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The Borehamwood Times abroad Day Two
Saturday dawned cold and grey, with the possibility of heat later on.
I and most of the group assembled bright and early on the steps of the hotel for a guided tour of Offenburg.
Cynthia emerged much later. Exhausted by the previous day’s early start, she had managed to sleep through her alarm.
Yet we were kept amused until she arrived, looking refreshed and well dressed as always, by Beata’s grandson Noah, who was 18 months old and just beginning to learn how to walk.
Once we were all assembled, our guide, American Renée Hauser, proceeded to lead us through the cobbled streets and winding alleys of the town, which still retains some of its original walls.
Offenburg was gutted by French king, Louis XIV, and rebuilt in the baroque and classical styles, although a few buildings like the hospital complex once run by Capuchin monks survived the fire.
We paused to take in the very grand police station which was formerly a palace – a far cry from the one currently under construction in Borehamwood.
We weaved our way through narrow streets, past restaurants and shops painted in an array of colours and patterns (one had a stag and a skeleton on) as throngs of people carrying baskets selected autumn produce from the stalls lining the streets.
We poked our head into wine cellars under the town, which used to be piled high with vintages from the surrounding region, and dropped into a beer cellar-cum-jazz bar.
The highlight of the tour was the Jewish Mitwa or ceremonial bath, which was built in the 13th century and abandoned in about 1349.
We descended 15meters into the ground down ornate stone steps, and huddled in the tiny room at the bottom while Renée talked about the history of the Jews in Offenburg and how they were destroyed by the Nazis.
However we were glad to escape into the light, with Sasha and a few others complaining of claustrophobia so deep underground.
After a brief pause to wander round the market – the town shares the same market days with Borehamwood – we piled into the minibus for a trip to the nearby town of Wolfach.
Glass has been made in the region for 2000 years, and the industry is still very much alive, as we found out when we dropped in on the Dorotheenhutte glass factory, under Andrew’s recommendation.
As we walked in we were assailed by a wall of heat, and a red faced man expertly showing tourists how to blow glass vases.
Cynthia, Jack, Michael and I had a go at making our own.
It was fascinating to watch the small ball of molten glowing glass grow as you blew into it using a long pipe, inflating like a balloon into a red and black swirled vase.
Sasha said: “Michael enjoyed it particularly, especially the sensation of heat. He wanted to make a small vase but he blew so hard and it got so big he was asked to stop.”
We sat outside in a traditional German café in the sunshine enjoying coffee and plum cake, and playing with the bus driver’s chihuahua Chiko.
That evening we were to go to a castle high on the hillside, the Schloss Staufenberg, owned by the Duke of Baden.
The road climbed steeply through rows of vines that ascended almost vertically up, each hung with bunches of ripe red grapes.
The castle was perched at the top, pale red with crenellations, from which, on a clear day, you could see as far as France – sadly today was not a clear day.
Inside, we were greeted by quite a few members of the Offenburg Rotary Club and ushered to trestle tables inside the wood-beamed room.
We sat and talked with lawyers, barristers and businessmen in French, German and English as plates of flamen kuchen (the regional pizza) and spinach and cheese balls for me were replaced by cheese and meat platters, and then an apple tart.
Throughout the meal, waiters brought out glass after glass of different local vintages – starting with a Riesling, then a Pinot Noir, and then a sweet dessert wine.
As we sampled each glass, president of the Baden wine association Gerhard Hurst described each vintage, interspersed by jokes – ably translated by former wine princess and waitress Larissa.
During the meal, the two Rotary Clubs exchanged gifts and wishes of good will.
Karl-Heinz, president of the Offenburg rotary club, gave a speech thanking us for our visit.
He said: “Until a few weeks ago, I had no idea Borehamwood existed. It’s great to form links abroad, and we hope our clubs have formed a very good friendship.”
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