Title: Ostpolitik
Fandom: Hetalia
Rating: 15/PG-13 (language)
Originally posted: 6-11 February 2011 (also available at AO3)
Summary: At a wake for his old boss Willy Brandt, a heavily inebriated Germany starts to recount some of the political jokes that his boss was known to tell. Prussia, however, doesn't see much to laugh about.
Disclaimer: All original works are copyright of their respective owners; I lay claim only to this particular story.
Notes: Written for a Hetalia anon-meme request about a very drunk Germany making East German jokes in the presence of a very unamused Prussia (who spent the Cold War as the personification of East Germany). Historical and other notes are at the end.


Ostpolitik

October 1992

Try as he might, Prussia can't recall the last time his little brother got this utterly shit-faced, but he figures that on this occasion West deserves to drown his dignity in however much alcohol he wants to knock back.

The TV stations and newspapers have been bawling all over Willy Brandt's death for what seems like weeks now, though the man's barely been cold a few days. Nobel Peace Prize winner, respected statesman, architect of détente, all the rest of it -- and even if there are one or two carefully phrased comments on some of the man's less statesman-like qualities, Prussia's seen his share of bosses come and go, and as far as he's concerned he'd be a lot more concerned if booze and women didn't figure into their usual recreational activities. Can't bury a corpse without digging up some old dirt, after all.

But Brandt's death had hit West a lot harder than Prussia had expected. He'd held it together like a brave little soldier up until the morning of the state funeral, which was when Prussia found him sitting on his bed with his head in his hands, all snot-faced and bleary-eyed like a kid who'd just seen his puppy get run over, and Prussia had to take charge and throw him into the shower before he started blubbering again. (A pissy West was better than a mopey West any day of the week, and he wouldn't deny that it felt good to take charge again, even for that much.)

Most of the nations who'd showed up with their bosses for Brandt's funeral have come out afterward for what's turned into a full-on wake. (No one's pretending that they're staying entirely out of the kindness of their hearts, but it isn't every day that West foots the bill for something like this, and it makes the bosses happy, so Prussia's sure they'll stick it out as long as the drinks keep coming.) It had started out respectable and dignified, but didn't stay that way for very long. Once the third round of drinks had come and gone, West had taken off his tie and shrugged out of his suit jacket before ordering another beer -- which meant they were all in for the long haul.

They're on the twelfth or thirteenth round now -- he'd stopped keeping track a while back, but it's not like he has to since the whole thing's on West's tab anyway -- and most of the lightweights have bowed out already. America had to knock England flat on his back to get him into a taxi, shoving both Canada and Japan in after him to make sure that Lord Poncy McEyebrows didn't end up face-down in his own vomit in a back alley somewhere, and then he'd staggered off himself, mumbling something about Russia's house and ding-dong ditch that Prussia decided would be better to not think about too closely. France had wandered away at some point (though if he ends up face-down in anything it sure as hell won't be vomit), the Italies are snoring in a wine-stained heap in the corner, and Spain's about two sips away from passing out on top of them. Even Hungary, who'd always been good for staying up to drink the bar dry, had already left with Austria, and if that wasn't the fucking nail in the coffin of fun then Prussia didn't know what was.

But not everyone's a lightweight, and it's not surprising to see that the Eastern contingent is still going strong. They've all had a lot of practice in situations like these, especially in the last few years when it seemed like Russia's bosses were dropping dead every other week and they all had to show up in Moscow and pretend they weren't running a betting pool on which one would be the next to keel over. He doesn't even have to look around the room to know what he'll see: Poland and Lithuania are all giggly and playing with each other's hair now that they're three-quarters of the way through their second bottle of sliwowitz, Latvia's putting away vodka like he expects Russia to show up and take it away from him, Estonia's double-fisting a beer and some weird Swedish shit with a name that he lost the ability to pronounce about three glasses ago, and Finland's sitting next to him, smiling vacantly at nothing in particular, with a huge mug that's half coffee and half something that smells suspiciously like antifreeze.

As far as wakes go, Prussia's seen better.

At least the beer's decent. More than decent, even. He's been savouring it, taking his time over each glass, partly because someone has to be sober enough to dump West's drunk arse into bed at the end of the night but mostly because he's missed having beer that doesn't taste like watered-down cat's piss. No point in swilling it down. There's a mouthful or so left in his current glass, and he can probably manage one more Kölsch before extricating his little brother from the sea of empty bottles and unconscious fellow nations, so in that case --

'Everyone! Your attention, please!'

Prussia freezes, glass halfway to his mouth, and slowly turns his head to see West swaying into the centre of the room with a far-too-determined look on his face.

Shit. Shit.

He puts his glass down, carefully. He knows what it means when West gets that look in his eyes: it means that this evening is about to go from tolerable to train wreck unless he can come up with a way to get both of them out of here pretty fucking fast.

West clears his throat loudly, and shoves a hand back through his hair in a move that does absolutely nothing to smooth it down. His other hand goes up to his shirt collar to try to adjust the knot of his nonexistent necktie, but then he starts swaying again, and further attempts at personal grooming take a backseat to the need to keep his balance. For a moment Prussia hopes that he'll save them all a world of grief by toppling over right then and there, but no such luck -- after another few wobbly seconds, West manages to get his legs under him once more and seems to have remembered why he called for everyone's attention in the first place.

'Everyone! I would like to thank you, thank all of you, for coming together here this evening.' He speaks very slowly, with the overly precise pronunciation of the thoroughly hammered. 'I feel certain that my late Chancellor would have been truly pleased and deeply honoured to see so many of you here, after the...the difficulties of the past few years.'

Christ and all the angels, it's a eulogy.

So much for causing a distraction by flinging an Italy at him or punching Lithuania or setting Spain's hair on fire. Now he has to be tactful about how he goes about shutting West up.

'There are many things about him that I will always remember fondly.' West presses a hand to his chest, and his eyes drift half-closed. 'His courage and dedication in the darkest hours of the war, his devoted service to the rebuilding of Europe, his love of his country and its people regardless of the barriers that separated them -- '

(If West keeps talking, he might just bore everyone to sleep. He might even be able to bore himself to sleep. Please, please let him bore himself to sleep.)

' -- and, on a more personal level, his unique sense of humour.'

Prussia's head hits the table with an audible thunk.

He'd never thought he'd see the day when he would actually want someone to shove the stick back up where West usually kept it, but if he had a stick in hand he'd do it himself faster than you could say Helmut Kohl.

Forehead still on the table, he darts a glance over to gauge how West's maudlin reminiscing is being received by those who are still awake enough to receive it -- and what he sees, oddly enough, is not so much surprising as it is depressing as hell. Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Finland...as smashed as they all are, he can tell by their faces that they've automatically fallen back on the instincts that helped keep them alive until all too recently. All three of the Baltics have the same look of blank-faced, glassy-eyed attentiveness: sitting up painfully straight, white-knuckled hands clutching their drinks, not sure what to say, not sure if they're supposed to be saying anything. Poland and Finland can get away with looking just this side of bored, but their body language is a dead giveaway: they're both ready to dive for the floor at the first sign of trouble. After so many years of trying to guess whether today is the day that Russia will decide that it's a fan-fucking-tastic idea to go on a grand tour of Europe with a pocketful of ICBMs and a shit-ton of tanks for company, they'll listen to damn near anything West says as long as it doesn't look like he's going to start cracking bottles over their heads anytime soon.

But West clearly has his own ideas, and frankly Prussia would prefer it if they did involve bottles and the cracking of heads thereof. Because by the time Prussia sits up again, a disturbingly playful look has come into West's eyes, and his lips are twitching like he's lost control of his mouth -- which is the only way to explain what happens next.

'I must admit that I found his sense of humour...difficult to follow at first, but soon I began to appreciate the...the perspective it brought to world affairs. I can still remember how he would say to me, Germany, capitalism is standing at the brink of the abyss!' West pauses, his arms spread wide -- oh, God, is he pausing for effect? -- and then he drawls, 'And what's it doing there? Looking down on communism.'

There's a moment of shocked silence, as if someone had just farted in Lenin's Tomb, and then a low ripple of laughter spreads across the room as the former Soviet satellites start to grin. Poland and Lithuania quickly clink their glasses in a sloshy toast, and Latvia buries his nose in his vodka to hide a lopsided smile.

Great. Perfect. Of all times, West has to pick this one to discover what passes for his sense of humour at the bottom of a beer keg and start waving it around like a loaded gun.

'He had a never-ending store of...of similar remarks: A good socialist journalist is sent out to report on the death of capitalism. He visits Rome, Paris, London, New York. When he returns, he immediately goes to see his superiors and says, "Capitalism is indeed dying -- but ah, what a beautiful death!".'

More tittering, louder this time. Don't encourage him, you shit-heads, Prussia wants to say, but there's no way in hell that they'll listen to him now. West has a newly appreciative audience, gazes gone cloudy with alcohol and remembered bitterness, and even if they've all heard these jokes a thousand times before it's a lot funnier when someone else is telling them. When someone like West is telling them.

'What is the difference between a pessimist and an optimist under communism? The pessimist thinks that things are so bad that they can't possibly get any worse...while the optimist is confident that they can.'

Lithuania snorts into his glass, spraying both Poland and Latvia with sliwowitz. Estonia's wheezing, trying so hard to hold in his laughter that he can barely keep his specs on, and finally he just slumps over and lets his head loll onto Finland's shoulder. Finland blinks, looks down at Estonia, takes another sip of his coffee-and-antifreeze, doesn't stop smiling. And West still won't shut up.

'I can remember another...ach, how did it go...An East Berliner goes to the Stasi. "My parrot's escaped," he says. The officer on duty says, "Why have you come to us? We're not Lost and Found, we're the political police." And the man replies, "Of course I know that! I merely wanted to put it on record that I don't share the parrot's ideological views."'

Poland's high-pitched giggle is really starting to get on Prussia's nerves. Yeah, laugh it up, pretty boy, he thinks sourly. You weren't exactly smiling a few years back when everyone was snickering about how Russia's boss had a great new Polish joke: Jaruzelski. But he forces himself to unclench his hands. It's not actually West telling these jokes, after all -- he's just repeating the ones he heard his old boss spout out years ago. He doesn't mean anything by it, not like some Besserwessi prick making cracks about how DDR really stands for der dumme Rest. And besides, there's nothing worse than a sadsack loser who can't laugh at a stupid joke, right?

'Though...though for that matter, Why do the Stasi conduct their investigations in groups of three?' West sways a little and holds up a hand, painstakingly counting the numbers on his fingers. 'You need one who can read, one who can write -- and a third to keep an eye on the two intellectuals.'

And that.

That does it.

He's heard enough.

This ends now.

But as much as he wants to step up and rip his little brother a new one on the spot, Prussia just doesn't have the heart to do it. Not when he can see that West's eyes are red-rimmed and watery even now, and it's not all from the booze. And even if he really wanted to let West have it, he certainly wouldn't do it here with half the fucking Warsaw Pact looking on: he's done with airing his dirty laundry in front of them, that's for damn sure. But he can't let the whole thing slide, either, so when it looks like West's about to open his mouth again, he cuts in first -- and though his voice isn't particularly loud, it's pitched to carry as only a former soldier's can.

'Yeah, West, I remember all those. But did you ever hear the one we used to tell about Brandt, back in the day?' He doesn't let West or anyone else get a word in edgewise; he just keeps going. 'It starts off like this: so Brandt's over in East Berlin for talks or whatever, and he and dear old Comrade Ulbricht are sitting around and trying to find something, anything, to talk about that's not about how much they hate each other's guts. And they flail around for a bit until finally, they get on the subject of hobbies.'

He glances round the room to check on his audience -- and yep, clever little Finland's already clued in to where this is going, because his smile definitely wasn't that strained-looking half a minute ago. However, West and the others haven't quite caught up yet, and they seem to be waiting for him to continue.

Which suits him just fine. Prussia gives them all his best shit-eating grin and goes in for the kill.

'So Ulbricht asks Brandt, "Do you have any particular hobbies, Herr Brandt?"' He can do Walter Ulbricht's accent in his sleep -- thick and Saxon, so easy to mock, even if West's the only one who'd truly appreciate the effort he's willing to put into a little detail like that. 'And Brandt replies, "Why, yes, I'm a collector: I like to collect jokes that people tell about me." And Ulbricht gives a big laugh and says, "Well, what a coincidence! I'm a collector, too: I like to collect people that tell jokes about me."'

The silence that follows is every bit as hellishly uncomfortable as he'd hoped it would be.

The pole-axed look on West's face is just the icing on the cake.

And Prussia stands up, shoots his cuffs, turns on his heel as smartly as if he were on parade for Old Fritz himself, and marches out of the bar.

Outside, the night air is crisp and cool on his face, a nice contrast to the stale, smoky fumes he's been breathing for the past several hours. There's maybe a touch of regret for the last swallow of beer he left behind in his glass, but otherwise Prussia is perfectly calm.

Calmer than he's felt in a while, really.

As he starts walking back home -- yes, his home, and anyone who says otherwise can kindly go fuck themselves with a live hand grenade -- he decides that he probably won't need to speak to West about this in the morning.

If past experience is any indication, his little brother's hangover will almost certainly be punishment enough.

****

Notes:
- Former West German Chancellor Willy Brandt was very fond of political jokes -- including all of the ones that Germany recounts in this story. Brandt's jokes have been collected in the book Lachen hilft: politische Witze (Laughter Helps: Political Jokes) (Piper, 2003). For more on Willy Brandt as a person and politician, including the not-so-statesman-like qualities briefly alluded above, an excellent single source is Michael Frayn's play Democracy (which also includes most of the jokes mentioned in this story).
- Walter Ulbricht was the East German head of state from 1960 to his death in 1973. His strong Saxon accent, which even to this day is regarded as a humorous regional accent by many north and west Germans, would be easy for Prussia to exaggerate for the sake of mockery.
- Wojciech Jaruzelski was the military leader of Poland following the declaration of martial law in December 1981 -- and a 'Polish joke' only in the sense that many regarded him as little more than a puppet leader under Soviet control.
- Besserwessi is a portmanteau word that translates to something like 'know-it-all West German' (from Besserwisser + Wessi), used to describe West Germans who acted superior to citizens of the former East Germany.
- And for the curious, Estonia's drinking beer and akvavit, while Finland's topped off his coffee from a flask of home-produced lakka.


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