Or, more truthfully, from Heidelberg. A first dispatch from
Pete Sixsmith, who is on the pre-season trail with Sunderland – except when getting hopelessly lost – and gagging for the game against Hoffenheim …
Well we arrived. It took longer than we thought, but we made it to Heidelberg after a long, long journey that tested the Mazda 6 and its passengers, but by 8pm on Thursday the four of us were sampling our first German beers in a small corner bar midway between the hotel and the town centre.
The trip was going well until we decided to drop into the riverside town of Boppard for a rest, a meal and a shufty at the River Rhine. All three were accomplished and we followed the scenic route down the river gorge to Bingen – and then missed a sign.
Forty minutes and some U turns, difficult conversations and false hopes later, we eventually relocated the motorway that would take us to Mannheim and on to Heidelberg. The road map we had was officially declared as useless and was confined to a heap in the back of the car, languishing between a packet of Planters and that mornings Daily Star.
We reached Heidelberg and then spent another hour looking for the hotel, We knew it was “near the station” – and that was as far as it went. The station was found and a succession of non English speaking pedestrians could do little but point and wave their arms. The one who did speak English was clearly tempted to come up with the old maxim: “I wouldn’t start from here, mate.”
Eventually KaiserStrasse and the Hotel Central were found, the car was parked up and luggage was taken up to the rooms. Trevor managed to break the bed in his and he and Mr Bonner were banished to the 4th floor – where he proceeded to get stuck in the lift. Not an auspicious start!!
We walked into town to get our bearings and found a beer hall called Vette which brewed its own beer, including a splendid dark wheat beer, so as the beer slipped down we shook off our slough of tiredness and began to take in the sights, sounds and atmosphere of what was, very clearly, a beautiful European city.
Friday morning broke, dry but dull and we enjoyed a splendid breakfast in the hotel. No tables or chairs were broken during our repast and we set off to the Tourist Information Office in good spirits.
Those spirits were raised when we discovered that for €20 we could buy a travel ticket that would take all four of us to Mannheim for tomorrows game and then on to Sinsheim on Sunday for our game. Integrated transport policies do work when you want them to – and not when scoundrels like Stagecoach and Arriva run the buses.
We decided to walk the Philosophers Path the ran above the River Neckar. It involvrd climbing a serpentine track to get there leaving at least one of the party short of breath and heavy legged. But, as we descended on the path trod by Goethe, Schiller, and Einstein, we were rewarded by splendid views of this lovely city. Untouched by bombs in the 39-45 war and by the vandalism of architects and planners since, we could not think of one British town that was as perfectly maintained as Heidelberg was.
We sipped beers in an outside cafe, served by a 17 year old who modestly confessed to speaking seven languages (“Japanese is quite easy” Really?) and then made our way to athe river bank to take a boat trip downstream past glorious houses, forested hills and two large river locks.
After a couple of days together, the conversation does flag a wee bit. We had exhausted Sunderland’s chances of Europe, Blackpool’s chances of getting double figures and Portsmouth’s chances of surviving. On that one we wished then well as long as they got rid of the bloody drummers and the bellringer. Maybe HMRC should have insisted on that, On the boat trip, we discussed possible uses for a boom that came down as the lock gates were closed, what kind of berries we had seen earlier that morning and the best way to tie shoe laces.
All of which explains why I am sat in an internet cafe writing this while the Three Stooges have trooped back to the hotel to prepare for tonight’s revelries. Seriously, it’s going well and we are looking forward to watching a Regional League game tomorrow between Mannheim and Walldoff Astoria (honest), Mannheim are a very good example of the differences between German football and ours: the DFB trawled through their books, said they were insolvent and booted them out of the Bundesliga. The FA did bugger all about Portsmouth.
And the weather is lovely. Bring on TSG Hoffenheim 1889!!!