A border is a line drawn in the land. Funny then that people on both sides of that line do not speak the same language, do not share the same history and have a different way of life. Just because of that I like it so much to travel east, two hours from my hometown, to cross the Dutch-German border. And just in case you are missing me, there is a pretty good chance you’ll find me sitting on a bench on the banks of the Rhine River in the small town of Bacharach. My secret spot that is not secret anymore.
I also like to tell you about the Konditoreien, luxury bakeries where you can sit down to have coffee and that offer a wide choice of different pies, cakes and cookies. About the ice cream parlours that offer a varieties in numbers I have not seen anywhere – something like 100 different sorbets and coupes, as we call them, in an ice cream salon in Daun I visited some time ago. What about the delicious breakfast buffets that greet hotel guests every morning? And I think that Germans did invent the concept of leisure, as proved by the meticulously restored Fin du Siècle and Jugendstil bathhouses and the superb wellness spa centres that look like nowhere else in the world with their high tech pools and great saunas. Sit down and relax. That is what the Germans do. As a visitor, who am I not to join in?
A Dutch love affair with Germany does not come naturally. The deep wounds created by five year German occupation between 1940 an 1945 prevented that many Dutch could even admit to like Germany. The war cost the lives of some 225,000 Dutch, almost half of that number Jewish citizens. My father was a forced labourer in a German locomotive factory in Chemnitz and nightmares haunted him for many years – there must be stories he never told us. In my town of Katwijk all houses and Victorian hotels along the North Sea shore were demolished, and the people living there forced to move to other towns, just to give the Wehrmacht a clear line of fire in case of an allied invasion. But after the war houses and hotels were rebuilt, and the Germans returned – as tourists. My parents however had no problem travelling to our eastern neighbours. When income rose my father was able to buy a car in 1955, an Opel nonetheless, and foreign trips meant vacations to Germany. Today, Germany is Holland’s most important economic partner, and competing with France as the most popular vacation destination.
Still, many of my fellow Dutch see Germany as a country you drive through non stop – except for coffee, fuel and sanatary relief - on their way to the Alpine countries or Italy. And for many North American and Asian tourists Germany is a four day stop at the most on their European tour: a quick visit to the Rhine valley - after all, it is a Unesco World Heritage Site - and then on to the Kaiser Ludwig’s Neuschwanstein castle in the Bavarian Alps. That is too bad. If you take your time, and look around, there is so much to see and enjoy. I have learned that on my American trips too. No Western Highlights package for me, which will only result in endless driving, having a quick look, and drive on again. But that might be the subject of a future blog
I started to discover Germany in the late 1980s, simply because it is nearby for me. I have my favourite spots. Bad Bentheim, Tecklenburg, Aachen, the Harz area, the Sauerland and the Black Forest, where Baden Baden is a place that begs to be visited at least once a year. But it all comes together in Bacharach, a small medieval town, famous for its wines, located in one of prettiest parts of the Rhine valley. Sit down on a bench there, and watch the barges slowly battling upstream, or with considerably more speed downstream, and look at the numerous freight and passenger trains pass by on both sides of the river. There are few places that sooth the mind so much and where time seems to stand still. So, wherever you go in Germany, do stop by at one of the Bacharach benches. You might meet me there.