To be honest, I was a bit shaken by NotDavies’s metrosexual behaviour at the beginning of our mini-adventure from October 2 to October 4. He devoted a disturbingly high number of minutes to a consultation with a female shop assistant in Kiehls about the merits of various face moisturisers and ‘serums’. Shortly afterwards he then asked me to order him not a coffee or a tea, but a ‘quadrado’. I have no idea what a quadrado is.
I thought I was the effete landlubber on this trip, always seeking out opportunities for clothes shopping and fine dining. But somehow the roles have been reversed. Hard, then, for me to concentrate on the matter in hand, which was to find the Kiel post office where the adventure of October 2 begins.
Orienting oneself in Kiel using 1898 landmarks proved to be a bit tricky. There seemed to be very few old buildings here at all. Down at the harbour we found just one – the old Fish Auction Hall, which has become a very pleasant sailing museum, with an equally pleasant cafe adjoining it. Whilst Davies ordered another coffee (the German for quadrado turns out to be ‘quadrado’), I recorded the ambient sounds of the modern harbour – chatter from men on tourist boats, boats devoid of tourists now that the tourist season had well and truly ended, the slop of a boat engine, a few gulls, the zoom of a Volkswagen, a light Baltic breeze…
Across the water was a huge sign for the German naval yard, written in English – who knows why – and a gun-metal grey warship lay anchored before it, its clean sharp lines softly complementing the bright autumn blue of an Indian summer day. Hardly the threatening armada our heroes come across in the early hours before mooring at Kiel.
It doesn’t take us long to locate the post-office, but it is suspiciously modern-looking. So too is the massive shopping centre, near the equally modern-looking train station. We walk into the old town and continue to find nothing old at all. The supposedly medieval church confesses at its door that it’s a 1950s facsimile of the original. The biggest clothes store I can find here is a TKMaxx and it doesn’t appear to stock rough mud-coloured sweaters or seaboots.
The bierkeller we retreat to for a lunch of herring, wurst and locally brewed beer, is not a cellar at all. The walls have been slopped over with mounds of dirty plaster in an attempt to make the place look like it’s been hewn out of rock. Very loud, very unpleasant German Europop blasts out over every table. There is no hiding place. The beer is at least authentically local, but our very friendly waitress admits to us that the brewery again is not that old – it started making beer in the 1980s.
So where did the original Kiel go? Well, it turns out it’s us Brits who destroyed it, bombing it into oblivion during World War 2. 80% of the old town was destroyed, 72% of the central residential areas, and 83% of the industrial areas. When Davies and Carruthers turfed up here, with Tirpitz just hatching his First Fleet Act and the pan-German League distributing free pamphlets on the streets, they can’t have imagined that it would lead to this – an entire city reduced to rubble.
The rebuilt modern Kiel of today has, at least, reverted back to what our heroes needed it to be on October 2 – a vast shopping centre. Indeed Kiel has one of the largest shopping centres in Germany. As mentioned in a previous blog, I had no intention of buying up vintage sailing garb, so I was very happy to pass an hour in TK-Maxx looking at modern-day Carruthers outfits. NotDavies went in search of an iPhone cable, rather than petroleum or flour.
As for boat supplies, we were reliably informed by a local that the best shops for that kind of thing moved years ago to where the boats are now – at Holtenau. Premises down by the harbour that would have previously housed chandlers and shipwrights have now been taken over by businesses with names such as ‘The Eros Centre’ and ‘Sex City’.
Perhaps it’s not surprising that Davies and Carruthers scull off with their shopping asap. We, in turn, high-tailed it off to the other side of the harbour to find our overnight lodgings in Gaarden-Ost.
This area became an official part of Kiel in 1902, the year before ‘The Riddle of the Sands’ was published. It was growing like topsy at the time, thanks to all the work opportunities the ever-expanding naval yard was offering.
These days the ever-shrinking naval yard means Gaarden-Ost is quite a rough area with high unemployment levels. Our landlady referred to it blithely as ‘little Istanbul’ – the area has a high number of immigrants living there, and an al Qaeda terrorist was discovered to be operating in the area only a few years back. Tellingly, a baseball bat had been left by our front door.
For dinner and a bit of Friday night entertainment , we decided to hop back again to the posher side of town. Alas, all we found was the beer ‘cellar’ again (now with even louder music ) and only one other waterside bar called ‘The Blue Angel’, where a heaving crowd of middle-aged Germans strutted their stuff vigorously to yet more appalling Eurodisco.
It was here that it dawned on me that Davies and Carruthers spend very little time in the book carousing with the locals, and certainly no dancing is mentioned at any point. Apart from coffee schnapps with the fishermen at Satrup, and a spot of duck shooting in the Eckenfjord, our two heroes tend to keep themselves to themselves, passing their evenings heating up tinned meats on the Rippingille, smoking a pipe and reading Mahan or Brassey’s.
I suspect our modern-day adventure is destined to be a bit more social and lot less peaceful in the evenings. I leave you with the image of a freshly moisturised and ‘quadroadoed’ notDavies making his way onto the Blue Angel dance floor, and reflect that the small boat sailors and literary ‘adventurers’ of today are a much more frisky bunch than the cruising gentlemen of 1898.
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