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Weserrenaissance architecture in Hameln. Flying the flags for the Fussball-Weltmeisterschaft

Yippee! We’re off again, our fifth continent, touring around Eastern Europe for around three months, as I had hoped for. The plan is to cover Eastern Europe in two halves: first northern Poland and the Baltic States for a month, returning to Brussels for Mama’s birthday on 1 August, and then off to the rest, down to Bulgaria, for a further two months. Together with Mama we had breakfast, got ourselves ready and packed up, and set off around 10am, onto the Belgian motorways. We headed off in the wrong direction at first, towards Waterloo, but with a quick u-ey at Jezus-Eik we were soon afterwards zooming down the E40 to Luik/Liège and on to Aachen, crossing into Germany without a border to mention.

On it went, past Cologne and bending up to Dortmund, then east to Hannover. Rather than head into Hannover, or pushing on past it, we decided to make a stop for the night at Hameln, to the south-west of Hannover. We figured this would be a more quiet place than Hannover to spend the night. I was intrigued to take a look at Hameln, “Hamlyn” in English, of the Pied Piper story. I was hoping to find a picturesque little old town, if nothing else.

Between Wezembeek-Oppem and Hameln we drove under a grey, “leaden”, sky of monotone grey with no sight of either sunshine, sky, or even proper clouds. It drained the landscape of any colour. Combined with motorway driving through the densely populated parts of Belgium and the German Ruhr region it was one of the most boring drives and scenery we have had on our trip. It was just so dull… We swapped driving a few times – this worked well as neither of us got too tired this way. Just inside Germany we made a stop for lunch at one of the smaller …erm… stops, enough to have a “kurry wurst und kaffee”. The final part of the drive was along a smaller road through green countryside of rolling hills, forests and fields. Pretty without being especially scenic. Tidy German rural countryside. Quite a contrast to the motorway drive where beemers and mercs just flew past us in the outside lane, the absence of speed limits encouraging some pretty reckless driving.

We tootled along and arrived at the tidy old market town of Hameln around 6pm. Tourist information was still open and we booked into a “cheap” (€70, gulp) city centre hotel, perfect. With a little trial and error we managed to park the car and checked into our room. A little basic perhaps but excellent value, slap-bang in the centre along the Neue Markt, one of the quiet cobbled old town streets with medieval town houses, and still with some character.

We dumped our bags and went out for a walk and dinner. The French football team are staying somewhere in Hameln for the football world championship, and the town is decked out with French tri-colours. Hameln was a small typical market town with a lot of Shrewsbury “black and white”. The correct expression apparently is “Weserrenaissance” style, with lots of colourful decorations on stepped gables and windows, rather like a fairy-tale town. The Rattenfänger story references are everywhere. There is a Rattenfängerhaus, a Rattenfänger krug (medieval bar), and there are performances, shows and town walks. The local musical is called “Rats”. For tonight we just stuck to finding somewhere for a drink and dinner. We walked to the Pferdenmarkt, the horse market, a street right by the central St. Niklaus church, and took seats at a terrace outside a café. There are stalls and stands selling food from different countries spread around the market, the cobbled streets in the middle of which the church stands. There are stalls for Spain (paella), Italy (pizza), a converted old Citroën van is decked out in the French colours and sells crepes. I’m amused to see a single stall to cover “Asia”. On one side of the church a big screen has been erected, and benches have been provided, to allow people to watch the football world championship games. Before the game started a local band was playing, just out of sight from where we were sat. We ordered drinks and schweinebraten with red cabbage, and after our meal turned our seats around to watch the France versus Spain game on the smaller screen set up by the café.

At some point the conversation turned to our Big Question, where are we going to live? We agreed that in a little market town like this would be the sort of thing we would both ideally like. It’s the sort of thing that Ness has had in mind for a long time and North Berwick, on which we have provisionally settled, is a lot smaller and falls far short of this kind of place. Doubts are beginning to creep in again. Anyway, we ended up having a lovely evening on what was only supposed to be a “stopover” night, but which came up trumps with a lovely relaxed atmosphere, in a charming historic town centre, with some tasty nosh and even a little schnapps as a digestif afterwards, and a comfortable hotel room. We strolled back and crashed out.

France won 1-0.