Several months ago I was in a club in Lagos and met a young German who works at the consulate here. He was from Dusseldorf, and I told him that next week I will be going to an area near there: Sauerland. He replied with eyebrows raised:
“Why would you go to Sauerland?”
I told him I was going to the wedding of somebody from there.
“Oh, that explains it.”
Sauerland, it appears, is a rural area in the North Rhine-Westphalia region of Germany which has much in common with mid-Wales: it rains heavily at short notice, there are plenty of hills and forests but not much else, the locals drink beer by the keg, optimists label it a tourist area and attempt to sell the hills as mountains, and not much English is spoken. The only thing missing was sheep, much to the disappointment of this Welshman.
But more on Sauerland later. First, I flew to Frankfurt where I met my wife for what would be our first holiday away together since going to Borocay in late 2008 (no, last October’s trip to Sakhalin doesn’t count). Luck kicked in at the check-in to the
Luftwaffe Lufthansa flight in Lagos airport, where the halfwit manning the desk was too busy making jokes about my name (Oh, Newman! But where is Oldman? HA HA HA HA HA!) to notice that the boarding pass I had printed earlier was for an economy class seat and assumed from my pale face that I was flying business and handed me an invitation to the business lounge. That meant spending four hours slouched in an armchair tucking into sausages and chips instead of sitting on a metal seat tucking into the aromas that public areas of Lagos airport have to offer. I had chosen my seat on the plane carefully, right at the back where there would be no idiots whacking my chair from behind, and as luck would have it I had a seat spare beside me. Leaving as we did at 11pm or thereabouts, I slept almost the whole way.
Frankfurt airport is slightly better than the one at Lagos and the immigration officers trained sufficiently to enable them to process one passport every few seconds instead of every few minutes. Things only got better from there. I collected my bag and waited in the arrivals hall for my wife, who was due to land about an hour later having managed to get a French visa using some agent in Moscow who could seemingly get you any visa you wanted on submission of quite specific documents displaying a former US president and the number 100. Whilst I was waiting I bought an Ortel SIM card from a vending maching for 10 Euros, which included 7.50 Euros of credit. This turned out to be a pretty good deal, and didn’t require filling out forms and handing over passport information as you must do in certain basket-case countries, although the requirement to register the SIM card using the internet or over the phone – which did not yet work because it wasn’t registered – seemed a bit strange. Still, it worked well once I’d got it registered. After an hour or so somebody resembling a lost child dragging a huge suitcase came into the arrivals hall who turned out to be my wife, and who had clearly managed to convince German immigration that Frankfurt was now part of France and hence she should be let in. We caught the shuttle to the Mercure hotel in nearby Kelsterbach without the slightest hitch, and checked in. At some point that day we went down to the bar for some grub, ordering – as you do – a beer before we’d barely sat down. The waiter brought us 2 glasses of Bitburger which not only went down beautifully but set the tone for the rest of the trip. So did the food we ordered: sasuages and potatoes, and a big hunk of lamb with potatoes. The hotel wasn’t much to write about (being an airport hotel), but it was comfortable enough and came in at 63 Euros for the night. Wi-Fi was an additional 9 Euros for 24 hours (something you would almost never see in an Asian hotel, where free wi-fi is standard) and breakfast was 18 Euros per head, which we thought was a bit steep so gave it a miss. They also charge for parking which is also a bit of a cheek I thought, but I avoided this by not hanging around long enough.
The next morning I took the shuttle to the airport to pick up my hire car from Sixt, which I’d booked previously online. In a process which is astoundingly quick and simple (by any standards, not just those of Nigeria) I was handed a key and the location of my car, which turned out to be a brand spanking new Mercedes C220 diesel automatic coupe. It was nice, very nice. Technology has moved on since I last drove a new car, the lights and wipers were automatic, there were parking sensors all over it, and the built-in GPS system was fantastic, accurate to a few metres and helpfully pointing out where the nearest McDonalds is (hey, we did miss breakfast!). The cost for this was 650 Euros for 10 days, which included 3,000km and a loss damage waiver with an excess of 1,000 Euros. And whilst we’re talking numbers, I did about 750km on the one tank and filled it up when I gave it back having put 70 Euros of diesel in. Given the standard of car and the flexibility it gave us, this was a pretty good deal.
So, it was back to the hotel, cursing Germans for all driving on the wrong side of the road, where I picked up Yulia, checked out, and skeddadled before the hotel parking charge kicked in. Our first destination was Heidelberg, about which I knew nothing and now know little more than it is old, is very nice, and has lots of nice places to eat sausage and drink beer. We arrived at some point in the afternoon having taken full advantage of Germany’s famous autobahns and the Mercedes’ GPS. We were staying in the Ibis, located in the less picturesque end of town beside the railway tracks. (We stayed in the Accor group hotels wherever possible during this trip, they’re my employer’s hotel of choice and hence I have collected a rack of points with them and enjoy certain privileges, and checking in with them is easy for me). This hotel offered free parking around the back (no need to worry about car crime in small-town Germany: no market in stolen offside indicators here, it seems) and cost us 76 Euro for the night with breakfast being a far more reasonable 10 Euros per person (which we took full advantage of). Wi-Fi was still 9 Euros, but I didn’t object much to that once I’d remembered the eye-watering rates they used to charge in hotels in Sakhalin.
One thing which was nice about being in Europe in June was that it didn’t get dark until 10pm, meaning we had a whole evening of sunshine to spend wandering around the town. It was about a 20 minute hike into the old town and we walked through nice, clean, orderly streets without cars parked on the pavement, dickheads on motorbikes mowing you down, gangs of thieving bastard youths harrassing you, and open sewers to cross. No, it was all very pleasant and civilised, as one would expect in Germany, the sun was out and we decided to sit outside a bar on a pedestrianised street to watch the good citzens of Heidelberg walk by.
We also ate sasuages and potatoes. Heidelberg is very nice, especially the old town, which is built beside the river and has lots of old German-style buildings, a lot of which are beer houses. Sitting outside in the evening sun laughing cruelly at the dress sense of Germans in a university town (which Heidelberg is) drinking superb beer served spendidly by a Turkish-looking waiter (are there any other sort in Germany?) was great. And we weren’t being ripped off either: prices for food and beer in Germany are very reasonable. Especially for the beer, which was the same price as water in the hotel mini-bars and no more expensive than in any nearby bar. It was nice to be in a place where I didn’t feel I was being fleeced every time I bought something. At least while I’m not on expenses, anyway. There were a lot of Asians in town, either tourists or students. An amusing moment arrived when, stocking up on some basics in a small supermarket, Yulia said “Excuse me, please!” in their native tongue to a bunch of Koreans who were blocking the way. Hearty Korean laughs all round. We went to one of the old bridges over the river, but then the rain started so we did the only sensible thing: headed to a beer house, where we ordered large beers and waited for it to stop. It was still pretty wet and miserable and Pembrokeshire-like when we emerged onto the street, so we caught a bus back to the hotel. This was easy, once I’d got the map the right way up and figured out which way the 35 bus was going and by pure chance we happened upon a ticket machine which sold me two tickets which nobody checked. We liked Heidelberg.
The next morning we drove to Koblenz on a main road, i.e. not an autobahn, through the Rhein valley, which is broad and flat and full of vineyards. It was a nice drive, the weather having cleared and aside from getting a little grumpy when going the wrong way in some town or other (I’d switched off Frau GPS), we made good time. At the request of my wife, whose style of asking would be recognised by parents of toddlers, we stopped for a big punnet of strawberries which came in at a little over 2 Euros. 2 Euros is approximately what you’d pay in Lagos, only per strawberry. They were nice, and didn’t last long. Every few miles there were stalls on the side of the road selling cherries and strawberries, so obviously this was some kind of fruit growing area. As expected, the roads were impeccable the whole way and in the early afternoon we arrived at the Kramer Hotel in Koblenz. This was an independent hotel which did well on Tripadvisor, considerably better than the Mercure which seemed old and overpriced (the Ibis was full). It turned out to be a good choice. At 89 Euros per night (with off-street car parking an additional 9 Euros) we got a refurbished room which would put many a supposed 4 star hotel to shame. It was great, with proper blackout curtains perfect for making those long afternoon sleeps favoured by people on holiday or wives who live in Thailand. At about 5pm we headed into town for a walk by the river and to find somewhere to eat sausages and drink beer. Koblenz is a lovely looking town built on the confluence of two rivers, the Rhine and the Moselle, with a large cliff on the opposite side with a castle on top. We walked through a shopping area (which after Lagos looked like Oxford Street) and onwards past some sort of palace and then through more well-kept streets to the river, and to the cable-car station which takes you to the castle on the other side of the river. We only had about 15 minutes before it closed at 7pm, and considering it likely that Germans woul switch it off at 19:00 prompt and expect uwary tourists to somehow find an alternative method of getting home, we got a wriggle on and jumped aboard. It was a nice way to see the city, although if there is a place up the top from where the views are good, we didn’t have time to find it before we needed to get back on the cable car lest spend the night in an old German castle haunted by the ghost of David Hasselhoff’s dad. Entertainment on the way down was provided by two middle-aged German women who were discussing Facebook behind us and from which we learned (Yulia is fluent in German) that Maria is a bitch, Claudia is an even bigger bitch, and a chap whose name I’ve forgotten has a massive cock. And on that note, some photos:
Back at the bottom, we didn’t walk too far before finding a bar with seats outside, although sadly not on the sunny side of the river. Perhaps people this side of Koblenz drink in the morning sun? At least this would explain why the streets were almost deserted. Fair enough it was a Tuesday evening, but the place looked as if it had been evacuated. There were barely any cars on the road and hardly anybody but a few obvious tourists (a group into which we fell) walking about. It was most odd, especially when you considered the view and the amount of beer that was there to be drunk. If I lived in Koblenz I’d be getting hammered by the Rhine every night. Indeed, there didn’t seem to be much else to do.
Sitting by the Rhine eating sausages and drinking beer was nice, but it began to get a bit cold. Also, it occurred to me that going to Germany and not doing much other than eating sausages and drinking beer was a bit one-dimensional, lacking imagination as it were. So we decided to do something else in the hour or so before we went back to the hotel: eat apple strudel and drink beer!
The next morning we drove to the Sauerland, specifically a community called Lennestadt, where the pre-wedding frivolities would take place. But first a bit of background. The groom was Jan, a German from a village called Meggan which forms part of Lennestadt, and whom I met when he was working in Sakhalin back in 2007. He met his bride, Sasha, in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk which is her childhood home. Common sense determined north-west Germany to be a more practical wedding location than the Russian far east. Jan was well known amongst the young expatriate crowd in Sakhalin for several reasons, not least for his ability to organise camping trips, mountain bike rides, and back-country ski tours. That a German should have the ability to organise stuff, as opposed to, say, a Brit and Egyptian working in tandem, is of no surprise. The downside to letting Jan organise all this was, being German, the day would start at 7:00am sharp “to give us more time to do stuff in the afternoon”. The rest of us would have preferred starting out at 10:00am or so and sleeping off yesterday’s hangover in the afternoon. Sasha is as keen on camping, mountain biking, and skiing as Jan hence they are a very good match except, if the look on her face is anything to go by, she might have preferred a couple of extra hours in bed as well. To the wedding Sasha had brought most of her family from Russia and a couple of friends; I formed part of a gang of slightly idiotic expats who knew Sasha as well as we knew Jan from our Sakhalin days; and Jan – being on his home turf – invited the whole of Lennestadt. It was a good turnout, as you shall see.
Lennestadt is in the middle of nowhere, with the nearest city being Cologne, which is an hour or two away by German autobahn, i.e. 4 hours away by British standards. I switched off the autobahn option on the SatNav and told it to take us to Lennestadt, which it did admirably, taking us three or four hours over narrow two-lane roads through rolling hills, pine forests, farmland, and lots of communites too large to be called a village but too small to be a town. Each of these places featured one or two factories of some sort (the famous Mittelstand which form the backbone of the German economy, as opposed to the UK which, judging by my last visit, has an equivalent in betting shops and mobile phone accessory stores), and signs of the local brewery hanging off an awful lot of buildings. The villages were immaculate, the houses large and well-built, and the roads and signage absolutely impeccable the whole way. The only drawbacks were being stuck behind a large articulated lorry for three-quarters of the journey and the weather which had been imported from Lampeter.
We arrived in the town of Altenhundem sometime after lunch and checked into what I think was its only hotel. Sauerland doesn’t get many tourists, and those it does get are Dutchmen kitted out in full alpine gear – crampons, ice axes, oxygen, the works – who think the hills out the back with cows wandering across them are mountains. We got our heads down for a few hours and I woke up late afternoon to find one of our friends from Sakhalin had arrived, and so we got a chin-wag on the go in the corridor. My voice has been known to cause foghorns to take early retirement and pretty soon I’d woken up anyone who was sleeping and summoned the rest of the Sakhalin crew out of their rooms and into the corridor. It was good to see everyone, some I hadn’t seen in over two years.
The plan for that evening was to go to Jan and Sasha’s Thunder Night, which is one of 1,346 registered traditions unique to Lennestadt. Another involves nailing an eagle to a tree, shooting it off, and getting shitfaced for a week thereafter. The Thunder Night takes the form of the couple hiding in the house whilst all their mates make the most God-awful racket they can possibly produce right outside. Now Jan used to be a volunteer fireman and so the entire Lennestadt fire service turned up with all their engines, parked outside, and turned the sirens on full blast.
A lively crowd had formed with some blowing horns and making maximum racket using various means, and it was quite a din I can tell you. In addition, the crowd started chucking crockery in front of the house, trying to make as much mess as possible.
I’m not quite sure what the point of this was, but the idea of making a racket was to entice the couple outside whereupon they come across an almighty mess which they clean up together – their first act of domestic something or other. I’m not too sure, and I never saw anything quite like this before, but it was a lot of fun. Now I’m also not sure what was supposed to happen if some good citizen of Lennestadt happened to have their house on fire given the entire fire service was at Jan’s house licking their lips at the prospect of the 8 hours of serious beer-drinking and sausage-eating in front of them, but I think any risk was minimised by the whole district being outside Jan’s house anyway. Meaning any house which burned to the ground would at least do so unoccupied.
Eventually, Sasha and Jan came outside bearing bottles of some foul-tasting alcohol which might have been Schnapps and a tray of shot glasses. This part of the proceedings looked very Russian, except the shot-drinking ended before anyone collapsed, there was no fighting, and nobody was sent to trudge through snow looking for extra bottles when the first lot ran out.
But before the clean-up began, Jan got hold of a French horn – something he’d learned to play in the army – and joined a brass band that had magically sprung up beside the road.
After a few rounds of upbeat military marching music, which would have had Frenchmen nervously eyeing the Ardennes, Jan and Sasha made a reasonable effort to clean up the mess out front.
But nobody turned up at Jan’s house just to get their eardrums burst and watch folk wielding brooms, oh no. We came all this way to get hammered, and for this Jan’s family had prepared well. There was a large tent in the garden in which there was a fridge packed with the local brew – Krombacher – of which I was to drink several gallons during my short stay in Sauerland, beside which there was another fridge packed with champagne, and beside the large tent was a smaller tent serving sausages, fried potatoes, and curry sauce. Now this was worth coming for!!
As I said before, half of Lennestadt turned up to Jan’s Thunder Night and most of them got stuck into the Krombacher without delay. I spoke to quite a few of them, and found that almost all of them had known Jan at school. Of the couples, a lot of them had met each other at school. Everyone was very friendly, seemed to enjoy getting hammered, and took no small amount of interest in us bunch of oil workers who were scattered all over the world. This small-town hospitality reminded me of my hometown of Pembroke, where those that didn’t merely know each other were related and outsiders weren’t too common. By bringing Sasha into Lennestadt, I think Jan increased the potential gene pool of the region by 200%. As we got more drunk and ate more sausage the music turned to German style which I am afraid I am incapable of describing. Lots of people were dancing, and then one of Jan’s friends – a teacher – decided to tear up the paper tablecloths and make red headbands for us all, so I dimly remember finishing the night at about 2am dancing to seriously uncool German music with this thing on my head. It’s just as well I wore it, otherwise I’d have looked really silly.
The next day Jan had planned for us to go to a mining museum in the village of Meggan, near to where his parents live. Visiting a mining museum isn’t something normally associated with weddings (even those in Sauerland), but given a lot of us had come a long way the celebrations were spread out over four days, and the mining museum was thrown in for something to do during the day. Plus it was pretty much the only thing to see in Meggan (if there are no Thunder Nights going on, that is).
The chap who showed us around the museum – which is run by ex-miner volunteers – was himself a former electrical engineer in the pit, a portly man in his 60s who clearly enjoyed his Krombacher, sported a mischievous grin, and exuded such boyish enthusiasm about his mine and its history that you couldn’t help but be interested. It helped that a lot of us were engineers, and there was some bits of kit lying about for us to fiddle with, and then some schnapps was poured…
…and we looked around the mine some more. It had originally produced sulphur, with production peaking inexplicably around 1918 and 1944, and then turned to zinc as markets and extraction techniques changed, finally closing in the late 1990s. We couldn’t actually go down the pit as it’s now flooded, but we could drop rocks down the old lift shaft. And we learned that Jan’s great-great grandfather had an enormous moustache, about 15 kids, and owned the mine and practically the whole village back when it opened up in the last part of the 19th century. There were lots of pictures of men looking like James Longstreet in strange black uniforms on the walls, with others of diminutive men in their twenties who looked in their fifties and as if they’d prefer a job in a McDonalds than down a German mine in the days of Bismarck. Miners in those days didn’t last long apparently, finished off by back-breaking work, dust, tunnel collapses, and bad German jokes. We clambered up to the top of the old winding gear (now rotated for effect by a small electric motor) and played about with some big bits of winching machinery, and sat in a mock-up tunnel showing how blasting took place, and then that was about it for the Meggan mining museum. Here’s a view of Meggan from somewhere nearby.
Next the plan was to walk a mile or two to a ski hut in a nearby village. The weather was good and naturally Jan, being a well prepared German, had brought along a large flagon of beer for the journey.
The walk took us up and over a hill through woods and fields, a gentle stroll for one like me who runs his arse off in Nigerian gyms these days, but not so gentle that half a dozen beer stops couldn’t be justified.
It was nice being in the countryside again.
After an hour or so we arrived in the ski hut, located at the bottom of a rather tame ski run and obviously devoid of snow in June, but nevertheless we got stuck into some serious après ski. A whole bunch of Jan’s friends from the Thunder Night were already there (I think they’d been there a while) and the two families were all there, and in we piled to drink rather a lot of Krombacher. I called Yulia – who had skipped the mining museum, having about as much interest in mining museums as I do in bee keeping – who jumped in a taxi and joined us. It was a jolly old time and everybody was talking to everybody, and I got a few belly laughs when I ordered a “big beer” in German (which exhausted my knowledge of the language), and as it got later and no one person could guess to the nearest ten how many beers they’d had somebody ordered a load of green drinks which came in little bottles. I think it was only the idiots from Sakhalin who drunk any of it, but by this time I think Jan’s mates had drawn the conclusion that we were slightly insane, thus confirming the stories his brother had told on his return from a visit there once. Surprisingly, this green stuff went down quite well.
Eventually everyone left and went home: except the mob from Sakhalin, who were absolutely insistent that they carry on drinking somewhere else. Jan was skeptical – that day was a Catholic holiday and everything was shut – and said we had no chance of finding a bar, so he and Sasha went home. Or perhaps he knew what was coming and sensibly bailed while he still could. Either way, six of us piled into a taxi with the intention of finding a petrol station and drinking out of the pumps if we couldn’t find a bar. We got to Altenhundem at about 1am, or maybe 2am, I really have no idea, and after wandering down some back streets found some German youths who looked as though they might know where to get pissed. Yulia did the talking and they directed us to some bar around a corner or two, where they were headed anyway. We walked in, drawing some odd looks from a large group of German students who were just finishing up and leaving (taking the youths we’d met on the street with them). Or perhaps they, like Jan, knew what was coming?
We sauntered up to the counter, manned by a young German fella who, judging by the number of photos which turned up on her iPhone the next day, Yulia took a fancy to. He was accompanied by a large blonde German chap with a designer jumper crossed around his shoulders which made him look gay or French. But then I repeat myself. After a few half-hearted “we’re closings” from the barman, he said he could stay open another 15 minutes for us to have one drink. My drink was a Jaeger bomb with a whisky chaser, and it lasted about three minutes, so I ordered another (of each). The others weren’t exactly holding back either. We tried to buy the barman a drink but he said he was driving home, but after some insistence he had one. So did the blonde chap. Pretty soon the fifteen minutes was up but the barman, whose parents owned the place, obviously twigged he was going to do pretty well out of us and kept on pouring. I’m not sure how long we were in there, but it was at least a couple of hours, and for most of that he was pouring us whatever he wanted in response to us saying “surprise us”. Lots of Jaeger bombs went down-range. At one point I was eating sherbert chasing it with something foul. Some weird shots got necked, tempered by whisky chasers. Or was it vodka? I don’t know.
The barman had long ago given up any hope of driving home and he and his pal seemed most amused by us. When he asked where were from, he heard: I’m a Brit living in Nigeria, he’s an American living in Azerbaijan, she’s a Russian living in Thailand, he’s a Brit living in Paris, she’s Scottish and remarkably lives in Glasgow, and she’s from Sakhalin. I’m not sure his bar gets oilmen in it too often.
It was a short walk back to the hotel which took quite a while due to a kebab stop, lots of zig-zagging, and me stumbling about in the road waving a German flag at passing motorists (of which there were thankfully few, it being between 3 and 4am).
We didn’t get any more sensible when we got back to the hotel. And I was still waving my German flag about.
Not thinking it quite late enough, and not believing ourselves to be quite drunk enough, we went back to our room where my friend Simon passed out on our bed after trying to put on my pajamas, and the rest of us drank whatever was in the minibar and ate a pretty awful kebab and bullshitted until the sun started peeping over the hills and we thought it really would be a good idea to get some sleep. All in all, a pretty good day.
The next morning, which was closer to being afternoon, saw some seriously sorry-arsed folk dragging themselves down to breakfast, and they were the ones that made it. Fortunately, there wasn’t much planned for the day save for the “offical” wedding of Sasha and Jan. As is common in parts of Europe, wedding ceremonies taking place in churches followed by huge piss-ups and fighting relatives are not officially sanctioned, meaning the happy couple have to do some rather mundane paperwork in a government office somewhere before the bride can lay claim to the groom’s Porsche and real estate portfolio. In Lennestadt, this takes place in the Altenhundem town hall and Sasha and Jan’s turn was early that afternoon. Two of us decided to go for a walk around the town for a couple of hours beforehand, and sit outside a cafe or two.
Altenhundem was a pretty nice town, and the one thing which surprised me was that, even though it was a very small place, they were very well serviced by high street shops. There was an ironmonger, a bookshop, a clothes shop, a shop selling curtains and bedsheets and the like, a furniture shop, and it appeared that whatever you need in your day to day life could be found in town. In the UK, you’d have to go out of town to the nearest city centre or retail park for most of that stuff. And it’s no use blaming the supermarkets either, because there was a sizeable supermarket right in the middle of Altenhundem which sold more or less the same sort of stuff you’d find in a Sainsbury’s. I suspect it has more to do with sensible management on the part of the Altenhundem town council compared to their British counterparts. I did notice that there was adequate parking just off the main street, the first half an hour of which was free, and thereafter it was cheap. But then again, so much of Britain could more be like Germany – if only it were populated by Germans.
When we got to the town hall shortly before Jan and Sasha were due to emerge, we found the Lennestadt fire brigade had turned out in full force once again, uniforms, engines, and all. Germans are notorious for keeping statistics, and I wonder if there are any that show unusually high levels of home fire extinguisher ownership in the Lennestadt area? Such precautions would indeed be wise.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the wedding car was a fire ladder!
After a short wait, Jan came out carrying his new bride to the applause of the waiting crowd!
You’ll notice that a small fire had been built out in the courtyard. This was so that the first act the newlyweds would perform in their married life is putting out out a fire (after donning the appropriate equipment). Is this a metaphor for something? I have no idea. But I’m sure you can all agree, it was very romantic.
And with that, and a whole load of confetti throwing and photographs, they boarded the fire truck and off they went!
That afternoon and evening were relatively quiet affairs, which was just as well as a few of us were still feeling pretty rotten from the night before.
Jan and Sasha had chosen Schnellenberg Castle in nearby Attendorn as the venue for their church ceremony and wedding reception, which was about a 20 minute drive away. It also doubles as a hotel, meaning we were handily staying there overnight. En route, I put the theory that hire cars are by default the fasted machines on the road to the test when I attempted to race Simon in his Porsche 911. The theory proved false, but the contest did mean that we arrived too early for check-in thus forcing us to sit outside in the sun and order large beers. Somebody told us that Schnellenberg Castle was a “defensive castle”, but I took that with a pinch of salt. I grew up in Pembroke which unarguably features a defensive castle, and you’ll note that instead of windows there are slits three inches wide, handy for firing arrows out of whilst remaining protected. By contrast, Schnellenberg Castle had plate plass windows about 10 feet square which would have been pretty useless at holding back a baying mob armed even only with bricks. Later on, I heard somebody say it was more of a hunting lodge, which made more sense. It was very nice, way too fancy for a defensive castle, and I reckon the baron who built it used to invite his mates around for a spot of hunting followed by a mass orgy or two. That’s what it looked like to me, anyway. And besides, when did the Germans ever conduct defensive warfare?
I’ll not go into detail about the service and reception, other than to say it was fantastic on every measure, and there was Krombacher on free-flow all night. I think I got to bed at about 4 or 5am, I don’t really know, but everyone had tremendous fun and those left at the end were pretty hammered. Two of my favourite photos from the day are below, the first one being those of us who lived, worked, and knew each other on Sakhalin (represented in that photo are four major oil companies).
The next day everybody departed, and for us that meant going to Cologne where we planned to spend a few days shopping and relaxing. Cologne was very nice, especially the cathedral and the area down by the Rhein, although the weather was not at its best. As you can see from the photos we also found some nice bars, one of which sold enormous hamburgers.
We liked Cologne. We liked Germany. We will come back.