The Karlsruhe Sting

Germans are often accused of not having a sense of humour. Oh, boy - they do, but sometimes it gets you when you're least expecting it.

Summer 1983. Hot. Very hot. We were running customer roadshows ("dog and pony shows") around Germany and it was Karlsruhe's turn. I had made the classic mistake of selecting an estate car as my company car, so I wound up schlepping. It's the same word in German and Yiddish - largely because Yiddish is medieval German - and it means hauling stuff around. Four slide projectors, a dissolve unit, an overhead projector, handouts, foils, slides, a radio microphone, amplifier, PA system, etc.

And it was hot. We'd booked the conference facilities at the brand new Hilton Hotel in Karlsruhe - I turned up to find the builders had just left and they were sweeping the dust off the new marble floor in reception. So I checked in both for my room and the conference room, begged a porter's barrow off them and schlepped the stuff upstairs from the car in the underground car park.

I was standing there in an old T-shirt, a pair of indecent shorts (that I still have, and they're still indecent) and "Jesus boots" - latten. The maitre'd approached me very cautiously as if I was contagious and enquired if I was with the next day's conference party. I said: "Yes, and the others will be here shortly." In a very embarrassed way, he then said that the hotel wasn't really open until the next day, but they'd rather thought we might act as guinea pigs to shake down their restaurants and kitchens by eating an eight-course meal "on the house". I said thanks, but I'd have to shower and change back into a human. He was visibly relieved and the arrangements were made - the gear was locked up and I went to shower.

When I came down, I went into the restaurant to find our team sitting at a table. The problem was that there should have been six of us and every place was already taken - the sales manager from Düssedorf, Herr Hederer had taken my place. So the maitre'd moved everyone around a little and laid another place.

We had a good meal, then Reiner Ising - the local salesman - declared he'd get the bill. I was a bit nonplussed, but fair enough. Reiner returned: "It's DM701.98 - I'll throw in the DM1.98 and I need DM100 from each of you." Well, that was an expensive meal for those days, and the local engineer went white. But Reiner collected his DM600, put in DM100 of his own, and toddled off to pay.

We left the restaurant and, in the lobby, Reiner turned to us and said: "This is my territory and I want you all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed in the morning. We're just going to have a very few drinks in the bar and then it's bedtime."

So we went into the bar. Reiner walked up to the bar, put a DM100 note on it, and said: "When that's finished - bed."

I collared him shortly afterwards. "Reiner - that meal was supposed to be on the house." "Oh, it was - here's your DM100 back. We're drinking Hederer's."

And I don't think anyone ever told him.

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