Germany 1973

I saw the schoolboy stranger throw his boiled egg angrily, through the open window of the train, in the direction of Cologne Cathedral. I laughed. The cathedral, the other side of the railway tracks and with its twin spires soaring high and magnificent above the rooves of the city, was safe from the egg. He’d have had more chance of hitting the border guards, who had finished checking passports and had just got off the train before it began to build up speed.

I knew why the stranger and his schoolfriends were angry and, because I was the train’s guard, they came to me and demanded, in stumbling German, that the train must stop. I asked why – in my native German, which I spoke slowly for them. ‘Those men,’ he meant the border guards, ‘took our friend Charlie away. He lost his passport’.

I sympathised and asked them some questions, which the boys managed to understand and answer quite well. Their teacher appeared, discreetly bowed his head in thanks to me and took the boys away. I soon heard shouting and laughing. The teacher had approached me earlier and asked if I would help get his boys used to speaking and hearing real German before they arrived in Giessen for their language exchange trip. He had hidden Charlie in the toilet and told these boys a little lie.