As amazing as it might seem in a land where our popular press needs little excuse to make crass references to the Second World War, to the rest of the world, Germany is a pretty cool place. The nation of fast cars, perma-mullets and the indomitable Angela Merkel has just topped a BBC World Service poll of 29,000 international respondents to find the most "popular" country.
Sixty-two per cent of those polled picked Germany as the most "positively viewed" (surprisingly, Britain came second, with 58 per cent) – a result, say the pollsters, of its reputation for the pleasant lifestyles enjoyed by Germans and the high-quality products it makes. Other nations have comparable wealth, but unlike China or the US, Germany is also seen as a relatively benign force on the world stage.
I am just back from Berlin, the least bourgeois of German cities, and I agree wholeheartedly with that 62 per cent. Until very recently, the capital city was not typical of the rest of the country: a vast, underpopulated Mecca for hipsters and artists where elegant, sprawling apartments with four-metre high ceilings are yours for the price of a studio flat in Peckham.
Blessed with endless film festivals and art biennale, it still feels like an incubator for the creative industries. But it is starting to feel more like a world city. Berlin's famous glut of cheap property is now shrinking as more and more foreigners buy in the last European capital to be in any way affordable. The streets ring with the sound of American accents in particular.
In former communist East Berlin, gentrification is almost complete. On artfully graffiti'd walls in the Turkish district of Kreuzberg, there are posters demanding "Stop gentrification", but it is too late. Not so long ago, Berlin was a shopping desert. Now the centre is a catwalk of the edgiest boutiques. As the pollsters say, product design is indeed outstanding. In the West of the city, I spent an hour in homewares specialist Manufactum (check it out online), a store that makes John Lewis look like Lidl.
Eating out has long been a casual affair in Berlin but now even haute cuisine is taking hold: in the restaurant of a brand-new hotel we ate a 16-course Japanese/Thai/Indian banquet, overseen by an ex-El Bulli chef and his all-German kitchen. I tried to see the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, but where was it? In London, in the middle of a sell-out tour. Music, film, architecture, antique markets, bars and the louchest clubs anywhere, all delivered with a dressed-down understatement that suits the times perfectly: I'd go as far a saying that a weekend in Berlin is the new weekend in New York.
The census question that's like a piece of conceptual art
Here it is, then, opened and sitting on my kitchen table. At 32 pages it is thicker than I expected. More stupid, too. This is, of course, the census questionaire. There's something about the hideous lilac hue of the thing, that pompous royal coat of arms and those shouty instructions, printed in massive 25-point type, that makes me want to get really creative with the answers. Of course, I will dutifully tick all the boxes I'm supposed to. But even with the best intentions, filling out the 2011 census is not easy.
The section in which one is supposed to indicate how household members are related to each other reminds me of the logical-deduction puzzles we used to do as kids (and I could never complete). And I'm already stumped by question 17, which I suspect may not be a census question at all, but a piece of conceptual art. It says: "This questions is left intentionally blank."
I tried calling the census helpline to find out what, exactly, I'm supposed to answer for question 17, but after winding my way through a labyrinth of automatic options, nobody picked up. I guess I've got 20 days to think of a clever answer.
I never knew daytime television was this bad
This weekend it was reported that, as a radical cost-cutting measure in the face of a licence fee frozen until 2017, corporation bosses are considering filling the channel's daytime schedules with BBC News Channel content. What a swizz. Haven't they heard of Freeview? Don't they realise that almost everybody already has the rolling news service already and really doesn't need a duplicate channel of George Alagiah and booming red headlines and endless football reports?
Finding myself confined to the sofa yesterday with bronchitis, I immersed myself in daytime BBC2 to find out what we could be losing. I missed Diagnosis: Murder, sadly (it stars Dick Van Dyke), but managed to stay awake through what I believe is a representative sample of the rest of its schedules: Flog It!, an antiques show; Cash In The Celebrity Attic, an antiques show presented by Gloria Hunniford, and Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is, yet another antiques show. The only let-up from nine-carat gold pocket watches and slightly-chipped Moorcroft vases was Helicopter Heroes, a particularly gruesome reality doc that followed flying medics in Yorkshire as they drag blood-spattered bodies from car crashes.
I was left reeling. No wonder BBC2 daytime looks ripe for cuts. Where are the old movies? Why no cookery shows? Surely even buying a job lot of Columbo episodes would be cheaper than keeping Gloria Hunniford in faux furs?