My new years resolution this year…. is to brush up my German.
I learnt French at School, and to be honest, I can remember very little. The quality of teaching was merde, as they say, but then again you can’t blame the teachers as they were more occupied with crowd control and anti-social behavious than la belle francais.
I knew hardly a word of German before I first went there in 200o. Since then I’ve been to Berlin, Nuremberg, Munich (twice), Duisburg, Dusseldorf (three times), Cologne (twice), Hamlin (as in the pied piper), Paderborn, and the Rhine Valley down near Koblenz. Its true what they say, that you learn a language much better from going there and practicing it and hearing it. I’ve picked up German a lot easier than I ever did French.
As a modern military historian I reckon having a good grasp of German must be an advantage, and it can’t exactly look bad on the CV. I know the basics – hello, goodbye, how to order a beer, where is the Football Stadium, can I have a currywurst and chips please, the Panzers are coming etc, but you could hardly say I can speak German. Therefore I’ve signed up to the BBC’s new German Steps course, to learn German in twelve weeks. They send you an email every week, and you work through the modules.
I’ll let you know how I’m getting on!
More than 8 years ago now, when I was Leader of Portsmouth City Youth Council, I was invited on an official council visit to Portsmouth’s twin city in Germany: Duisburg.
Duisburg is in the Ruhr Industrial area, on the banks of the river Rhine. It is the twelfth largest city in Germany, with a population of 495,668 people – thats over twice as big as Portsmouth. Like other cities in the Ruhr area, Duisburg is well known for being an industrial centre. In particular, Duisburg has been well known for its steel production. Indeed, on the banks of the Rhine, it is ideally placed to ship steel by river. It also has a large Brewery, which produces König Pilsener beer.
It has been the major central trading place of the city since the fifth century. The city itself was located at the “Hellweg”, an important medieval trade route, and at a ford across the River Rhine. Due to the town’s favourable geographic position a palatinate was built and the town was soon granted the royal charter of a free city. The rise of tobacco and textile industries in the 18th century made Duisburg an industrial center. Big industrial companies such as iron and steel producing firms (Thyssen and Krupp) influenced the development of the city within the Prussian Rhine Province. Large housing areas near production sites were being built as workers and their families moved in. In 1938, as part of the Kristalnacht, the Nazis destroyed the Synagogue.
A major logistical center in the Ruhr and location of chemical, steel and iron industries, Duisburg was a primary target of Allied bombers. A total of 299 bombing raids had almost completely destroyed the historic cityscape. 80% of all residential buildings had been destroyed or partly damaged. Almost the whole of the city had to be rebuilt, and most historic landmarks had been lost.
Like most cities in Germany, Dusiburg made a fantastic job of rebuilding after the war. Arguably, German cities had a much clearer canvas as they had been destroyed far more than cities such as Portsmouth, Coventry and London. Although the steel industry is perhaps not quite as strong as it once was, the city still has a thriving port. Its a fascinating city to visit. One of the old steelworks has been turned into a landscaped tourist attraction, fully lit up with colourful lights at night. Its a clean, green city, like most in Germany, and with impressive public transport. Only in England do we paint the tarmac red and call it a cycle lane!