Four days in Dusseldorf

Well I finally got back to Portsmouth at 2am this morning, after a long(er) weekend in Germany!

We flew into Dusseldorf Weeze airport, a small budget airline airport not far from the Dutch border between Kleve and Kevelaer. Weeze is actually an ex-RAF airbase, better known as RAF Laarbruch, where units of RAF Germany were stationed during the Cold War – most notably the Harrier GR force. Much of the RAF base still remains, and there is an RAF Museum on the site, which unfortunately I did not have time to visit.

We stayed in Dusseldorf, and went to watch Borussia Monchengladbach vs. Hamburg on Friday night. German football is a real experience, for anyone who can remember the time before English football sold its soul its a real experience. You can still stand on the terraces, and you can quite happily stand there drinking a beer and eating Currywurst. Its cheap as chips to get tickets, and the whole experience is far more fan focussed, so you’re not being treated like a customer (eg mug) like English football. Borussia have got a strong fan culture, and there is a ‘Fan Haus’ near the ground selling beer and playing heavy metal before and after the game. The atmosphere in German football is electric – as you would expect considering that normal people can afford to go and they still have terracing. Borussia also have an unusually strong British following, thanks to the long-term presence of a large British military presence at nearby Rheindahlen and places like Krefeld. My Uncle John watched a pre-season friendly between ‘Gladbach and Liverpool in the late 70′s when he was based at St. Tonisvoorst with the Army.

Borussia vs. Hamburg

Borussia are rooted bottom of the table with 10 points, and haven’t won a game at home all season. Not surprisingly the fans are calling for the Manager’s head. And after a lacklustre 2-1 defeat, unbelievably Michael Frontzeck still hasn’t been sacked. Zweite Bundesliga for Borussia next year… I’d forgotten just how could it is to stand on terraces, and believe me 90 minutes stood still in -15 celsius is no joke. Even when you’re wearing three pairs of socks!

Borussia Park

I’ve got a bit of a thing about football stadiums… Borussia moved to their new Borussia Park stadium a few years ago after years at the enigmatic but antiquted Bokelberg Stadion. I went to the Bokelberg in 2003 and it was a real old fashioned ground. The 55,000 seater Borussia Park reminded me very much of the identikit-Meccano stadiums that sprang up in England a few years ago (St Marys, Riverside, Pride Park, Walkers Stadium etc) that look very nice from afar, but are incredibly cheap and cheerful and devoid of character. This isn’t such a problem however, as the atmosphere in German football makes up for the bland architecture. One nice touch I did like was the use of green light to illuminate the stadium inside and out – I’ve never seen that at an English stadium, it would obviously cost too much for clubs to bother about. Near Borussia Park is an innocent looking school, that in fact used to be a hospital used for Hitler’s medical euthenasia programme during the Third Reich.

Espirit Arena, Dusseldorf

The next day we went to see Fortuna Dusseldorf vs. Greuther Furth in the Second tier. The game was at the Espirit Arena in Dusseldorf, a new 55,000 capacity stadium. I was really impressed with the ground. The U-Bahn station runs right up into the ground, which looks very good from the outside, with an effective screening technique that enclosed the outer concourse. Once inside the facilities are roomy and first class. The whole of one end is terraced, and can be converted to seats quickly for European and international matches. There is a retractable roof in the ground too.

inside the Espirit Arena

There were only 19,000 at the match, but with the atmosphere it felt more like 30,000. The Dusseldorf fans really made some noise. One guy is obviously the leader, given that he spent most of the match egging the crowd on and hollering into a mic. And it worked! When Fortuna scored to go 1-0 up he even took off his jacket to reveal huge tattooed arms. Quite a sight!

Fortuna Dusseldorf

Having fulfilled one-thing-to-do-before-you-die (watch a match with an Orange ball) we went back into Dusseldorf accompanied with some Polish Fortuna fans, and then ended up in a pub serving the excellent Koening Pilsener. A nice evening, even with the German bloke who decided to grab one of the bar girls round the neck! That aside, a night out in Dusseldorf’s altstadt is highly recommended. By now the snow was falling heavily. For most of the weekend my feet were completely soaked, even with multiple pairs of socks on. Why oh why didn’t I take my waterproof walking boots? I ate four Currywurst and fries over two days just to try and keep warm!

Dusseldorf overlooking the Rhine

The fun really began when trying to get home on Sunday. We had heard that airports and flights were looking dicey, and every other flight from Weeze was cancelled one-by-one. Our flight looked OK right up until we were at the boarding gate, at which point it was cancelled. Faced with the prospect of hanging around at a tiny airport for days, with no information and plenty of backlogged flights, we went back to Dusseldorf, got on the internet and managed to find a hire car to get to Calais. Having picked up the Car and made good time driving the 260 odd miles to Calais in about 6 hours, via Monchengladbach, Genk, Antwerp, Ostend, Bruges, Dunkirk and listening to Europop and  dodging veering lorries – we couldn’t find the car hire place to drop it off. A quick call to the car hire firm informed us that there was not in fact a branch in Calais, and they had entered our booking as dropping off in Celle in Northern Germany. Now, for those of you who don’t know, Celle is a British Army Garrison town between Hannover and Hamburg – clearly we were not going to take it there. So in the end we pretty much dumped the car in Calais, handed the keys to someone in the ferry port, and told the car hire company.

Fortunately we walked straight onto the next Calais-Dover ferry, which sailed uneventfully. The serving lady on the ferry refused to open the restaurant ‘until the Fish and Chips is ready’, in her words – brilliant, makes you proud to be British! We then managed to jump on a train from Dover to London… great!… but then the train was delayed at Ashford for an hour after the train in front was stuck on the points. After some nailbaiting the train got going, and using the high-speed rail link reached St Pancras in incredibly quick time. From there a quick hop on the underground, and we managed to catch the last train home from Waterloo. I finally got through my front door at around 2am, some 24 hours late. I really like Germany, but it’s always great to get home.

Obviously it was a seriously stressful time, but to quote Lieutenant-General Sir Brian Horrocks:

‘this is a story you will tell your Grandchildren – and mightily bored they will be!’

Don’t be surprised if I don’t go abroad during the winter for a while!

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14 Comments

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14 responses to “Four days in Dusseldorf

  1. John Erickson

    I’m just glad to hear you made it safely. Although I can think of quite a number of things worse than being stranded in Germany. I just hope for all your sake, over there in the UK, that this abnormal weather goes away, before you guys disappear into a glacier. At least over here in Ohio, we’re just freezing our butts off! 8-12 degrees C below average, but not much snow – yet. Now, if you want to live somewhere warm, California currently offers two benefits – warm weather, and shifting real estate. Where else can you go to bed on the mountain and wake up in the valley? :)

  2. James Daly

    The problem is we’re really not geared up for it over here. Thanks to privatisation all of our transport infrastructure – airports, rail etc – has been privatised, so not only does the Government have no control over what happens, but the transport companies have neglected to prepare properly for snow on the grounds of cost. Theres also the age old ‘we’ll just muddle-through’ British response to any crisis. Whereas in Germany, everything is on hand, and as soon as the snow falls there is grit everywhere, workmen clearing the pavements and snow ploughs working the autobahns. German efficiency isn’t a stereotype.

  3. x

    Your experience at the German association football game can be found every weekend at rugby union games.

    As for the snow. Well you are right. Private companies don’t want idle plant sitting on their balance sheets.

    But what really annoys me is the attitude of the travelling public many of whom seem ill prepared, stupid, or both.

    • John Erickson

      X, all I can say is, “Amen brother!” I did a lot of air travel back in the late 1980s, long before the TSA went insane with security checks. I was ALWAYS at the gate a minimum of 45 minutes (usually an hour or more) before my flight, I carried all my stuff in carry on and always packed VERY light, I always had spare undies and socks with me, and I always had a couple of paperbacks to read. These idiots who show up 2 minutes before the flight, or pack EVERYTHING into checked baggage (including prescription drugs for major health problems) always infuriate me. Then again, I learned early – my family was flying to California back when I was 7 or 8, and I remember sitting in the airport for over 5 hours while they towed our airplane out of the mud after sliding off the taxiway due to snow. Trust me, I got the message!

    • James Daly

      I must confess I’ve never been to a rugby union match. Acquaintances who have been to Twickenham tell me its got the atmosphere of a library, but I can imagine some of the more down to earth grounds being an interesting experience. And dare I say it, I imagine Wales and Ireland home games are choca with atmosphere from what I’ve seen on the box.

  4. James Daly

    We originally planned to fly out early Friday, coming back late Sunday. Accordingly I took enough clothes for 2 days including thermals, and jammed in as many socks and t-shirts as I could fit into my bag. I ended up wearing three pairs of socks and four or five t-shirts. Still cold, but it would have been much colder without them.

    Something that always makes me laugh is people trying to take coffin-sized suitcases as hand-luggage, then arguing with the check-in dollies about paying extra… you see some sights at airports.

    As I mentioned earlier, there are probably people due on our flight still sat in Dusseldorf now waiting to get back. We definitely made the right choice – show a bit of initiative and get moving, in the right direction, any way you can. Sadly you have to disregard the cost and just bite the bullet. Sitting around on your arse at the airport doesn’t get you home, especially when there are days worth of flights backlogged as well.

    • John Erickson

      Am I correct in assuming that airlines prioritise people the same way in Europe as in the States? Over here, if your flight is canceled, and the next flight is cleared to leave, they board the people booked on the 2nd flight first, treating the people left from the first flight as standbys. That’s why I also made sure I had options on other airlines (driving from Illinois to California not really being an option!). My luggage always included my camera case – made by mt dad, built of hand-jointed wood and strong enough to serve as a stool or even a mini-ladder (it did both several times). And let’s just say that when idiots would mill around in front of me, it saved wear and tear on my elbows – it had nice, pointy corners! (grins evilly) And it fit like a glove under the seat (as designed to), so that left me one soft bag, good for stuffing into bins, and (occasionally) a hard-sided traditional suitcase tough enough to stop a 9mm round. Business travel would’ve been more involved, but for sci-fi cons, you don’t really need suits! (Just lunacy, which folds neatly.)

      • James Daly

        If you’re booked on a flight, and its cleared to fly, then you’re pretty well safe. The problem comes if that flight is cancelled, then you’re left in the ether along with anyone else, and if two or three flights on your route have been cancelled then you’re low down on the pecking order. And airlines are loathe to put on extra flights due to the cost and hassle, so the backlog can take forever to clear. And lets just say that with budget airlines such as RyanAir and Easyjet you get what you pay for where customer service is concerned.

        I’m kinda glad we were stuck in NW Europe where we at least had options for getting home via other forms of transport… anyone trying to fly to Oz or the states is well and truly screwed.

        Another thing that made me think – from Dusseldorf to Calais we went through so many WW1 and WW2 sites – in other circumstances it would have been a great road trip! Hurtgen forest not far away, the Reichswald, Ardennes, Waterloo, Ypres, Dunkirk…

        • John Erickson

          Don’t you DARE say you went anywhere near Dieppe, or I will be forced to swim across the Pond and punch you in the face! ;) Seriously, if you ever do hit Dieppe, PLEASE get me a picture of the monument to the Canadians. After all, my boys (the Rileys) got farther into town (the old Casino) than any other unit. I planned to be there for the 60th anniversary, but a little thing intervened – I lost my job, home, and beloved canine son. Kinda puts a damper on holiday plans when your life goes swirling down the loo……

          • James Daly

            Sorry John, nowhere near Dieppe – its further west down the channel from Calais, roughly between Calais and Le Havre. I’m sure I will find myself there at some point, and consider any picture duly taken.

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