I want an Ordnungsamt woolly hat. I’m not normally a materialistic person. I don’t hunger for a Mercedes Benz or a Bosch dishwasher. I have no desire to own a yacht. I’m content with life’s simple pleasures: a jug of wine, a loaf of bread -- and Thou (meaning my wife Mrs. Cat, of course). But these days I’m possessed by a terrible desire. I can hardly sleep at night. I covet an Ordnungsamt hat.
The Ordnungsamt, or department of public order, is the organisation which enforces ‘cleanliness, order and peace’ in Germany. Its diligent busybodies ensure that litter is placed in the correct bins, that car are parked in the direction of traffic, and that both dogs and people are kept on a short leash. In conservative cities like Bamberg and Baden Baden, these champions of pettiness are treated with due respect. All hail, honoured parking wardens! But in Berlin, with its uneasy truce between conformity and rebellion, the Ordnungsamt is hard to take seriously.
For me there is something deeply funny about adult Berliners – who probably spend their weekends rioting with Anarchists or having sex with strangers at the Kit Kat Club – regressing on Monday morning to the role of classroom monitors. Ride a bike with only one hand on the handlebars? ‘That will be €5 please.’ No license for your dog? ‘That’s a €45 fine.’ Hold an orgy in a Camper van (parked in the direction of traffic)? ‘Move over, Lieblinge, and let me join in.’
I’m tickled by this stereotypically Prussian organisation’s decision to issue uniform soft woolly hats (i.e. ‘Order Office’ would be no joke emblazoned on a helmet). I fancy wearing such a hat to mock unquestioning conformity. But how to get my hands on one?
To satisfy my covetousness, my eight-year-old son Maus and I have devised a few fiendishly clever schemes. The first scenario involves lowering a fishing line from our balcony and hooking a Mütze off a passing civil servant’s head. More complicated set-ups necessitate Maus distracting an Officer of Public Order with earnest questions about parking meter regulations while I lay in wait in the lower branches of a strategically-placed tree.
But what happens if I actually get my hands on – and head into -- one of these desirable woolly articles? Will local people start to ask me if they are permitted to fall asleep in a public park? Or enquire for directions to the nearest office which issues Beibehaltungsgenehmigung permits? Finally will Berliners fall to their knees and weep – or praise the Heavens with delighted Hosannas! – on seeing me cross the street against a red light?
In my wild desire for an Ordnungsamt hat, I rather overlooked the obvious solution. Mrs. Cat suggested that I simply find a local supplier. I typed the question into Google and up came the answer to my prayers, less than a mile from my front door. I hopped on my bike and – while keeping both hands on the handlebars – rode to the shop.
The Berlin uniform supply outlet was a wannabe parking wardens’ dream. As well as Ordnungsamt woolly hats, they sold Zoll baseball caps and Polizei turtleneck sweaters. The attentive, good-looking clerk was amused by my request, and soon drew my attention to his more specialist stock. Alongside medical whites and firemen’s helmets were hip-hugging sailor’s uniforms, PVC biker’s kit and one particularly skimpy nurses’ outfit.
I pointed out that these confections weren’t my scene. ‘I’m simply after the woolly hat,’ I told him.
‘Many of our customers first come for a sweater or cap for work,’ he replied with a wink. ‘But soon they’re back for something less official, something more unordentliches (meaning: unorderly) for the weekend ... especially those good people from the Ordnungsamt.’
‘Alles in Ordnung, liebling?’