Sunday, June 19, 2011

The Grand Conclave of the Kanu-Clubs - 18 June 2011

This Saturday is a free day for B.E.S.T. students.  We awoke to yet another rain storm and forced ourselves to get ready and walk over to the Kanu-Club main restaurant für das Frühstück  (breakfast). Clo and I met some of the high school swim team members who are staying here while they compete in the nearby German Masters swimming competition.

Making new friends at Legoland! (Duisburg, Ger.)
Seeing a break in the rain Blayze, Ryan, and I decided to head into town to find some lunch. At the tram stop, we encountered a nice German gentleman who spoke to us for a few minutes about our visit to Duisburg. We left the tram at the Rathaus (city hall) and passed the main city church called the Salvatorkirche on our way northeast to the Innerhafen (inner harbor) which features a number of parks and restaurants scattered amidst the old factory buildings along the water front.  One difference that I´ve noticed is that the playgrounds here feature equipment which would be illegal in the U.S. due to the threat of injury lawsuits.  We eventually found ourselves by the Legoland Discovery Center and took some photos with the sculptures on display by the entrance, but remembering our purpose, we continued towards the restaurant area.  Unable as we were to agree on a restaurant for lunch, the rain made our decision for us, forcing us into a pub which offered a surprisingly good salad and goulash soup combo. Unthinkably, we were also able to compare the local König Pilsner and another of Düsseldorf´s Altbiers in the same place! So much for the storied rivalry...
Fun in the Innerhafen. (Duisburg, Ger.)

After lunch we further explored the harbor before returning to the downtown area to the south. Among the most memorable finds was a chain restaurant called Mississippi which sold itself as a traditional American food joint with a menu that read like an Applebees!  Back at the Forum shopping center for the third day in a row, we enjoyed some ice cream and coffee while listening to some street musicians: today a Turkish band with a guitar, bass, violin, accordion, and saxophone.

We had heard rumors of a trip which Frau Heusner was said to be planning for the evening, so around 5:00pm Blayze, Ryan, and I returned to the Kanu-Club.  When we arrived, the rumors had grown to include everything from a trip to Cleveland, OH, to a solar eclipse, to the so-called Grand Conclave of the Kanu-Clubs which we imagined as something halfway between Pocahontas and Deliverance. (Maybe not Deliverance...) We weren't far off the mark (for those who guessed an eclipse in Cleveland).  The summer solstice is coming up on the 21st of June and the Kanu-Club Kleverland in Klever (Cleves) was hosting a weekend celebration.  Piling into the club van with Frau Heusner, her husband, and a neighbor, we set out around 7:00pm on a 45-minute drive to Klever.

Klever is famous in history for Anne of Cleves who when on to become Queen of England, though she had the misfortune of marrying Henry VIII to do so.  Anne's marital strife was only one of the succession problems for the duchy, eventually leading to a succession crisis which played a minor role in the Thirty Years´ War (1618-1648).  World War II was not kind to Clever either as much of the original city was destroyed by Allied bombing.

As we found it, Clever today is a quiet hilltop city surrounded by farmland and the Netherlands on three sides.  Kanu-Club Cleverland  lies on the east bank of a small tributary of the Rhine in the shadow of the city castle the Schwanenturm (Swan Tower) on the opposite bank.

Upon our arrival, Frau Heusner purchased coupons which we could exchange for food and drinks at the club bar.  The visiting canoe enthusiasts were only too happy to ply us with bratwurst, local beer, and an interesting drink Rhabarberschnaps made from rubarb. Our hosts were also eager to practice their English on us and even persuaded us to join them for a 10-minute after-dinner canoe ride on the river. Afterwards they prepared to set ablaze a small barge with a bonfire built on the deck.  Herr Heinz Guido, a retired engineer in the steel industry explained to me in German that the burning barge was an ancient tradition meant to ward off evil spirits in preparation for the Sommersonnenwendfeuer (summer solstice).  Heinz and I carried on for a long time with other Klever residents providing commentary and occasional translations. We spoke about his travels in the U.S. and some of the history of Clever and the surrounding area.

As for canoeing, the Germans we spoke to feel that it is not yet a popular sport in Germany.  In fact, it is considered a very British sport.  However, clubs like Kanu-Club Kleverland and Wanheimer Kanu-Club are helping to spread the sport by arranging river trips and lake excursions for members and their guests.  Some of the clubs in the area have even begun a dragon boat race in the style of the Chinese rowing boats with a 20-30 person crew led by a drummer!

Trying out a kayak! (Clever, Ger.)

B.E.S.T. group with bonfire in background (Clever, Ger.)
Canoe by moonlight. (Clever, Ger.)

Around 10:00pm we set off for Duisburg with standing invitations to return to Kanu-Club Kleverland and the nearby rowing club. I was glad for the chance to practice my German and was surprised by  how much I had understood, at least vaguely, about some relatively obscure topics.  All of the students agreed that this unplanned trip was a great way to see rural Germany and meet several interesting people!

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