[We spent so long in the Netherlands, having such a good time exploring the sandy (and sometimes car-free) islands in the North Sea, that we had to get a train to our next twin, Braunschweig. We kept quiet about that.]
Braunschweig seems to have little in common with Bath, its twin town, at first glance.
Bath is mainly built in one style; Braunschweig is a mixture of all sorts from the 1300s on.
Bath is a small touristed town with hot springs; Braunschweig is a large thriving commercial and research place frequented more by business travellers and PhDs than people in sightseeing coaches.
Both cities suffered heavy bomb damage in the war, but Braunschweig rebuilt its lovely old market places as they were, whereas Bath didn’t.
So there’s a wealth of little side streets with quaint buildings of all styles to explore. The merchants here have enjoyed prosperity for most of the last thousand years, though locals say the economy relies too much on the old technologies of the nearby steel factories of Salzgitter and the VW factory over in Wolfsburg (which, in those parallells so beloved of journalists, is bigger than Monaco).
Nevertheless, it strikes you as a good place to live, bustling and busy, clean and well- organised even in the less salubrious areas, but friendly – lots of people gave us directions or help spontaneously. Lots of modern shops, and some pretty good cycleways too – not quite up to Holland’s stratospheric standards, but way ahead of Bath (sorry, but it puts us to shame again).
Anyway, we had a Civic Reception, where the mayor Herr Steffens and various council people made us feel very welcome. There’s a tremendous goodwill here to make connections and build a prosperous Europe where we can all retain our national identities but be part of the same economic community, and I wish the Brits were as enthusiastic.
I mean, at the very least, how can you resist German cakes and coffee, served liberally to us during our pleasant hour or two in the Council Chambers?
Braunschweig is itself twinned with towns in Tunisia and Indonesia, as well as Bath. Neat eh? Herr Steffens gave us an interesting conspectus of Braunschweig’s history (very much intertwined with Britain – half of our royals’ blood comes from here) and noted that football has always been a good way to get youngsters of the two countries playing together. He didn’t tell us whether Braunschweig’s lot usually won on penalties.
We also had a series of presents from the mayor and the Panthers, the local cycling club. Sport, in particular cycle racing, is VERY big and VERY good here, and the local club is sponsored by one of Braunschweig’s two big breweries. Among our goodie bag was a bottle of sparkling wine, branded under the Panthers Cycling Club, and two bottles of Wolters, one of those local brews. Cheers!
No-one has ever arrived by bike before, which explains the fuss. We’re keeping quiet about how long it has taken us.
On Saturday we watched some cycle races organised by Braunschweig Panthers – international stuff, with participants from all over Europe. I got to start one of them, the first time I have ever held a pistol. I pointed it at the sky and still missed.
Fortunately none of the racers were watching or they’d have fallen off laughing. We got to follow the race in the official car, which was great fun if a little hair-raising. Good job Rob now has short hair. The winner averaged 45 km/h over 40km – the sort of distance we take a day to do…
Saturday night we had a meal with Raymond Vorwerk and his family – many thanks for a very pleasant evening, and the Internet facilities!
Thanks again to everyone in Braunschweig for making our stay so enjoyable. We will certainly be back.