Don’t mention the war

When Josef showed us to our rooms, I couldn’t help noticing the Spitfire. It was a model, painstakingly constructed from a kit. Unlike the models I had built as a child this one was painted properly, and of course it had the correct RAF insignia. It was in a glass display case next to a model of a Messerschmitt, and one of some kind of US fighter plane I didn’t recognize.

I’d always been more into tanks as a child. I had a book about them, and a die-cast German Leopard tank that I would frequently disassemble and reassemble. When we visited Bournemouth in 2003 I got to visit the nearby Tank Museum and admire their collection. If it was OK for me to have an interest in World War II tanks, I told myself, surely it was normal for a German of roughly my age to have an interest in World War II aircraft?

In fact, we soon learned that Josef had worked in the Navy, as a liaison officer for groups of British sailors. I tried to imagine being a German in charge of a bunch of drunken English sailors. He’d probably heard slurs I couldn’t even begin to dream up, but I didn’t particularly want to talk about them, and dodged a couple of conversational gambits.