Frankfurt, Bonn, Berlin and the Llangollen Canal
Luigi's and my trip to Germany and England worked out well, except for her twisted knee and
Hansens, Luigi, and Manly, 1990
We flew to Frankfurt on Wednesday, May 16, arriving on Thursday in the middle of the morning.
This was the second flight United Air Lines has made from Chicago to Frankfurt, as they
the service on the day before. Luigi had the sense to buy some German currency before we left,
she was able to pay the driver of the cab that took us to the Parkhotel, a small, choice hotel across
from a park and near the railroad station. She had one person to see at the Deutches Arkitekture
(sp?) Museum, and did so on Friday. The rest of the time she accompanied me wandering about
city, which is an industrial and commercial city, mostly relatively new because little was left after
World War II.
The cathedral is still intact, as is a residential area across the Main River from the center of
town called Sachsenhausen because several hundred years ago the area was populated by Saxons.
The ancient character of the building is preserved and amplified by the current occupants, making
the Frankfurt equivalent of the French Quarter in New Orleans. We had a good dinner Thursday
evening in one of the sidewalk cafe's there. The next day, as if deliberately to frustrate my
meals of sausages, kraut and beer, my left big toe swelled up and hurt. Fortunately I had some
medicine with me and that plus a reduced-sausage-and-beer diet made the problem go
The cathedral is worth seeing, and we saw it and moved on. Friday morning we checked out
the railroad station, which is distinguished from other stations by having lots of retail stores on the
main floor, and even more underneath. I suspect that many people commute to Frankfurt by train
pick up their groceries and meat, as well as other stuff, en route. We also saw the Messe Tower,
tallest building in Europe as it nears completion. It was designed by Helmut Jahn, a Chicago
who was born in Germany. It is a good looking building, tapering to a point at the top.
On Saturday we took a train for about 45 minutes to Bingen on the Rhine River, where we
met Hildegard Bison and her parents. Hildegard was a student at the University of Chicago Law
School last year and I was her mentor under a program of the Institute for International
We met her parents when they came to Chicago to attend her graduation, and they offered to take
us on a cruise down the Rhine. The cruise vessel was large for a river boat, and crowded on the
deck which was in the bright sun. We did find enough room to stand, and eventually we even
some folding chairs that we could sit on as the castles slid by. I overheard one young Englishman
"Another castle, eh? I've got three rolls of castles."
It is a lovely journey, with hills on both sides of the river, some covered with grape vines and
with other crops. Castles abound because of a discovery by many nobles and would-be nobles in
Middle Ages that by building a castle on the bank of the Rhine they could collect "tolls" on all
shipping that went by. I suspect that "tribute" or "payoff" might be a better word, but the
call them tolls. At the narrowest part of the Rhine, where the cliffs are the highest and steepest,
vessel's loudspeakers played a chorus singing "Lorelei," this being the place where a siren, singing
a rock, lured sailors to shipwreck, according to legend. Considering the noise that the engines of
modern vessels make, she would now have to use a powerful bullhorn.
Mrs. Bison drove the family BMW along the Rhine, pausing to wave at us at one stop, and
then collecting us at Coblenz, where the scenic part of the Rhine gives way to the industrial part.
proceeded to an ancient abbey at Maria Lahk and looked about it for a while. This abbey (dating
from the 12th century, I think) is a favorite place for weddings and someone said that six were
scheduled there for that day. Then on to a tower at Bad Goteberg for tea and a climb to the top
the tower by Mr. and Mrs. Bison and Luigi while Hildegard and I sat leisurely sipping beer. We
stayed at the Konigshof Hotel in Bonn that evening, on the Rhine where we could see the
go back and forth.
On Sunday the Bisons drove us to Cologne where we saw the Cathedral and the art museum.
former is very impressive; I didn't think to count the number of spires, but I am sure that it had
than any three English or French cathedrals I've seen. After lunch the five of us went to the
art museum, which is a few hundred meters from the Cathedral. Luigi and Mr. Bison went
it with great speed and diligence while I took more time and the efforts of Hildegard and her
were even more modest. It is a magnificent museum with many good impressionist paintings by
eastern European artists I had not heard of.
Mrs Bison drove us back to Bonn where we had a final dinner with them. I had heard about the
speeds at which people drive on the Autobahns, so was not surprised when I glanced at the
speedometer and saw it registering between 140 and 160. These are kilometers per hour -- the
equivalent in miles per hour is between 87 and 100.
In addition to being the capital of West Germany, Bonn is a university town; the latter was
more in evidence to us than the former, with large numbers of students wandering about. Our
had a disarmament conference going on in some of its rooms, but it was a small one and didn't
To reach Berlin we had to fly, and could have used the Cologne-Bonn airport, about 20 miles
from town. But our travel agent arranged for us to take the high speed train that runs from the
Frankfurt airport to the Dusseldorf airport and makes connections with planes at each place. The
train is run by Lufthanza and we were able to put on our suitcases tags showing the number of the
Air France flight we were taking from Dusseldorf to Berlin; then we left the suitcases on the train
next saw it in the baggage collection area of the Berlin airport.
On the cab ride into the city from Tegel Airport we finally saw the highest and best use of a
sunroof on an automobile. Our driver was somewhat aggressive and honked whenever the car
was not going as fast a he wanted. On one occasion we saw, emerging from the roof of such a
a wrist and hand bearing the universal single fingered gesture of defiance.
Berlin is a busy, bustling city with even more post WWII buildings than Frankfurt. Our hotel
was across a boulevard named Budapesterstrasse from the zoo, which we saw on our last full day
the city. Luigi had a meeting at the Bauhaus school archives, and the rest of our time was spent
wandering about on foot, except that I took a bus back from the Reichstag building, near the
Brandenberg Gate. That gate is under reconstruction now, so the sculpture is gone from the top
the whole structure is covered by scaffolding. Nearby the eastern side of the Berlin Wall was still
standing while the western side is gone. People walk back and forth across the checkpoint,
their documents, without hassle and many Germans have made the trip to the wall, and along
it used to be, as a sort of pilgrimage. Berlin is a fine city for restaurants, both German and
we got excellent beef and wine at an Argentinean restaurant, Yugoslavian food at the Dubrovnic
Restaurant, and Hungarian food at a third.
On Friday, the 25th, we flew to Manchester and took a cab to Nantwich, where we stayed
at Rookery Hall, a few miles from the center of town. Converted from an old manor house into a
luxe hotel, it provided a final bit of roomy luxury with superb food before we undertook the rigors
of the barge on the Llangollen (which is pronounced "Lango- [guttural stop] -len) Canal. Herb
Marge Hansen (he used to be one of my partners and moved to Sedona, Arizona a few months
met us at Rookery Hall. They had a small car in which they drove us to Nantwich for the day on
Saturday, and then to the Nantwich Marina on Sunday. We had previously completed a form to
request the operators of the marina to buy provisions for us; several bags full were waiting for us
the store on the ground floor of the building in which the British Waterways Board office was
and from which we got possession of the barge Water Pike. It was blue with yellow trim,
50' long and the widest interior dimension, according to Luigi's measure, was six feet.
To reach our first dinner we motored slowly along the Shropshire Union Canal (where the
Nantwich Marina is located) to Barbridge, tied up and walked a quarter of a mile to good though
crowded pub. There we started a research project which continued through the rest of the pubs
visited on the barge: to observe and report the varieties of condom available in coin operated
dispensing machines in the male and female restrooms. The men's room in this pub won the prize,
having several machines, including one that dispensed merchandise with five different flavors and
another with three, including Pina Colada, Caribbean Coconut and Peach Punch.
Without anyone assigning duties, I took the helm, Luigi worked on the locks and lift bridges,
Herb helped both Luigi and me, and Marge stood by in the bow with a boathook to try to lessen
shock when we hit something. She also cooked and helped moor the vessel when it came time to
so. After a couple of days Herb was able to handle both the helm and the locks and lift bridges,
Luigi and I had a little more leisure.
At Hurleston Junction on the Shropshire and Union Canal we turned onto the Llangollen
Canal which leads southwest, west and northwest, crossing the border between England and
several times. Floating slowly through the countryside, we could see why so many Welsh 150
ago decided that southern Wisconsin was the place for them; it must have seemed as if they never
home. There were no cities, few villages and many of dairy farms. However there were enough
so that only once did we have to cook dinner aboard. Two or three times we even went ashore
On Friday, June 1, as we were about to descend the staircase lock at Grindley Brook, Luigi
went to a nearby store and bought some black currant pie and some home made candy, and
them back to the barge. Then she and Herb opened the first gate of the topmost lock and, on
returning to the barge, she turned to speak to someone, twisted her right knee and fell on her left
hand which was carrying the lock windlass handle. From then on Herb handled the locks and the
bridges by himself, as well as spelling me at the helm from time to time. I later told Luigi that I
sorry that she had fallen and hurt herself, but glad that she'd gotten the pie first.
For the first few days the weather was warm and sunny, but for the last three it rained much
of the time. The low point came during a heavy rain on Saturday when I went aground (as one
does on that canal) while passing an oncoming barge; a strong wind kept blowing the Water
Pike back onto the ground whenever I tried to get off and heavy barge traffic from both
directions kept me from trying for several minutes at a time. I thought about adopting an oriental
philosophy and just going to bed until things got better, but being a midwesterner, I couldn't.
Eventually I was able to get the stern out into the middle of the canal and Herb used the
to get the bow off, and we were able to continue our journey.
Returning to Nantwich Marina on Sunday, we left the barge, gave our unused supplies to an
English couple who tied their barge up next to ours and drove Luigi to the Leighton Hospital
emergency room. There she was seen by a short, dark, unkempt Indian woman wearing bedroom
slippers and claiming to be a doctor. She provided for Luigi to receive a tetanus shot and to get
knee and left hand X-rayed; also she ascertained that no bones were broken and told Luigi to stay
the knee and return in four days. As we were to leave for Chicago on Wednesday this last advice
seemed impractical. Luigi also got elastic bandages for her hand and knee, and did not have to
for the service since the hospital, being under the British health service, has no way of charging
people for services.
After one more night at Rookery Hall, we parted from the Hansens and hired a car and driver
to take us to the Athenaeum Hotel on Picadilly Street in London. The hotel is a small, plush one,
very accommodating. They had a cane somewhere in the basement and one of the staff got it for
Luigi to use while we stayed at the hotel.
I walked over to my tailor half a mile away, to find that they had already delivered to the hotel
the slacks I'd ordered a few months before to be picked up in London. On the way back I found a
store that sold canes and told Luigi about it.
That evening we took a taxi to the Apollo Theater about a mile away, and saw a delightful
comedy, Jeffrey Bernard is Unwell, about an alcoholic journalist who is locked in a pub
the night, and scenes from whose life appear on stage. Tom Conti played the central character
well. Luigi was able to walk back to the hotel slowly after the play, stopping with me for dinner
a fancy Chinese (they called it Singapore) restaurant on the way. The next morning she was able
walk to the cane store when I told her that there was a bookstore on one side and Fortnum and
Mason on the other. The price of a good cane was 250 pounds, so she waited until she returned
Chicago to buy one for $10. She got the most recent Dick Francis novel and I got a couple of
C. Clarke books at the bookstore. We spent an hour in Fortnum and Mason, admiring the glorious
foods and buying some pork and cranberry pie and some turkey, apricot and walnut pie for lunch.
ate them in our hotel room while drinking the large bottle of beer that was left over from the
It rained that afternoon and the next morning before our 2:05 P.M. departure for Chicago on
British Airways. Fortunately it stopped raining long enough for a final dinner at a delightful little
Greek restaurant a block up Down Street from our hotel.