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MAIDENHEAD GROUP VISIT TO BAD GODESBERG 2012

23rd - 27th April 2012

Fifteen members of our group paid a visit to our sister group in Bad Godesberg from Monday 23rd to Friday 27th April.  We flew to Düsseldorf from where we took a direct train to Bad Godesberg, arriving shortly after 2.00 pm to be met by our hostesses who took us back to their homes to relax before attending a welcome supper that evening, which was held in the house of their Vice-president, Gabi van den Sand. The German ladies provided a wonderful array of buffet food and some superb local wines. Their President, Karin Weiss, made an official speech of welcome to which our President, Linda Johnston, replied.  Several of us had already visited Bad Godesberg in the past but for others it was their first visit as members of the group.

On the Tuesday morning we had an early start for a coach trip to Essen, formerly an important industrial centre in the Ruhr area.  The drive to the North along the motorway took about two hours, our destination being the Zollverein coal mine which dates from the 1840s and ceased to operate in 1986.  In 2001 UNESCO declared it a World Heritage site.  To visit the whole of the vast site would take all day, so we were given a guided tour of the buildings associated with Shaft XII, which opened in 1932 - a fine example of the industrial architecture of that period.  At its peak twelve thousand tons of coal per day were brought to the surface here to be processed into coke.  Our guide explained the various stages involved in sorting and grading the coal and happily answered our questions.  We were interested and surprised to learn that certain health and safety procedures which we would now consider to be imperative (such as wearing safety helmets or ear protectors) were not instituted until the early 1960s.  Short films demonstrated the severe hardships of working underground.

We enjoyed an excellent lunch in a restaurant beside Lake Baldeney, although the view was rather spoiled by the rain which persisted through the afternoon.  On the Southern side of Essen we visited Villa Hügel, formerly the property of the Krupp family (of cast steel fame), now belonging to the Alfried Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach foundation and often used for exhibitions, concerts etc.  The house was built between 1870 and 1873 with the intention of providing a refuge for the Krupp family away from the noise and heat of the factory and as a suitably stately residence in which to welcome VIPs from all over the world.  Our guide gave us a wealth of detail about the background of the family and the company and we were able to admire the main public rooms (a mere handful of the total 269!) which had originally featured steel pillars and staircase but had been altered in later years to make much greater use of wood and panelling. We arrived back in Bad Godesberg at about 7.30 and spent the evening with our hostesses.

On Wednesday morning we assembled at the ‘Haus an der Redoute’, a centrally situated building where the Mayor of Bad Godesberg, Mrs Schwolen-Flümann, has her office.  She is especially keen on twinning opportunities and building up European friendships and she was delighted to welcome us at a drinks reception, presenting a small gift to our president.  Following the reception we presented our ‘petit discourse’ on the subject of the National Trust.  Our German friends were very impressed and appreciative of the presentation and complimented us on the clarity of our German.  That evening we were entertained, with our hostesses, at private dinner parties in the homes of various other members of the German group, a good opportunity to meet more of our friends in smaller groups and get to know them better.

On Thursday we went by car with our hostesses to the ancient and picturesque town of Bad Münstereifel, about 45 minutes away to the West.  We were given a guided tour of part of the old town, which still retains its wall and its entrance gate towers.  The river runs through the centre of the town and we were told of severe floods in the past.  In its heyday the town welcomed thousands of visitors who came to take the spa waters but tourists now come mainly for the day rather than staying in the hotels.  A strong wind was blowing as we walked round so we were very pleased when we were able to pile into the Münstereifeler Brauhaus for lunch.  Fortified by this, including some of the local brew for those who chose, or warmed by the local mustard which came in a number of varieties, we explored a little more of the town and its old streets lined by half-timbered buildings before returning to Bad Godesberg.

Our farewell dinner on the Thursday evening took place in the Kommende Ramersdorf in Bonn, a castle of the Teutonic Knights originally founded in the 13th century.  We were seated at two long tables in interconnecting panelled rooms and treated to a fine meal. Our Presidents made speeches expressing the pleasure which both groups had had in each other’s company during the visit and of course our particular appreciation for the trouble our German friends had gone to in making the visit so interesting and enjoyable.

So far I have concentrated on the group activities, but we also had free time on the Wednesday afternoon and the Friday morning (our train not leaving until after midday) for our hostesses to show us more of the area, which they were only too happy to do.

Some of our members walked beside the Rhine or took a boat trip upon it.  Several members enjoyed a tour of Bonn, visiting Beethoven's House, the ‘Münster’ and its beautiful cloisters, a museum of post-war history, the botanical gardens of the University and residential streets with elegant houses of the early 20th century.  More fine houses were seen in Bad Godesberg, built by wealthy industrialists in the 19th century and later lived in by diplomats when Bonn was the capital.  On the outskirts of Bad Godesberg is Muffendorf, a mediaeval village with many half-timbered houses and a 9th century Romanesque church.  Another church of interest in the area is the Kreuzbergkirche, high on a hill above Bonn, with a Holy Stairway for pilgrims to go up on their knees.

Venturing further afield, some were taken for a trip along the Ahr valley, a wine-growing region with stunning scenery (and good red wine which I can also vouch for!) or on the Rhine valley to Bruhl, to visit Augustusburg Palace, a magnificent example of German rococo style.  It was built in 1725 by Clemens August de Wittelsbach, the Prince Elector and Archbishop of Cologne and was his favourite residence.  From 1949, when the capital was in Bonn, the palace was used by the German President for welcoming heads of state and dignitaries, including our Queen.

I took the trouble on the Friday morning to climb to the top of the Godesburg tower, the symbol of Bad Godesberg which can be seen on the town flag.  My hostess, Jutta Neumann, had told me that she would like to take me there to see the spectacular views – as far as Cologne and its cathedral.  Unfortunately she was unable to do so, as she had been struck down by bad back pain and went into hospital on the Tuesday, where she still remained when we left.  (I was able to visit her on the Thursday afternoon and found her in good spirits, anticipating a course of physiotherapy).

The care and concern shown by all the members, not only for Jutta of course but also for my welfare under these circumstances, the provision of meals and lifts for me to save her husband any trouble, are a strong proof of the value of the ties of friendship which we continue to foster through our European circle.

We were seen off by all our hostesses at Bad Godesberg station early on Friday afternoon and had a smooth journey back to Maidenhead, bringing with us many personal greetings from members of the Bad Godesberg group to members here as well as happy memories of our stay.

Eleanor Griffiths, May 2012

 


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