We’ve always said that our ultimate ambition with the ROTS Adventure Club is to get out into the field in September & October, replay the whole book, using the original text as our guide – and then produce our own book.
At the moment we’re about halfway towards raising the money we need to produce this book for you. We’re doing it with the help of the crowdfunding publisher Unbound. A pledge of just £25 will get you a Handbook, a Field Audiobook, an e-book and full web access to our live adventure as we roam across Germany in September & October.
But what will the Handbook actually look like? (We’ve already given you an idea about the Field Audiobook). Well, we’ve gone to the effort now of putting together a Sampler of the chapter covering October 2 in the book, and there are a number of elements.
1. The Locatd Edition
During one of our many wanderings, this time in Lincolnshire, we acquired a ragged 1920s edition of ‘The Riddle of the Sands’ that not only seems to be chopped up by date, but also has notes scribbled all over by its owner, known as ‘H.G’ – or maybe ‘O.K’. We’ll be reproducing pages from this edition and will attempt to decode what all the scribbles mean…
2: The Original Text
The Handbook will include Childers’s original story, so you can take this great adventure novel out into the field and follow it day by day.
We’re going to produce maps that merge the world of 1898 with present-day Germany, so you can follow the route of Carruthers and Davies precisely (or as precisely as nature and modern trespass laws will allow).
4. Advice for Adventurers, Historical & Cultural Notes
There’ll be Handbook entries on where to stay, what to eat, things to see and do – and a wealth of information about all the references in the original book to historic landmarks, people of note, clothes, food, national customs, politics, war, duck-shooting, sailing, piracy, pipes and so much more.
5. Photos & Archive Images
The Handbook will not only contain photos from our travels through modern-day Germany, but also relevant archive material that relates to incidents and references in the book.
6. More Maps
For every day in the book there’ll be a map to guide you through the adventure and show you exactly where Carruthers and Davies are at point in the story.
If you want to get hold of the entire October 2 chapter of the Handbook, you can get it for free if you support the Unbound project. After you’ve pledged, you’ll find it in The Shed, along with the Field Audiobook files for October 2 and October 3.
If you’ve already pledged, thank you! Please tell all your friends to join us. Remember – a great book can take you places.
After a month of doing proper (paid) jobs, Lloyd NotDavies and Tim NotCarruthers are finally back in the room! It’s October 23 in ‘The Riddle of the Sands’, a day when Carruthers takes advantage of the mighty German railways to speed his way to Amsterdam for a night in a proper bed. The only downside? He has to endure half the journey with the creepy engineer, Böhme: “Don’t forget to go to Lloyds…”
So, it’s railways, luxury hotels by the Amstel River, and possible real-life role models for Böhme. If that floats your boat, don’t forget to pledge your support for the Adventure Club Handbook at https://unbound.co.uk/books/riddle-of-the-sands. Just £25 gets you a Handbook, a Field Audiobook, an e-book and full web access to our live web adventure.
First up, Lloyd NotDavies gets his Bradshaw’s out and indulges his obsession for timetables (07:34). We discover how Carruthers would have got from Nordeney to Amsterdam in real life in 1898 – and how Tim NotCarruthers can ride (roughly) the same route today. Astute readers will notice how quickly a German army could travel through Holland and Belgium by train. Lloyd refers to the famous historian AJP Taylor to show the importance of train timetables in army mobilisation and the start of World War One (14:05).
Tim NotCarruthers ignores the rattling of sabres and researches, instead,the nicest possible hotels to stay at by the Amster River (19:35). He finds a historic hostelry with basement showers and a unique line in deep massage and physical therapy. Tim also goes looking for a slop-shop in the Jewish Quarter in Amsterdam, and uncovers the dark reasons for why he can’t find it (24:38).
And so to real life examples of Böhme the military engineer – Böhme the Nazi war criminal (28:08); von Pressel the chief architect of the Baghdad Railway (31:30), von der Goltz Inspector-General of Fortifications in 1898, and lover of young Turks (33:13); Krupp the steel magnate, and lover ofyoung Corsicans (36:23).
Club Business: John Ironside on German comedy videos (39:43); Zydny on Lancaster guns (40:41); Tony F on rowing speeds (41:36); Kass reports calmly on a proper sailing (mis)adventure (43:43); Jeff loves our Memmert episode (45:28); Brian offers to set us up with rowing lessons (45:40); Jon joins in with tales of Thames sculling at speed (46:33); a special ‘Ahoy’ to Adrian for finally tracking down the original Queenborough steamer pier (48:30).
Missions for next week – members assistance required.
‘a tedious journey’: how to get to Esens from Amsterdam in roughly 12 hours, and then walk along the Bensertief. Share your knowledge of the Dutch/German railways and canals with us.
‘the quiet cobbled streets of Esens’: anybody been to Esens? We need to find the humblest guesthouse in town.
‘these budding canals’: it’s finally time to talk about canals. Any (relevant) stories you have, please get in touch.
To my mind, October 22 is the greatest and most memorable day in ‘The Riddle of the Sands’. It’s the day Carruthers and Davies row a dinghy in thick fog, all way from Norderney to Memmert and back again.
It’s atmospheric, full of tension & jeopardy, and describes an extraordinary act of derring-do with the kind of fine detail that places you right there in the boat. But can it actually be done? Is this something that Lloyd notDavies and I should attempt as part of our creative re-playing of the book? The answer is a resounding… NO.
For a start, we’d have to learn to row a dinghy, and rowing, let me tell you, is a dying art. The arrival of the low-cost outboard motor has seen to that. Why bother learning about a load of old rowlocks if you can putt-putt-putt to wherever you want with one swift yank of a pull cord?
We’d also need to get a lot better at navigation. Sure, we plan to have a prismatic compass, a lamp and everything else listed in the book – including the whisky and tongue sandwiches – but we certainly don’t have Davies’s navigation nouse. We’d be lost within minutes. On top of that, we’d have to be rowing at a *very* high speed for several hours. As you can see from the map in the book, and my rough copy made on Google Maps, the trip is 14 miles each way. Childers is, as usual, curiously specific about timings.
“It was twenty-five minutes to eleven when we noiselessly pushed off.”
They reach the eastern outlet of Memmert Balje at 11:10 and take a three minute break. At ‘a few minutes past one’ Davies estimates that they still have “eight miles before us, allowing for bends”. They get to within a quarter of a mile from Memmert at “nearly 3”, i.e. 14:55.
Certainly this is a tour de force. They’re covering 14 miles in just over four hours, and they do the last eight miles in under two hours. In other words, Carruthers is rowing at roughly 3mph for the first two hours, and 4mph for the second two hours. And let’s not forget, he’s then got to row them back again to Norderney by 20:00.
Listeners to the latest podcast will know that I consulted the cloud about what’s the fastest one can go in a row-boat, and for how long. The consensus seems to be that 3mph is the maximum speed, and anything more than a couple of hours would result in even a fit young man hitting the floor – and certainly suffering from severe blisters on both the hands and the bum. This isn’t a discomfort that Carruthers mentions at all when he eventually sits down for dinner with the Dollmans.
Don’t get me wrong – there are examples of people who have rowed a long way in a small dinghy. In 1896, just a few years before Childers sat down to write ‘The Riddle of the Sands’ there is the fine example of Harbo and Samuelsen who rowed across the Atlantic in an 18-foot boat, taking 55 days to get from New York to the Scilly Isles– a record that stood for over 100 years. (That’s a rough speed of 2.5 mph btw)
And if you’re looking for real-life bona fide rowing adventurer – rather than us two middle-aged wannabes – look no further than John Fairfax, who not only sculled his way across the Atlantic, but also spent a year with the equally extraordinary Sylvia Cook rowing across the Pacific from San Francisco to Australia.
Fairfax led a very colourful life as a sometime animal skin trader, cigarette smuggler, South American pirate and Las Vegas baccarat player (and, believe me, that’s just a snapshot the man’s life). Sylvia Cook, by contrast, went on to live a slightly more conventional life, and still works part timein a B&Q in Surrey. There’s an excellent interview with her about the amazing Pacific crossing here btw: http://reducedlistening.co.uk/rowing-across-the-pacific
All in all, it’s pretty clear that Lloyd notDavies and I lack the skills, the physique, the bravery and the sheer madness required to take on a long and dangerous row. The maths suggests that even the great rowers of this world would find it hard to do what Carruthers and Davies allegedly achieve – 28 miles in 8 hours in thick fog and with a strong tide against them for part of the way, and some fiendish navigation to boot.
Yet again, we’re going to have to admit that some bits of a ripping yarn like ‘The Riddle of the Sands’ are not entirely do-able in real life. But that doesn’t mean we won’t try. Watch out for us next year – we’ll be the the middle-aged guys with an outboard motor and a GPS puttering around on a cloudless unfoggy day looking a bit lost. In our heads, we’ll be dreaming of being Harbo & Samuelson. (We can never come close to being John Fairfax).
Many of you will remember the lovely day out we had in Queenborough over the summer, where we looked at a ship pier which I, notDavies, confidently asserted was the same pier that Carruthers takes the Flushing Steamer from to begin his adventure. Many of you will also remember that this was not, in fact, the correct pier at all, as I explained in a mea culpa post which notCarruthers has had framed and sits behind my head during podcasts.
Well, Club Member Adrian Woolrich-Burt (ahoy Adrian!) took it upon himself to have his own Adventure, travelling to Queenborough to find the pier. And boy, did he find it. At the bottom of the post are some pictures of what he saw, but before that we’d like to share the videos he sent us, which contain the essence of Adventure Club. Adrian, consider yourself promoted to Midshipman, with immediate effect.
On the evening of October 22nd, Carruthers and Davies make their way to Dollman’s residence for a dinner party. Carruthers gives no clue as to the food that is taken, but it seems to be a strange combination of formality and informality, with no waiters but several courses, and lots of good booze:
No servants appeared, and we waited on ourselves. I have a vague recollection of various excellent dishes, and a distinct one of abundance of wine. Someone filled me a glass of champagne, and I confess that I drained it with honest avidity, blessing the craftsman who coaxed forth the essence, the fruit that harboured it, the sun that warmed it.
Hunting around for a model for this party, I settled on one from a writer we’ve already discussed: Isak Dinesen, aka Karen Blixen, whose short story ‘Babette’s Feast’ became a memorable film in 1987. Now, I’m cheating a bit here, location-wise. Anyone who’s seen the film will get the impression that the landscape might be similar to the East Frisians, but that’s because the film was made in Denmark. The actual setting for the original story was Berlevåg, right up at the top of Norway.
In the story (and warning – PLOT SPOILERS – if you’ve not read the story, it takes about 30 minutes, and is well worth your time) two elderly sisters, Martine and Philippa, live in a distant religious community founded by their deceased father. The sisters have a French maid-of-all-work named Babette, who had appeared at their door one June evening twelve years before, in 1871, desperate and afraid and on the run. She was a Pétroleuse – a woman who set fire to houses during the Communard uprising in Paris – and she had been sent to the far north by an acquaintance of the sisters who wished to help her.
Babette becomes a key part of the sisters’ household, but acquiesces in their insistence on plain and simple food. But then, one day, the French lottery ticket that Babette has been holding on to comes up, and she wins ten thousand francs. The sisters assume Babette will leave immediately, but she asks that they let her cook a meal for them, on the hundredth anniversary of their old father’s birth. But the meal must be a French meal, truly French. And she must be allowed to pay for it.
So the day arrives, and ten old members of their father’s congregation come to the sisters’ house to eat Babette’s feast. And, of course, it is like nothing they have ever eaten before. Here is the menu:
Amontillado and Turtle Soup
Cailles on Sarcophage, ‘quails in their coffins’
Grapes, peaches and fresh figs
Champagne: Veuve Cliquot, 1860, This time the Brothers and Sisters knew that what they were given to drink was not wine, for it sparkled. It must be some kind of lemonade. The lemonade agreed with their exalted state of mind and seemed to lift them off the ground, into a higher and purer sphere
Wine: Clos Vougeot 1846, ‘From Philippe, in Rue Montorgeuil!’
The pay-off to all this splendour is the revelation that Babette was once the cook at the Café Anglais, one of the most esteemed restaurants in Paris – and that she has spent the whole of her ten thousand francs on the feast, because a dinner for twelve at the Café Anglais would cost ten thousand francs.
There is one other dinner party model we should look at, and it’s one of the most extraordinary tales we’ve come across in this Adventure. We were alerted to it by our friend Ed Freyfogle (ahoy, Ed!), who asked us on Twitter if we’d ever heard of a sketch called Dinner For One. We hadn’t.
Here it is:
It’s a charming little thing, true enough – a vaguely Edwardian scene featuring an eccentric old lady, her imaginary dinner friends, and an increasingly inebriated butler. But that isn’t what’s amazing about this clip.
What’s amazing is that this sketch is among the most repeated bits of television in the world. It was first recorded in 1963, a year after German entertainer Peter Frankenfeld and director Heinz Dunkhase saw Freddie Frinton and May Warden perform it live on stage in, of all places, Blackpool. Frinton had been performing the sketch, originally written in the 1920s by Lauri Wylie, for twenty years.
Frankenfeld and Dunkhas found it hilarious, and paid Frinton and Warden just over 4,000 Deutschmarks each to perform it on the Norddeutscher Rundfunk show, Theater am Besenbinderhof, filmed in Hamburg before a live audience.
Here’s where things get a little weird.
The film of that long-ago performance in Hamburg is now a staple of northern European television schedules. In Germany, up to half the population watch it every New Year’s Eve. It’s also a New Year’s Eve tradition in the Nordic countries and, of all places, South Africa. In Sweden and Denmark it was taken off-air for a while because of worries about its depiction of heavy drinking, but had to be brought back under the weight of popular demand. The sketch is usually shown in English, without subtitles, and many Germans can quote the dialogue verbatim. The phrase same procedure as every year, which is repeated throughout the sketch, is a famous catchphrase in Germany, as well-known as this is an ex-parrot.
And not one single British person we spoke to when we discovered this had ever heard of it. What is it about British cultural exports that take on an entirely new life when they reach Hamburg?
We have, of course, gone off on a complete tangent from Carruthers and Davies at a supper-table in Norderney – but that, after all, is the joy of this adventure. And we like to think that the supper the chaps enjoy probably lies halfway between Babette’s Feast and the Dinner For One – a rather classy menu, dominated by copious amounts of booze.
Memmert, the destination for the epic rowing trip undertaken by Carruthers and Davies on October 22nd, is as much sandbar as island. In fact, right up until the 1950s, its full name was ‘Memmertsand’. It’s mainly famous for birds, and the only inhabitant on the island is a bird warden. Since 1986, the island has formed part of the Waddensee National Park, and visitors are only permitted on official trips or with explicit permission.
The man most associated with Memmert is Otto Leege, a teacher from Juist who visited Memmert for the first time in 1888. He became rather attached to the place, as a keen ornithologist, but grew increasingly dismayed at the number of eggs that were taken from the place by the good people of the East Frisians. They liked taking pot shots at birds, too, such that by the early 20th century the island was littered with bird carcasses. It’s fortunate for Carruthers that he doesn’t tread in some as he stumbles across Memmert in the fog.
Thanks mainly to Leege’s campaigning, Memmert was declared a bird sanctuary by Prussian decree in 1907. The following year, the first building on the island was built, a lodge for a bird warden who would guard the island and prevent hunting and egg stealing. Over the years this lodge has been rebuilt again and again, for the now-familiar East Frisian problem of the tides, which keep changing the shape and indeed the location of Memmert.
The first permanent bird warden on Memmert was none other than Leege’s own son, Otto Leege jr., who took the post from 1921 right through until 1946, presumably repulsing the odd Allied incursion along the way, given those dates. He lived in the lodge on Memmert with his family, and remarkably enough his replacement was his wife, Therese, who took the job until 1956. She in turn was replaced by her son-in-law, Gerhard Pundt, the husband of Otto and Therese’s daughter Klara. A resonant name in this context.
Gerhard and Klara lived on Memmert until 1973, when the Leege family connection was finally broken. The new warden was Reiner Schopf, who lived on Memmert for 30 bird-strewn years, retiring in 2003 to be replaced by today’s warden, Enno Janssen, who spends nine months of the year on the island.
It seems fascinating that Carruthers and Davies, who have for so long been travelling under cover of shooting ducks, should find the answers to their questions on an island that was soon to be a bird sanctuary. We are not likely to be as lucky. There are organised trips to Memmert – but only in August and September, so as not to disturb the breeding of all those watched-over birds. It may be possible to get a special licence to visit, and Tim notCarruthers is keen to try it anyway, but I’m not so sure. I have images of the warden, driven mad by loneliness on this stretch of not-quite-land, emerging from his lodge with a gun and the screeching of gulls in his ears.
We’re now at the most important moment of the book, and the section that could be claimed to have secured the reputation of ‘The Riddle of the Sands’ as one of the greatest British adventure novels of all time. It’s the row to the island of Memmert in a thick fog on October 22: a fantastic feat of navigation and physical strength by our two heroes, Carruthers and Davies.
But can it actually be done? And what of the dinner afterwards at the Dollmans on the Schwannallee in Norderney? This podcast covers amazing feats of dinghy rowing, bird wardens, the holiday exploits of Chancellor von Bülow, and German (and Norwegian) dinner parties.
First up, we explain again why you should be supporting our efforts to create a brand new Handbook Edition of our favourite book, all yours for just £25 with Field Audiobook and an online adventure thrown in for free.Full details at https://unbound.co.uk/books/riddle-of-the-sands. (01:44)
Tim notCarruthers consults the maps, the text and Yahoo Answers, then does the maths (in a very rough way) and concludes that the row to Memmert is probably a very tall tale indeed(05:30). He goes on to discuss real-life ocean rowers Harbo and Samuelsen (13:20), and the larger-than-life John Fairfax (15:33).
Lloyd NotDavies evaluates our chances of making it to Memmert at all on a real adventure next year (20:20), and talks about the only people to have lived on the islands in the last 100 years – a strange family of bird wardens and rabbit hunters (21:07).
We then go in search of the Schwannallee and find only the Bülowallee (27:18). Much talk about Schwann the physicist, and Bülow the Chancellor, with speculation about Norderney as a place for ‘all-male gatherings’(30:58). We sit down to dinner and consider what kind of meal would be had in 1898 (36:07), rediscovering ‘Babette’s Feast’ along the way (37:28), and enjoying Germany’s funniest ever TV comedy sketch to boot (40:24).
Club Business. Inspired by talk of foghorns in a previous podcast, John tells us about ‘The Hornster’ (45:10); Gordon wants to know more about McMullen’s‘Down Channel’, so we oblige (45:58); EC Childers tells us more about Erskine’s personal library of sailing books (48:17); Emma on Facebook calls out Victoria BC for poor sewage management (49:23); Ian on Twitter points us back towards Latakia, the possible source of our pipe tobacco (51:09); instructions on how to pack a pipe come from Sergeant Matron of the Kervaig Pipe Club (52:04).
Missions for next week – members assistance required.
‘I asked for a ticket for Amsterdam’: Carruthers has to get to Amsterdam and back by train. What route did he take? And with some of the old train lines long gone, how are we going to replay this bit of the book with any kind of accuracy?
‘where does Böhme come in?’: we’ve found real-life equivalents for von Brüning and Dollman already, but what about Böhme? Any early examples of the classic German ‘baddy’ very welcome.
‘a perfect hostelry hard by the Amstel River’: where did Carruthers spend the night on October 23, and what is the nicest place to stay today near the Amstel River?
Club members who have been paying close attention will remember that on October 16 in the book, Carruthers makes a note that “High water at morning and evening is between five and six”. He and Davies are somewhere between Wangerooge and Spiekeroog at the time, and he even adds a short footnote stating:
“the reader should take note that the tide-table is very important henceforward”
Sad to say, by October 21 it turns out to be not very important at all. Childers, by this point, has basically got his timings all wrong.
When Clara Dollman sails out to meet our heroes behind Norderney, the tide-table has been ignored entirely. If Carruthers is to be believed on October 16, then it follows that high tide on October 21 would be between 10:45 and 11:45. Clara appears just after 2pm, and a close reading of the book suggests that she heads back to her a ‘spruce little yacht’s gig’ at about 4pm.
That means the tide would still be going out at that point – and yet Carruthers clearly states: ‘the tide had risen a good deal’. No it hadn’t! The tide would have been doing entirely the opposite thing!!
From about 5pm, Dulcibella heads to Norderney (“a tussle with the tide at first”), the wind then drops, and the yacht has to be towed using the dinghy. Childers/Carruthers explicitly states they went with ‘the ebb-stream’. But the ebb-stream isn’t there ’til well after 11pm, and yet somehow Carruthers and Davies magically manage to drop anchor at the eastern pier of Norderney harbour by 9pm. IT MAKES NO SENSE!!!
Even worse for all you sailors out there – even if we choose to abandon the idea that tide-tables are important, and stick to the details as given on this day, it’s come to my attention that this part of the adventure can’t really be done at all!
Alistair Buchan is yet another person who’s actually got out to the Frisian Islands and done parts of this adventure, rather than sitting in an armchair at home thinking about it (like me). And according to Alistair’s report in the January 2006 edition of Cruising World, he’s pretty adamant that the events of October 21 could not have happened. He writes:
“I was heading for Greetsiel via the Memmert Balje when the impossibility of Davies meeting Clara… behind Norderney struck me.” … “To meet Clara behind Norderney, Davies and Carruthers would have had to sail against the tide in light winds. It can’t be done. Honest.”
Lloyd (notDavies) chides me for taking a writer of fiction to task in this way (these storytellers like to stick together), but even he has to admit that playing fast and loose with time and tides in this way will inevitably muddy the waters when it comes to attempting the kind of date- and location-specific Adventure we’re planning for next year.
The big question for me, though, is why bother getting into this kind of narrative pickle in the first place? Firstly, there was no need to say that tide-tables were important on the 16th – nobody cared, did they? And secondly, there’s no need for Clara and Davies to meet at this precise location – it could have happened pretty much anywhere on or near Norderney, or even on Langeoog. So why choose an impossible spot at a time that doesn’t make any logical sense? Seriously – writers can be very frustrating sometimes.
BTW I fear for tomorrow – by which I mean October 22. Carruthers and Davies are meant to be rowing to Memmert in a thick fog. If the tides and times are wrong on this bit of the adventure, the whole thing really starts to look like one giant… well… *fiction*.
Part of the package of extra goodies you’ll get from us when you support us on Unbound (pledge £25 for the Handbook Edition of ‘The Riddle of the Sands’ today!), will be a Field AudioBook: a complete reading of the book, recorded in exactly the right places at precisely the right dates – and enhanced by the addition of local ambient sounds and field recordings.
‘What will that sound like?’ I hear you ask. Well, now you can find out. We’re giving all our existing supporters on Unbound access to Field Audiobook sample files describing the events and conversations of October 2 and October 3. To entice you into becoming a supporter on Unbound, here’s a short sample of what you can expect to hear in full after you’ve pledged your support.
In the coming weeks, we’re going to offer videos from our German trip last month, and we’re going to produce sample sections of the Handbook itself (both e-book & printable PDF versions), again covering October 2 & October 3. You will, though, only have access to this stuff one you’ve pledged your support on Unbound.
We’re hoping these samplers will give you a firm and compelling indication of what you’ll end up getting for your £25. The e-book files and pdfs will also give you a chance to provide us with feedback, so we can ensure the Handbook really does become the definitive edition of the classic adventure story we all love.
If you’re already a member of our amazing Adventure Club, please do spread the word and let people know about all the great stuff we’re offering.And thank you for all your support so far.
It doesn’t take two days to travel up the Kiel Canal. Most of the ships and yachts we saw on October 3 were motoring along fast enough to get through easily in a day. With his history hat firmly on, notDavies assures me that on the opening day of the canal in 1895, the Kaiser steamed through in less than 14 hours.
The canal is not, therefore, made for pleasure cruising, with pubs, bistros and eateries lining the shore, tempting us to tarry awhile. It’s much more like a motorway, but without any decent service stations. No-one stops for a snack or a stretch of the legs. In fact, on this particular day, there was hardly anybody around at all.
Every town we passed through near the canal was empty, with no shops open and hardly any people on the streets. By the time we got to Rendsburg, nearly halfway along, notDavies was getting decidedly testy about the lack of victuals. Indeed it was getting to the point that, if I had produced the kind of disgustingtinned meat and strange sausage that Carruthers and Davies stock up on in Kiel, he would probably not have baulked at it.
We were just at that point in a long journey where a toddler in the back seat finally loses it when we happened upon an ice cream parlour, and found what seemed like half the population of the town holed up there. I calmed NotDavies down with two scoops of mango and pistachio, and then used what mobile reception I had – poor all away along the canal btw – to ask the internet why on earth all the Germans were flocking to eat ices on October 3.
The answer was simple: it was Germany Unity Day, a day set aside for celebrating the reuniting of East and West Germany in 1990. I am careful, at this point, to say ‘Unity’ and not ‘Unification’ (as notDavies mistakenly did several times quite loudly) because unification still has slightly sinister tones for some, historically speaking.
Before World War One, there was a day for celebrating a greater German Empire– called Sedantag – on September 2, although it was mainly the Prussians who got out the bunting, with the southern German states being slightly more muted about the emperor’s achievements. During the Weimar period, August 11 was known as Constitution Day, but, alas, that didn’t last long.
Hitler chose November 9 as a ‘Memorial Day’ for celebrating the Nazi movement. This also happens to be the date of Kristallnacht. Some time after 1945, June 17 became an official holiday in West Germany, mainly to stress a date when there’d been an (unsuccessful) uprising in East Germany.
So you can see there’s been a lot of to-ing and fro-ing in terms of a national holiday date, and the words ‘Unity’ and ‘Unification’ have a slightly fraught history. Curious, for us, that in the end October 3 has become a special date for Germans, given that in ‘The Riddle of the Sands’ it’s the date when Carruthers talks a lot about growing German power:
… I described her marvellous awakening in the last generation, under the strength and wisdom of her rulers; her intense patriotic ardour; her seething industrial activity, and, most potent of all, the forces that are moulding modern Europe, her dream of a colonial empire, entailing her transformation from a land-power to a sea-power. Impregnably based on vast territorial resources which we cannot molest, the dim instincts of her people, not merely directed but anticipated by the genius of her ruling house, our great trade rivals of the present, our great naval rival of the future, she grows, and strengthens, and waits …
The Germans take national holidays very seriously, in terms of doing no work at all (apart from serving ices). At times, Rendsburg felt like a ghost town, which was disappointing since we both felt this must have been the obvious place for a government tug to stop for the night in 1898 – and therefore an obvious place for there to be hostelries, shops and cultural institutions, all financed by trade from the canal.
What I had assumed would be a bustling historic town turned out to be a bit of a backwater, where one of the top 5 Tripadvisor ‘things to do’ is to go to the local bowling alley. Another supposed treat is to tarry awhile on the world’s longest bench. We couldn’t find it.
With so little to do and see in Rendsburg, we repaired to our very lovely AirBnB digs in nearby Schacht-Audorf, and then happened upon a fantastic local canal-side restaurant serving smoked eel, caught fresh from the canal. It turns out that this establishment has been catching and cooking eels in this area since the 1850s.
So there *was* some local food and drink to be had on these shores on the night of October 3 when Carruthers and Davies puttered past. But did they bother going ashore? Unlikely. For them it would have been schnapps & hard pears with Bartels, and something ghastly warmed up on the Rippingille stove– followed by an improving discussion on the state of the German nation, or the best way to navigate your way to Wangerooge.
NotDavies and I finished our day with a glass of kümmel, standing on a pier staring into the dimly-lit waters of the canal, complaining gently about the lack of decent mobile reception.
The next morning we did bother to take in the number one attraction of Rendsburg – the impressive rail & transporter bridge (not there in 1898). To make up for the distinct lack of victuals on the previous day, we treated ourselves to an excellent buffet breakfast at the Restaurant Nobiskrug. (Notice how the diet of two middle-aged men of the 21st century can so quickly and so drastically diverge from that of the youthful & frugal Carruthers and Davies.)
Here we spent a good hour watching an incessant flow of boats, both big and small, again showing no signs of stopping. The experience was enhanced by a man announcing each ship via a sound system, as we ate our brunch. Not only did he give us each boat’s name, length, tonnage, flag and destination, he also played the relevant national anthem each time. If you stay for a second helping at the buffet – as we did – you will inevitably find yourself humming the Liberian national anthem for the rest of the day.
Which is exactly what we did, all the way to Brunsbüttel.