FIFA World Cup Wedding

 The FIFA World Cup was on when we were in Hamburg in 2006. But Football fever seemed hardly to touch the peaceful Hotel Treudelberg Golf and Country Club, at the edge of forest, on the outskirts of Hamburg, until that memorable day when Germany met Argentina in the quarter final.

Hotel Treudelberg terrace  at dusk
Hotel Treudelberg terrace at dusk

At five o’clock, the terrace was deserted. The chattering fountain was the only voice in the garden, the swaying trees the only dancers on the lawn and on the golf course, only a lonely flag waited at the first tee. Inside, the corridors were quiet, the pool, the gym, the sauna and the beauty center were empty. There was no rumble of industry from the conference rooms.

“The game” said the smiling receptionist as she pointed me to the bar

“Oh, of course, the game!”

Inside the bar, the crowd stood shoulder to shoulder, squeezed into corners and squashed against walls. There were elderly ladies in brocade frock-coat ensembles; white-haired, jovial red-faced gents in waistcoats; a circle of middle-aged cigar-smokers in shirt-sleeves; elegant, coiffed, bronzed matrons in cut-away, slashed down-to-there, split-up-to-here dresses and dangerous heels. Blondes with umbrella drinks, big hair and beach-ball bums teetered on bar-stools. There was a team of beer-drinking suits. At the bar was a man with a flower in his button-hole. Right at the front was a woman in  bridal whites . Her eyes were fixed, like everyone else’s, on the TV screen where eleven Germans and eleven Argentineans chased a black and white ball backwards and forwards across a rectangle of green.

A scoreless first half ended with snorts of frustration and shaking of heads. Brocades, suits, stilettos, cigar smokers and beach balls receded like a rip-tide, leaving glasses and cigarettes, bags, stoles and jackets like flotsam and jetsam on tables and chairs. There was a lull in the bar, like the eye of a storm. Figures took shape in dim corners; a few football jerseys, a couple of golfers; conference people in logo tee shirts. There was a re-claiming of space, a charging of glasses, an exchanging of nods; a bonding of sorts.

Outside, under the umbrella, the man with the button-hole and the woman in white joined hands. Their friends closed in and blocked them from view. It was still for a second. Then the circle unwound and raced to the bar. Bride and groom shared a kiss and dashed after them.

It was four minutes into the second half and the commentator called the game in tones of mounting panic. “Nein! Nein!’ screamed the anguished crowd as Argentina scored. A lone cheer from a shadowed corner fell into a leaden silence.

There were ten minutes left when Miroslav Klose flipped the ball into goal. Bronzed arms waved above coiffured heads.

“Deutschland!” clap, clap, clap “Deutschland!” clap, clap, clap.

Shirt-sleeves thumped waist-coated backs. Beach balls and big hair bounced up and down. Brocades smacked kisses on startled red-faces. Bellowed snatches of “Deutschland Deutschland uber alles” transported the suits.

The air buzzed like an electrical field through extra time. People sprang to their feet yelling “Jaaaaaaaa!” as the ball spun towards the German goal, then sank into in their seats as Argentina snatched it away crying “Neieeeeeiiiin!

And finally, we arrived at that hour of judgement, that time of reckoning, that Armageddon of football – the penalty shoot out. Glasses were filled, smokes were lit, everyone settled, tensed, readied. The countdown began.

“Ein! Zwei!……Drei!………..”

If there was a voice raised for Argentina it was lost in the roar.

“Jaaaaaa!”

It was a German win! There was shouting, singing, cheering, laughing, crying, embracing – shirt-sleeves and big-hair, suits and stilettos, white-hair and beach balls, waistcoats and brocade, football jerseys and big hair, golfers and bronzées, conferenciers and coiffures, barmaid and barman, bride and groom, all on the same side now, all whirling around in a demented dance.

The commentator’s voice was drowned out. The TV flickered, forgotten, in its corner. The joy, the jubilation, the disappointment, the tears and the after-match ugliness played on, unheard and unseen, till the screen snapped off and it all vanished into blackness.

The bride and groom led their guests away, out through the French doors, and across the terrace. From a lawn striped with shadows, they threw bunches of white balloons into the fading sky. The trees shivered in the breeze, the fountain dropped curls of misty spray on the pond and beyond it, a group of golfers teed off, then chased specks of white along the darkening fairway.

There was an emptiness now in the bar and a tiny tinge of sadness, like the one that follows the end of a good book. But there was also a feeling anticipation and a sense of excitement too, like the one that comes when there’s more to the story.

 

 

A walk in the forest

The Hotel Treudelberg Golf and Country Club
The Hotel Treudelberg Golf and Country Club

I enjoyed my first two days in Hamburg, on the outskirts, at the edge of the Forest.

The Hotel Treudelberg Golf and Country Club is only 10 kilometers from the centre of Hamburg but it seems a world away. Its roofs and gabled windows look out across a tranquil garden, over a thick curtain of trees into a flawless sky. The “outside world” stays discreetly between the covers of brochures, maps and guides. Life, as it is known to tycoons and top end escapists, goes on undisturbed at the Hotel Treudelberg Golf and Country Club.

On one side of the building, behind the closed doors of conference rooms, the machinery of global business ticks and whirrs. On the other, the corridors echo with the muted beat of aerobics from the Fitness Centre and the soft splash of swimmers at the pool. A scent of crèmes and oils drifts under the doors of the Center Estetika and robed wraiths slip noiselessly from sauna to solarium. Outside, golfers trundle along a fairway lit vivid green by a bright summer sun and beside it a path leads away to a fairy tale forest.

The blue sky, the warm sun, the clear air and the beckoning path outside are irresistible. Feeling like Little Red Riding Hood, but without the basket of goodies for Grandma, I lift the latch on a dark green gate at the end of the hotel gardens and follow the path. It weaves along, through and around the golf course, under canopies of shady trees,past sunny fields of long grass. There’s a distant thuck of everyday clubs on ordinary golf balls, but it’s underscored with magical birdsong and the mysterious whisper of wind in leaves.

At a junction , a white arrow, on a mossy, brothers-Grimm rock, points me in two directions. Close by, there’s the sound of a barking dog, a splash, and the whirr of wings. Two big white birds rise with an outraged squawk above the trees. They hover, then turn and drop further down. Straight ahead, through the trees there’s a shaft of light. I follow a pattern of smudged footprints away from the path, across the damp earth to a clearing  with a tiny lake set in steep banks. Sunshine freckles its dark surface, where a dog paddles, trailing a v of wake, towards a circle of disapproving ducks.

I pick up the path again and follow it round the lake, passing only a company of dogs on a dogs’ day out and some serious, stringy-legged hikers spiking their way, with alpen stocks, over humps and hollows, tree-roots and potholes. In distance, there are voices, the desperate whistles of lost dog owners and the faraway drone of an engine.

The path takes me back to the Treudelberg lawn where tall trees stir gently against the perfect sky and a fountain patters softly on a reed fringed pond. I sink into a deck chair and watch the play of light on the leaves. Just when I’m wondering whether life could be more perfect, a shadow falls across the lawn beside me and a waiter in a white coat and bow tie offers me champagne.

 

Two Prague Streets

With its magnificent castle, its beautiful bridges, its stunning squares, its spectacular public buildings, its imposing towers, its old towns and its vibrant squares, its easy to overlook Prague’s quiet little streets. It’s worth taking the time to wander through them to discover some of the city’s loveliest houses and some of its most fascinating history.

Nerudova Street

Depending on your approach, Nerudova Street curves gently down or steeply up the hill below Prague Castle.

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It takes its name from Czech poet and journalist Jan Neruda, who immortalized the district in his short stories He lived here, between 1849 and 1857 first, in number 47, or At the Two Suns and later in number 41, At Three Black Eagles where he wrote his first collection of poems.

Although Nerudova Street attracts crowds of tourists with its quaint shops and cafes and restaurants, it is most famous for its “house signs”. Before the introduction of house numbers in 1770, all Prague houses were distinguished by picturesque signs. Today they tell the history of the house and the people who lived in them.

At the Three Fiddles or number no. 12 was once the home of three very successful violin-makers who sold their instruments all over Europe. Legend has it that on quiet nights the house echoes with the haunting strains of violins. At the Red Lion, or number 41, a red lion holds a golden cup in his paw. This was the home of Petr Brandl, the famous Czech painter work adorns several Prague churches.

At the Golden Lion, or number 32, holds the National Museum’s Historical Pharmacies exhibition. The Golden Horseshoe is at number 34 and At the Red Eagle at 36. The Green Lobster is at number 43 and The White Swan is at number 48.

Steeped in small stories, lined with beautiful little buildings and full of surprises, Nerudova Street is a wonderful wind down from the overwhelming might and splendour of Prague Castle.

Celetna Street

Quaint and vibrant Celetna Street leads from the Old Town Square to the Powder Tower. It was once part of the Royal Route followed by the Czech Kings up to Prague Castle. The name Celetna derives from the traditional plaited bread rolls which were made in its bakeries for centuries.

Today Celetna Street is a popular tourist spot. Crowds stroll in its shade by day and in its romantic light by night. It is lined with souvenir shops, cafes and restaurants.

Still, it is the historic houses, marked by picturesque “house signs” which give Celetna Street its distinctive character and charm. The Sixt House, number 2 and At the Three Kings, number 3, are both former homes of Prague’s most famous writer, Franz Kafka. Josepha Duskova, Mozart’s mistress, once lived at number 8, At the Black Sun. 

The Manhart House, at number 17, was once a Piarist College but now houses a theatre At the Vulture,  number 22, was one of Prague’s early breweries but since the 18th century it has been part of Charles University. At the Four Columns, number25, was the home of Theologist Bernard Bolzano. The Buquoy Palace at no. 20, also now part of the Charles University, is a Neo Classical gem. At The Black Madonna, which was the first cubist building in Europe, is the street’s most famous house. It now houses a permanent exhibition of Czech cubism and its Grand Orient Café sells special cubist cakes.

For history buffs, lovers of architecture and romantics, a stroll down Celetna Street is a must.