Son of a Beach
So, we've finally reached August. To be honest, I'm a little surprised. I mean, on current form, we should have repulsed an alien invasion in July, with Will Smith heading the resistance. I at least expected a kindly old English gentleman to invite myself and rag tag group to a mysterious island inhabited by slightly annoyed dinosaurs. Hollywood has done a really poor job of preparing me for the realities of the the 21st century. No matter. With the arrival of August, Germany, or more accurately Bavaria has packed its bucket, spade and hand grenade and buggered off on holiday. Sadly for many Germans, their holidays may be an anti-climax. With large numbers of Britons opting for a stay-cation this year, resorts around Europe may well have a dearth of vibrantly tattooed, lobster red Brits, gamely attempting to eat a piping hot full English breakfast in the mid afternoon sun, while simultaneously washing it down with tea and a jaeger-bomb. I for one will miss them.
The concept of the stay-cation is a new one in Germany, although they have been practising it for years. Germans are predisposed to leave their country at the first hint of summer, speeding towards Italy, Spain or Eastern Europe. Increasingly, many Germans have opted out of the traditional exodus and are staying within their own borders. For those who decide to remain, there are numerous holiday options. Bavaria is one of the more popular destinations for domestic tourists, with its mountains, cheap beer and rather ludicrous castles. Even more popular than the south of Germany is the north; Mecklenburg-Vorpommern sees large numbers of domestic tourists all year round. This has always been a source of bemusement for me. It's rare that people would choose to travel north on summer vacation, rather than to the warmer climes of the south. When questioned on this point, Germans will stop what they're doing and a strange look will come over them, almost as if someone accidentally pressed their factory reset. Through glazed eyes they will stare into the distance and utter two words: Das Meer (the sea).
Having lived on an island and a literal stones throw away from the coast, the sea was the easiest (and cheapest)holiday choice for my family. I have experienced every possible iteration of beach holiday, save for the infamous banana boat trip, which I'm saving for my 80th birthday. I've eaten sand filled sandwiches, boogie boarded, ridden a senile donkey, been exposed to Punch and Judy and their off colour view on domestic abuse and sausage storage, and I've even built a near award-winning sandcastle. In my own humble opinion, beaches have lost their mystery. There is only so many times anyone can feign excitement during a game of "who can see the sea". Although I may be jaded, my wife and her family would quite happily walk over my lifeless corpse to simply hear the crashing of waves. This is of no surprise really, considering that much of Germany is landlocked and the closest people get is a disappointing lake and plate of lukewarm pommes.
This terminal desire for the beach experience has led to a growth in Stadtstrands or city beaches that pop up around the country every summer. These man made resorts often feature large amounts of imported sand, some type of water feature for paddling, cocktail bars and row upon row of deck chairs. The most interesting aspect of these areas is the insight it gives into the German perception of beach life. Most, if not all, are modelled after some imagined Caribbean paradise, with palm trees and tiki bars. Unsurprisingly, organisers of the various Stadtstrand have decided to avoid using British beaches as a template, which I think is a real mistake. The British seaside resorts could easily supply some much needed inspiration and reality.
For instance, while sunning myself on a neatly maintained deckchair, I realised that a truly important feature of the beach is the wildlife, namely seagulls. Without the occasional terror of a giant winged bastard dive bombing your bag of chips, the beach can actually be a little boring. Furthermore, the polite chatter and generic jazz house fusion soundtrack isn't the correct for a day at the beach. What's missing? The sporadic pings, pops and whizzbangs of the local arcade, with fruit machines, grabber machines and the cacophony of children begging their parents for one more go on Daytona USA. Finally, the obvious missing element was the disappointing food. All I can see at these events are gourmet wraps and burgers, served on plates, by people who have probably washed their hands at some point this week. Where the hell were the fish and chips or even a simple sausage and chips? Nowhere, that's where. My wife left me for a few minutes and came back with a steak sandwich, which had the audacity to taste good. This idyllic beach environment is frankly disgusting. And don't get me started on the non existent sticks of rock.
The British beach experience is one of carefully choreographed disappointment. Like the cheap souvenirs and badly printed slogan t-shirts that can be found at any and all British beach resorts, they are better enjoyed at a distance. That way you are unlikely to dig up a long forgotten deposit of cigarette butts as you attempt to build a sandcastle or have to fight off a pack of wild dogs because some fool threw a Frisbee at you.
Presenting an adulterated beach to those with no access to a real beach is dangerously misleading. I propose that in future, all Stadtstrands should be required by law to import psychotic avian death machines, rigged arcade machines, a disinterested teen selling fish and chips and possibly a donkey. There are few things that aren't improved by having a donkey, after all. Then and only then will Germany truly understand what it is to be beside the seaside.