In the summer of 2012 I was involved in protracted negotiations in Lisbon, with meetings six days a week. On a precious and sunny Sunday off, I went for a walk down by the River Tagus. Four German warships were moored at the dockside.
As I got closer I saw that the warships were on a goodwill mission and open to the public. I went round the frigates Bremen and Emden and the corvette Oderburg. The young German sailors were eager to answer questions. Their manners were excellent and their English was faultless.
I ended up talking to a young officer on the bridge of the Emden. I mentioned that my father was in WW2, while both my grandfathers were wounded in WW1, and said how lucky I was not to have been involved in a war in my lifetime. He replied that both his grandfathers were in WW2, while all four of his great-grandfathers were wounded in WW1. He said that, as a serving officer, he was in the front line if war did break out, but he could see no sign of it at present.
The fourth vessel was the Frankfurt-am-Main, a supply vessel very much larger than the three warships. I climbed absent-mindedly up the steep gangway. When I reached the deck I found myself looking down the barrel of a rifle held by a young German sailor. He shouted a sentence, but I could catch only the first word “Halt!” and the last word “verboten!”
Instinctively I put my hands up and apologised in English. He relaxed and put down his rifle. He said in perfect English that the ship was not open to the public today, but would be tomorrow, and asked me to leave immediately.
As I hurried back down the gangway, my sense of shock subsided and I began to feel what a fool I had made of myself. There was nothing on the dockside to indicate that the vessel was open to the public – no reception committee, no red carpet, and no information boards.
Unfortunately the negotiations began again the next day, so I never did get to see round the Frankfurt-am-Main.
See also: Taxis