I’m contemplating my forthcoming weekend in Germany. You’ll recall that some singers from Bromley’s twin town of Neuwied came over a few weeks ago to sing the Messiah with my choir at the Langley Park concert hall. Well, we’re off on the return trip early on Friday morning.


We had some Eurostar frequent traveller points so I have elected to go by train rather than on the coach with the others. I just joined the choir in September and I’m still a little shy of them and this seemed like a good solution except that I have three train changes before I arrive in Neuwied. We’re spending a long time rehearsing on the Friday and Saturday, so that’s a bit daunting but the thing that’s worrying me most is the socialising time, which is going to be spent in local Bier Halls.


The problem with Germany is that people seem resistant to anti-smoking legislation and I have encountered huge resentment towards those of us who don’t smoke. I think this has something to do with a reaction against their authoritarian past. I think some laws have been passed against smoking in public places in the last few years but many Germans seem gleeful at being cavalier about them. “It’s OK,” they might say, “No-one bothers about them anyway.” Obviously they’d say that in perfect English.


I once spent a really miserable weekend with a friend (well, the wife of my husband’s friend) who got really defensive at the mere mention of me moving silently away from smoke wafting towards me inside a cafe. I just can’t bear cigarette smoke: the smell, the fact that the merest waft gets into your clothes and stinks them out but mainly because it  makes me ill. I have asthma and being in an enclosed space with smokers inevitably causes an attack. And, for some reason, German tobacco triggers a violent allergic reaction and asthma attack almost immediately. I only have to spend 5 minutes in a smoky German pub and I’m ill all night. I remember this happened when I was in Mönchengladbach for a wedding once and I was deemed a killjoy because I left early feeling ill. I was up wheezing and sneezing all night.


The extent of some smokers’ denial that there is anything anti-social about their habit is astounding. If people want to smoke then fair enough but they should do it in a confined space away from me, where their horrible smell and nasty fumes don’t impinge on anyone else, including people who have to clean up after them. And that would also mean not hogging the nicest views in pavement cafés.


Luckily hardly anyone I know smokes so I’m almost never subjected to it, but because my sense of smell hasn’t been impaired by smoke, I’m quick to notice it in the air. If you’re in a restaurant and the chef smokes you can usually tell: the food’s often way too salty. All of this is hardly conducive to a relaxed weekend, let alone one spent singing a demanding choral work that requires a lot of breath in healthy airways.


I’m really nervous about how I’m going to cope. If I don’t go to the pub, I’m going to appear strange and stand-offish and anti-social, but I can’t afford to have an asthma attack on my own in Germany. I suppose I’ll just take preventative anti-histamines and clothes that can be easily dry-cleaned. But still, I’m nervous…