleep on the kitchen floor.   Young children playing outside used bits of rubbish as toys.  The poorest people don’t even have a mattress in a hostel; they just sleep in shacks made of corrugated iron and cardboard they’ve erected wherever they could find space.  Our guide told us that because living conditions in the townships are generally so poor, most daily life is spent outside, surrounded by litter, stray dogs and makeshift buildings.

And yet there is a distinct sense of both community and pride in Langa.  Men meet in the shebeen to drink beer together, and welcomed us when we dropped in to try the local brew.  Someone dressed as the Easter Bunny delivered chocolate to the pre-school.   Curious children waved at us from across the street.  Small businesses are thriving, enjoying a steady stream of customers.  We arrived back in Cape Town with a new perspective on our own lives and a very mixed feeling towards how South Africa treats its people.

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Langa Township, Cape Town
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Langa Township, Cape Town
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Langa Township, Cape Town

Number 2.  You probably know less about South Africa than you think.

I’m going to be honest here and say I didn’t know a great deal about South Africa before I actually went there.  My political knowledge – embarrassingly – consisted of knowing Apartheid happened, that Nelson Mandela had been imprisoned, and that there was some sort of Dutch influence.  Wondering around Cape Town, we discovered so much more.  Talking with locals gave us a wider understanding of the difficulties of Apartheid and its continued repercussions, such as the forced removals of Blacks and Coloureds from District Six and the promises of the current government to build housing there to get people out of the townships – a promise that is being very slowly realised.  A visit to Robben Island shed new light on Nelson Mandela’s long struggle against oppression, and also taught us about many of his comrades from the ANC who were also imprisoned there, forced to complete back-breaking and eye-damaging work in the island’s quarry. The controversial current President Jacob Zuma was imprisoned there too – a surprising fact, given that he seems to have forgotten what his predecessor Mandela set out to achieve.  We learned about the classification of races; Whites, descending from Cape settlers who came over from Holland, France and Germany in the 1600s, Blacks, from the many indigenous peoples of South Africa, and Coloureds, people who traditionally came from a mixing of White with Black, Malay or Indonesian, who through the centuries have never  been able to fit in one group or the other.  We learned about how the Dutch ended up in the Cape in the first place, as part of the Dutch East India Company outpost.  We learned that there are eleven official languages, reflecting the huge mixture of people within the country, and we spent much of our trip practicing saying ‘Xhosa’ with the correct clicking sound.  The Rainbow Nation has a fascinating past and a perhaps uncertain future, and you can really appreciate this when you’re right there, drinking it all in.

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Meeting a former political prisoner at Robben Island

Number 3. Wine Glorious Wine (and beautiful surroundings to drink it in!)

I don’t pretend to be a wine connoisseur – I have my favourites, but I’m no expert on grape varieties.  I just enjoy drinking the stuff.  However, even a wine philistine like me knows that South Africa has some of the best wines in the world, from gorgeous, buttery Chardonnays and super dry Sauv Blancs to the famous, indigenous Pinotage.  And not only is the wine from South Africa delicious, the scenery where the grapes are grown is so overwhelmingly beautiful, you just want to weep when you’re there (real tears, not drunken ones!) A visit to the Cape Winelands is an absolute must.  We visited two wine areas, the utterly spectacular, greener-than-green Franschhoek and the vastly different and extremely dramatic Hemel en Aarde valley, near Hermanus.  In Franschhoek we took the wine tram and spent the day hopping from vineyard to vineyard.  We had a romantic picnic under a tree at Grande Provence and sampled the delectable wines at Richard Branson’s Mont Rochelle estate.  Our favourite was the relaxed La Bourgogne farm, where we enjoyed the setting sun in the garden surrounded by the family dogs.  And in Hemel en Aarde, we loved Creations chardonnay so much that we had to buy some to take with us!

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Grande Provence Wine Estate
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Wine Tram, Franschhoek
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Rickety Bridge Wine Estate
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Enjoying our fabulous Creation chardonnay!

4.  Africa is synonymous with Adventure

You really can have as much adventure as you want!  For the real adrenaline junkies, the Garden Route offers everything from skydiving to bungee jumping to shark cage diving to canyoning (or kloofing, as they call it.)  We settled for hiking over the Cape of Good Hope, paddling with wild penguins, canoeing in Wilderness, sleeping in a tree house full of giant termites and cuddling rescued elephants, but you get the idea.  Whatever you have on your bucket list, you can probably cross half of it off in South Africa.

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Wilderness National Park
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Knysna Elephant Park
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Cape Point
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Boulders Beach

5.  Going on safari is a game changer.

It was always at the very top of my own bucket list to go on an African safari and now that I’ve done it, I just want to do it over and over again.  I’m one of those reclusive weirdos who likes animals more than people, so to have the chance to observe the natural behaviours of these magnificent creatures in the wild really was a dream come true.  There was something so thrilling about laying in bed at night listening to the hippos in the watering hole outside, and then getting up at 5am to go on a game drive.  We were at the wonderful Chitwa Chitwa in Sabi Sands, a private game reserve that shares a fenceless border with Kruger.  We had three days packed with unforgettable moments, from seeing a lioness stalk a kudu in the dark to watching a young leopard surviving without her mother, from having gin and tonics in the bush as a herd of elephants casually strolled past to interrupting a pair of mating lions.  One night we even had a BBQ in the middle of nowhere surrounded by baying hyenas.  The only thing that could have made these experiences even better would have been David Attenborough narrating from the back seat.

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If you were ever in doubt as to whether South Africa is the destination for you, I hope I could shed some light on why this diverse, culturally rich and fascinating country should be on your list.  As for me, I’m still not ready to return to reality, so I’m off to plan our next adventure in Africa!

South Africa reading suggestions:

The Covenant by James Michener

The Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela