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Early in the morning Ruthie, Tarotcub and I myself prepared ourselves for our arduous plane ride over to Deutschland — all 90 minutes of it.

We did not drive over to Gatwick, but instead took the train down to King’s Cross and then took the Gatwick Express down to Gatwick Airport from St Pancras. Our flight was with FlyBE, on which we had the ever lovely Bombardier Dash 8 plane — it has propellers! While booking this flight over a month ago I was clicking rather madly and had mistakenly requested baby food for Tarotcub. I couldn’t change it, but fortunately, as the flight was so short we didn’t get served any food unless we were prepared to pay for it — which I did, I got a lovely can of diet coke for the lovely price of 1 pound. While waiting at the gate to get onto our tiny shuttle bus to our plane Ruthie and I were playing a silly game of “Spot the Germans”. We were doing okay except over one chap who we both swore was East German but turned out to be some Brit.

Yalla met us at the Dusseldorf Airport and we took a taxi to our hotel — Hotel Tonnchen. I thought it cute, but for some reason both Ruthie and Tarotcub couldn’t see the delights in having bath towels that can exfoliate you. After depositing our multiple bags (we didn’t check in anything, that would have cost us extra with FlyBE, so we each had either a duffel bag or a backpack) Yalla took us to the Rhine, where there is a lovely riverside promenade. We had dinner there, strolled about, and just generally relaxed. I really liked where we had dinner. It was nice, after the stuffy pubs of England, to be in the equivalent of a beer garden by a river with a lovely breeze. There was a tacky german dj playing some questionable music. But I still shaked my booty whilst there. I had been overcome with a giddy feeling. I had forgotten how much I loved being in Germany, and being there by the Rhine was just a balm to the soul.

After dinner we strolled about the Altstadt, and just generally enjoyed the merriment and the huge soccer fever that has gripped Germany. Got to the hotel and prepared ourselves for the next day – the industry culture event which gripped a goodly portion of Dusseldorf. We actually took the train to Oberhausen to view the sights in that district. We started at the Gasometer, which is a disused steelworks; it is now a community “centre” where  people can use a rock climbing wall, a little playground for children, and it is also a historical testiment to the german industrial heartland. Met up with Sven, who I had not seen since the Lithuanian LBW, had dinner at an Argentine Steakhouse, checked out a really funky set of art installations and went to a museum explaining the areas industrial history — with posters and newspapers from the 20s and 30s, showing the rise of Hitler and his focus on the ideal Aryan Man/Woman. Went back to the Gasometer for some midnight fireworks, which were a bust. And my camera got a touch moist, so it didn’t work. Rang Mr Mark, as he’s the only one I know who loves cameras (my paternal uncle was a very good photographer and I would have turned to him first, but he sadly passed away 5  years ago). So I didn’t get to pictorially remember the lunar display at the Gasometer .. a giant reflection of the moon, rotating at the same rate as the moon.. it was stunning and I couldn’t do anything about it.

Next day, we were quite knackered, having returned to our hotel around 3:30am. I must say, the efficiency of the german train system was amazing so we didn’t have to worry about late trains .. and they are everywhere … EVERYWHERE.

So we got to Yalla and  Kerstin’s for breakfast around noon (we had been doing this for each of our mornings in Dusseldorf) and we had a leisurely day of going to the AquaZoo and the Japanese Gardens just behind the zoo. Had dinner at a casual pub/restaurant very close by to Yalla and Kerstin and I had the most amazing schnitzel in my life. Because I was without a camera I had to use Ruthie’s. She willingly allowed me to use it, as she mistakenly believes I take good pictures.

Next day, Cologne! But first, I had to get a new camera. I got a Fuji FinePix S1600 for 169 Euros. Tarotcub sat there quietly while I was going through the different cameras. As all my old cameras have been handed over to him whenever I upgrade he was quite excited at see what he terms as his soon-to-be-camera. Finally I purchased my camera and we were off to Cologne! We took the train instead of driving over in Kerstin’s car — as there is some sort of centuries old rivalry between Cologne & Dusseldorf which nowadays is captured in the argument over who produces the better beer, Cologne’s Kolsch or Dusseldorf’s Altbier. As Kerstin informed us if she drove over because her car license plate indicates she is from Dusseldorf she will get ticked by the Cologne Police.

Got to Cologne and were greeted with a huge Dom, which is Cologne’s Cathedral. It is so massive that last time I saw it was was the dominating structure in the skyline half an hour before my boat (Koln-Dusseldorfer) docked at the harbour. It’s also all black, and as was said rather jokingly … can’t clean it, cos once you finish you have to start all over again at the beginning. We wandered about Cologne, did some shopping and just generally got a feeling for the place. Met up with Sven again, and afterwards we headed over to an Irish Bar to meet some LBW peeps who I had not seen in a number of years – Jens, Edwin and Antony.

Next day was to be our flight back to Gatwick, but we still had time. So we had breakfast in the Altstadt and wandered about looking for last minute items to purchase. I picked up some pots of mustard, unique to Dusseldorf, german chocolates and Yalla got me a CD of schlaeger music. Tarotcub had expressed to Kerstin that he wanted some Kinder Chocolates, cos the stuff we get back in Canada isn’t that great. While we were in some shop she secretly snuck off and presented Chris with a bag full of Kinder chocolates .. that was super sweet of Kerstin. We had lunch and then piled into the car to get to the Dusseldorf Airport. I had made sure that my liquids and gels were already in a clear plastic bag and ready for me to present. So I got through security fairly easily, but Tarotcub and Ruthie had to purchase some bags so they could seperate.

Flew into Gatwick, and there was some switching error on the tracks so it took us waiting 45 minutes to get onto the Gatwick Express. Luckily, when it pulled into St Pancras the wait at King’s Cross was relatively short and we made it back to Ely before the sun had set.

Some thoughts:

  • Ruthie and I were dismayed to discover that the German Government is using the tax system to dictate social policy – Kerstin, as the one making less income in the partnership, is taxed at a rate of 80%. So there is an incentive for mothers to be stay-at-home mothers because it isn’t financially viable for them to work
  • We were also stunned that there are special parking spots – and not just for the disabled. There are spots for “Mothers and Children”, not “parents with young children” but “mothers”. As well there are spots specifically women-only. We were told it was because of rapes happening in carparks and parking garages. My comment was that instead they should just increase security in parking areas, as men can just as easily get assaulted
  • Other than the very paternalistic approach to women, which I took great issue with, my time in Germany was great. I got to see Yalla and Kerstin (who are absolutely lovely people), got molested by their cat Spot who has a particularly odd fetish for shampoos & haircare products and will climb you just to groom you. The visit to Germany was also necessary for my sanity .. it was nice to be in a breezy place, where one did not have to fear for their life trying to get to the bar to place an order
  • And my true highlight was watching Tarotcub experience Germany for the first time. The different types of beers he tried was astounding