Auf Wiedersehen Pet…. A very “German” connection
The annual pilgrimage to Germany was always something that I managed to miss out on. I was far too young to go. I knew it too. It was a male adult booze cruise to the continent and a road trip all in one. Alcohol fuelled frivolities in German Bierkellers was just a little beyond my reach at the young age of fourteen. The long-weekend jaunts were “a norm” for my dad and his friends and colleagues from work. They had connections in Germany. One of my fathers long-standing work associates Albert lived in Monchengladbach. Monchengladbach is a large town just over the Dutch and Belgian borders to the west of the city of Dusseldorf. It developed around a Benedictine monastery from which the name Mönchengladbach (“Monks’ Gladbach”) is derived. Today Mönchengladbach is a textile centre; its municipal museum houses a notable collection of Coptic textiles. The city is also a road, rail, and air hub, and its machinery (especially textile machinery), aeronautical, and cable industries are important to the local economy. For them, the trip was a break from the connections at work and a chance to let their hair down. A chance for a drink or six with little time to recover.
There were many options when it came to getting from Bradford, West Yorkshire to Monchengladbach. Over the years they had all been tried. They ranged from the obvious “flying from Manchester to Dusseldorf” which in all honesty was too expensive and hiked the cost of a weekend away up by 400% to the less obvious option of driving in a convoy of cars. The “overland” option was the normal route of choice but this varied from driving the full distance of 423 miles each way if you went on the ferry via Hull or 505 miles via Dover; or the alternative option of driving to Hull, leaving the cars in the car park of the companies Hull office, grabbing the overnight North Sea Ferries service to Rotterdam then catching the train through to Monchengladbach. For clarification and for the purpose of this catalogue of events, the later of the journey options applied in this case.
It was not normal to finish work early on the Friday, not even lunchtime. But, once a year in mid-February, half a dozen of this large companies employees (managers included) would creep out of the door and finish at 12:00. They would each head for the car park, rip off their ties and disappear down the M62 bound for Germany. The other members of the touring party were usually holed up in a pub and unsurprisingly, already be hitting the drink. This of course excluded the two or three designated drivers that would have to put up with a strict no alcohol rule until we boarded the ferry in Hull. One of the common RVP (Rendez-vous-Points) was a pub in the village of Eccleshill, Bradford called The Prospect. Once assembled, and a few shandies later the crew headed off in a three or four car formation for Europort Hull. More often than not this ended up in a pub stop somewhere en-route for an unscheduled toilet break. Someone always came out with the statement “while we are here we might as well have a drink, it would be rude not to, wouldn’t it?” and suitable alcoholic refreshments be served around the party. As a result of this I always recall my dad looking at his watch. Long before Sat-Navs I could see him working out a mental route from the back roads of East Yorkshire to Hull in is head and estimating the arrival time. The North Sea Ferry service to Rotterdam left at 17:00 so it was essential we were there well in advance to allow time to park the cars up and obtain a lift to the terminal.
There is plenty to do onboard, you have a choice of places to eat and drink, whatever your appetite – so you can enjoy a coffee and a snack in the coffee shop, or savour a wholesome cooked meal in one of the restaurants. Whether you choose The Kitchen with its world flavours and buffet-style dining, or the first class menu in the brasserie, you are guaranteed an excellent meal. After you’ve eaten, you can enjoy a pint in the bar, relax with a glass in the wine bar, or take in the breathtaking panoramic views from the Sky Lounge. For further entertainment watch the latest films in one of two cinemas, or catch the live cabaret show in the Sunset Show Lounge… you can even have a flutter in the casino! —- all in the words of P&O lol..But for us once aboard the ferry it was time to relax, have a few drinks and something to eat and then finally tuck up in a bunk for a good nights sleep.
After the 1984 airing of Auf Wiedersehen Pet it actually felt like we were embarking on a similar venture the only differences were that we were Yorkshire-men and we had no intention of looking for work; Just beer, fun and the odd bout of madness. The overnight service to Rotterdam is a journey of 235 miles and lasts around 14 hours so as I am sure you can work out this is a very slow speed of 17 miles per hour and nowhere close to the ships top speed.
Saturday morning we woke at 7:00am. There is a window of opportunity to go up on the deck at this point as there are lots to see as the ship enters Rotterdam. The Port of Rotterdam or Europort as its commonly known is enormous and you seem to be passing it for miles and miles before you actually dock. This is because once the ship enters the mouth of River Nieuwe Maas from the open waters of the North Sea there is a very slow 6 mile journey along the water to the Rotterdam North Sea Ferries Terminal commonly know as Europort.
The strangest thing about arriving in Rotterdam at this time is that you still have time for breakfast on board even though the ship is in port. This feels rather weird. It’s almost like stopping on an aircraft once it has parked up at the stand and waiting for coffee to be served. On previous visits we have actually been in bed and woken up to find that we had already docked. As it happens we were already having breakfast when the ship entered the docks and it was just a case of popping back to the cabins, packing up our belongings and disembarking. Getting on and off a ship this size is quite a lengthy process when you have a vehicle on the car decks as it means queuing. This is not the case if you are a passenger and it was straight off the walkway and in to the ferry terminal. Next stop Monchengladbach.
The terminal in Europoort lies approximately 24 miles from the centre of Rotterdam but with a station close by catching a train is not an issue. We were about to embark on a train journey of nearly two hundred miles. Across the whole of the Netherlands and creeping over the border in to Germany…just. There is no direct service so the route would take us from Europoort to Rotterdam, a change of train then onward to Eindhoven. At Eindhoven we had a good hours wait for a train to Monchengladbach. This second segment of the train journey also incorporated a stop at Venlo before a short twenty-minute journey to our destination …..Monchengladbach.
Now this is where my memory starts to test me, and before you say anything I made a call to my father who cannot remember either. Here was I thinking I was on to a winner by writing this blog entry with links to relevant information. I do recall that the hotel was quite close to the railway station as we walked the short distance. We all then wandered in to the lobby from the main road near the car park. I scoured Google Earth and cannot find anything remotely similar but having said that we are twenty plus years further on now and things do change.
After a quick shower and change we all assembled in the lobby. Over the years we had dressed up, dressed down and stayed as we were..this year we decided to hire fancy dress from a shop in Bradford. So there we were, all appearing in pairs at the hotel reception.. everything from Batman to Saddam Hussein, Admiral Nelson to Captain Caveman… cartoon characters and notable figures from the past all about to hit the old town of Monchengladbach. Oh no… the mind boggles. We met up with one of my dads long-standing German friends and his family. We embarked on a mammoth drinking session with the local beer flowing, the singing and all round cheer. The night was memorable but yet no one could remember. We were welcomed with open arms by the locals and I couldn’t help feeling that our German connection with Albert was helping here. He came across as a figure of the community who everyone knew and we were his guests. The night seemed never-ending and we could have sang till dawn. English songs poorly translated in to German sounded out loud, and a group of men with little translation sounding the english version in the distant background.
I was first to wake. I grabbed the video camera and proceeded to knock on doors to record the consequences of a heavy night on the town. Downstairs breakfast was served and we had no time to waste. Today was as short as Saturday, drinking time was limited as come 1500 we had to dash for the border and a trip to the Netherlands and Europoort awaited. Everyone surfaced and the smell of German sausage cooking was enough to summon us to the dining room. Brief discussions across the table questioned what exactly had happened the night before. There was no lack of funds but the sight of grown men checking their wallets and counting the cost in Deutschmarks of the night before was quite entertaining. The discussion was the why’s, where’s and what for’s of an awesome night in Monchengladbachs old town. And what a night too…..
We sat at the breakfast table and waited for everyone to finish. I sat near the window and before long I noticed groups of people adorning fancy dress wandering across the road. Clowns and Jesters, Painted faces and comical characters all heading for the town centre. At this point I got the impression that today was going to be a continuation of last night and that all we had done was take a half time break. We packed our things, vacated our rooms and headed outside to meet Albert. He appeared in a large black Mercedes and exited the car wearing sunglasses and a dark navy blouson style leather jacket. If I hadn’t know him I would have thought he looked quite intimidating and would have probably turned the other way. After a brief rally of conversation we headed off to the old town for a 10am start. Let the drinking commence.
All the bags were stored in the corner of one of the taverns we were drinking in. After a while there was a route that emerged taking in four different drinking establishments. The map above demonstrates the route taking in appropriate refreshments in each venue. The whole square was full of people in fancy dress, singing, dancing and even take away food carts. The atmosphere was great. There were times when public figures stood on a stage and made speeches. Not been fluent in German it was difficult to completely understand the gist of the subject in hand. It was then that I noticed a group of men entering the hostelry we were sitting in. The all had gold coloured face masks and were dressed in what I can only describe as “Farming clothes”. The were pulling small wooden crates on casters full of vegetables. Some of the vegetables were on ribbons and we duly presented to un-expecting drinkers. I ended up with a potato on a blue ribbon swinging round my neck which some very nice blonde Fräulein found quite interesting and proceeded to kiss me on the check. Albert must have known her and insisted that she sit on my knee for a photo. Mmmmm I clearly remember her and she was a stunner. She drew a love heart in lipstick on my cheek, kissed me then before I had chance to even open my eyes she vanished out of the door. Auf Wiedersehen Pet !
The frivolities continued throughout the morning and I arrived at the conclusion this was going to be a game of two halves. Saturday had been the first, the warm up, a time to get a feel of the ball with the scores level at half time and Sunday was the second. A game in which the Bradford Crew disappointed, would have to leave the pitch before the final whistle. Not an ideal time to leave the playing field but we had no choice if we were to catch the Sunday sailing from Rotterdam back home to Blighty. If only we were to have known what was eventually going to happen we could have stayed around longer. Maybe my relationship with Frau Blondie would have been cemented, I guess we will never know. The lunch hour came and went with the scores tied, the Germans brought on a substitute in the form of Albert’s son-in-law Wolfgang. The pace of the game slowed as problems in camp Bradford emerged. Funds were running low and the Deutschmarks that once sat in the kitty as rows of crisp colourful “Bureau De change” notes had now taken residence behind four of Germany’s finest ale houses. A problem shared is a problem halved.
The answer came through the door like a bull through a five bar gate. Kaiser Bill was not his name, but merely a mock title bestowed upon him by the lads with good reason. I suspect he was an acquaintances of Albert’s but I guess we will never know. He marched through the door to rapturous applause performing a mock hitler walk to some strange Oompah music blasting out on the duke box. It was as if he knew our financial status and was sent under orders from another town to keep the flow of alcohol going. The ale started flowing again, this time the Milky Bars were on him and my goodness, what an afternoon it was. An afternoon that will go down in history as one of Britain’s great invasions and one of the great escapes too. It will be written in to the mystical history books. the history books of the magnificent seven, the seven that left Bradford that Friday night, travelled over a 1000 miles and had a ball… but, the fun was far from over.
We left the alcohol where it belonged. We reluctantly emptied our glasses and were dragged one by one from the conversations with the locals each of us were embroiled in. My old man knew the problems should we miss the sailing from Rotterdam and so did I. The next sailing was 24 hours later, one we couldn’t afford as we were all at work from lunchtime the following day. We caught the train from Monchengladbach and headed back the way we had come. We all sat in compartments on the train and the groups shared stories about people we had chatted with, stories that must have been partially adapted through a definite language barrier but none of us cared. The tales of Kaiser Bill and his bottomless wallet, Albert and his never-ending jokes and Wolfgang and his broken English. As for me, well I rested my head dreamt of Frau Blondie and hoped the photographs came out.
We all boarded the ferry, each carrying a grey plastic bag containing a fancy dress suit and ready to hunt for their respective cabins. It was a routine sailing back home and we were due to dock in Hull at breakfast time. The night on the ferry was similar to the one on the outbound journey except the conversations were about memories not expectations…reflections on good times and at last the ability to spend english money. Normal practice was to wake and find we had already docked in Hull so after waking suitably refreshed I looked out of the west-facing window and I was shocked to discover that we were still at sea, and worse still we were heading south. This was so confusing. At breakfast the conversation was halted by a tannoy announcement updating us on the current situation. The service from Rotterdam to Hull follows another service from Zeebrugge to Hull in to the port of Hull and it appeared that the sister ship had damaged the lock gates in to the docking area whilst manoeuvering and effectively closed the port. This was due to server storms in the United Kingdom on Sunday. So much for getting to work at lunchtime. We spent most of Monday on board that ship sailing in long circuits up and down the east coast between Teesside and The Wash. This was until around tea-time when it was decided that the ship would attempt to dock at the port of Immingham. Immingham is not a passenger port and the facilities were non-existent but as long as we could get off the ship nobody cared.
We eventually disembarked down a makeshift walkway and were met by staff that had been ferried over the bridge from Hull. A coach was organised to get us back to the other side of the Humber to collect our cars. The whole trip had been a success. An eventful one, but one that will never be forgotten. A tale of laughs, fancy dress, German translation and of course a potato on a ribbon.
We phoned home and then phoned work, as a major transport company they already knew what was going on. It was then we were informed that the weather had been so bad that it had blown the office roof completely off. Oh no….talk about overshadow our german tales.
Thanks for reading and “auf wiedersehen“