Dear fellow travellers
While some nations have marked Armistice Day today, in many European countries the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month has a very different symbolism. At mid-morning today the Carnival season started. Now Carnival is something you may associate more with Shrovetide and the run-up to Lent than with mid-November. But Germanic Europe takes Carnival (or Karneval) very seriously, and the official opening of the season - always at 11.11 am on 11 November - is the prompt for frenzied frolics that blend sometimes into Rabelaisian disorder.
Be it at Maastricht in the southern corner of the Netherlands or in Mainz in the German Rhineland, expect escapist capers aplenty on the streets today. Not quite so extravagant or protracted as those we shall see across Catholic Europe in late February, but still a reminder that globalisation has not eclipsed the very distinctive festivals that give texture to everyday life in many parts of Europe. In Germany, such festivals are often intertwined with culinary tradition. Today is St Martin's Day and that heralds the official start of the goose eating season.
That's right. Set jetting, not jet setting. We stumbled across a group of film buffs wandering up our Berlin street yesterday. Not quite lost, but they did want to check they were on the right road to a one-time Coca Cola bottling plant that stands rather forlorn and abandoned just a few hundred metres from our office.
It turned out that the visitors had flown to Berlin to visit various places that feature in their favourite films. And that old bottling plant provided the film set for large parts of Billy Wilder's classic film on Berlin life in the Cold War: One, Two, Three. Actually, the building also made a nice cameo appearance over forty years later in Good Bye, Lenin!, so we can with some justification claim that humble Lichterfelde, that part of Berlin where hidden europe is based, spans almost a half century of film history.
In truth, it is unlikely that thousands of film buffs will now descend on Lichterfelde, but more illustrious film sets are becoming very popular destinations. Yes, we happily admit that a few years back we made a quiet pilgrimage to Savoca, near Messina in Sicily, there to savour the village that stood in for Corleone in many scenes of Francis Ford Coppola's The Godfather. The church, the square and the Vitelli bar are all remarkably unchanged. Inspiring, actually, for it was there in Savoca that we put pen to paper to write Sicilian Vespers, which can claim the distinction of being the opening feature in the very first hidden europe. Just for posterity, we've kept the full text online, so you can still read it here.