The Handlebar ( moustache ) Club
A Trip to Rostock

This is a story of the trip which 11 people associated with the Handlebar Club made to Rostock from the 17 to 19 September, 2004. The first thing you will probably ask is, "Where the blazes is Rostock?" and the second thing, "What were we going there for?".

The answer to the first question is that Rostock is a city (so it calls itself) on the Baltic coast directly north of Berlin and the answer to the second question is that we went there to help the Svenska Mustaschklubben to celebrate its 20th. anniversary. We have very close ties with that moustache club and so we had to go to be with them.

The 11 members of our party were: Ted (president) and Stella Sedman. Rod Littlewood (Secretary) and Linda, Andre and Kath Acres, Doug and Evelyn Hardy, Con and Rosemary Chiles and Geoff Gilbert. Rod Littlewood was our organiser and a very good job he made of it. This party met at Stansted Airport at the ghastly hour of about 4am on the 17th. after high speed dashes from various points around London. We flew by Ryanair, one of the two low-fare airlines which operate from Stansted. Even at that early hour the place was buzzing with mostly young people waiting for flights to many places in Europe. We were to fly to Hamburg (Lubeck) leaving at 6.30am. These low-fare flights are certainly no-frills. The fare was 21 return - so it was said - but there was also a tax of 29. Even so, if it had all been much higher it wouldn’t have been worthwhile. The plane in which we flew was a very well kept Boeing 737-800 and apart from two passengers who booked in and failed to appear at the plane, we were full up. After waiting for about half an hour we finally unloaded the errant passengers’ bags and departed at about 7.10am.

The flight lasted about an hour and ten minutes and it seemed we flew in a trajectory manner, passing over a great many lakes and of course the North Sea. We arrived at Lubeck to find that Hamburg, which we intended to visit, was about 30 miles away. Originally it was proposed that we hired two mini-buses to take us on our travels but these weren’t available and so we ‘made do’ with three cars, a Volkswagen Golf, a Ford Focus and a Renault Megane. Rod and Linda had the VW, Geoff drove the Ford with Andre, Kath, Doug and Evelyn on board and Ted drove the Megane with Stella, Con and Rosemary accompanying him. The cars were hired from Hertz. Rod and Geoff expected to drive but Ted was co-opted to drive the third car at the last minute and an excellent job they all did.

And so we set off for Hamburg, it seemed a long way. It couldn’t have been nice for the drivers, Ted at least, to have to drive into the city of Hamburg in a strange car, well loaded, on the ‘wrong’ side of the road. But we made it and managed to park in the underground garage of an hotel near the centre of the city. We had found that this was the best thing to do for Rosemary had culled quite a few notes about points to remember when in Germany. They came in very useful. We didn’t see road maps such as we have in the UK so a lot of navigating was done by chance and watching road signs.

Hamburg we found very interesting. It of course has been re-built after WW2 and a very good job they have made of it, no doubt taking the opportunity to sort out possible future traffic problems. We found ourselves by the side of large lake in the centre of the city called Binnenalster on the side of which we found a couple of converted ferry boats made into a floating restaurant and in these we had lunch. It was very pleasant to view the lake while eating one of the best pizzas I’ve ever had. It was an Italian theme restaurant, the Germans seem to like Italian cooking. The restaurant was called The Galatea.

When writing these narratives, one invariably leaves something out and sometimes this has to be added later. This one is no exception. I should have mentioned baggage and our progress through Customs at Stansted. With Ryanair, the maximum allowed weight for baggage in the hold is 15kg. but Rod, who sent us all copious notes prior to departure, advised against this but said that most people have a small wheeled suitcase with a weight of 10kg (22lbs) overall and take that into the cabin with them. Seemingly baggage handling is rather fraught otherwise. Going through Customs one finds that they are understandably much stricter than in the past. Rosemary was the one that ‘got it’ going, for she had to turn out her small suitcase for inspection. A pair of scissors from a sewing set were confiscated. I had a body search and was made to remove my hat and also had the soles of my shoes examined! Coming back, Stella received the full treatment. Rosemary and Stella are about the most unlikely terrorists and drug smugglers, perhaps that’s why they picked on them! Not a nice experience but one can sometimes have a laugh afterwards.

To continue, we left Hamburg about 3.30pm and headed back up to Lubeck to find our road across to Rostock. Somehow Rod and Linda became separated from us and they took a seemingly shorter route whereas Ted and Geoff ended up on the long way round. Like with the run from Lubeck to Hamburg we hadn’t realised that from Hamburg to Rostock was about 320km(200 miles). But we set off on good dual carriageways and open countryside to 50 miles from Rostock where we came to a halt along with hundreds of other cars while a nasty accident was cleared up ahead. We finally reached Rostock in the dark and had quite a time locating our hotel.

We stayed at The Courtyard Mariott Hotel and very ultra-modern it was. By the time we got there and Ted parked the car he was just about worn out, he’d driven magnificently. We found our rooms and then went in search of food to find that the only food available was through room service. The situation was a bit fraught but we somehow managed. We also found the door to our rooms quite perplexing to open and the lights didn’t come on until we used our key card. On approaching Rostock I had the feeling that the place was rather like the Wild West with scattered houses and vacant lots between them. However, in the main part of Rostock there were some magnificent buildings, almost all rebuilt, but in some places rebuilding hadn’t been properly done. After all, this was in the former East Germany.

The following morning we hurriedly went down to breakfast which catered for all types, even an English breakfast. A cup of tea in our room would have been nice but that wasn’t to be. After breakfast there certainly wasn’t to be any driving! So we spent most of the day and early afternoon shopping and sitting in cafes watching the world go by. There was quite an interesting town square near the hotel with old style buildings around but this was to me marred by one building in a prominent position housing a McDonald’s. They get in everywhere! We also trotted down to the docks and the extensive harbour where there were some large ships but mainly sailing boats and tour boats, the latter going up the river a few miles to Warnemunde, a village on the coast above Rostock. It was a splendid sight and most interesting.

After lunch, and I must mention that the food everywhere was very good indeed, we went back to the hotel and got ready for the banquet in the evening. This was held in the hotel in which we were staying. The Swedish contingent of course ran the occasion and there were groups from Belgium , Holland and Germany and of course ourselves. I suppose there were 30 to 40 people altogether. We were reinforced by Rod’s sister Carolyn and her husband Geoff. They had been to Berlin and joined us for the meal.

As we weren’t driving, beer and wine flowed and there was a smorgasbord table laden with cold meats, fish and various vegetables. Alongside this was the sweet course. I finished the first course and went and got my sweet and was about to start this when I was told that there was a main course, the first course was starters! While all this was going on, outside in the square there was fun and festivities, ending up with a small firework display. So the evening was well celebrated. Various clubs made presentations to the Swedish club and of course we made one too. This was in the form of an engraved silver plate. Not only that, Hans Hamrin, the President of the Swedish club was made a Distinguished Member of our club. This honour is not lightly given, apart from Hans there are only two other Distinguished Members at present. The honour is given for meritorious service to the club and the ‘moustache movement’ in general. All the ladies with the other clubs all received rather unique fridge magnets from the ladies of our club.

The following morning we breakfasted early for Hans had arranged a sightseeing walk complete with guide around the more interesting parts of the city. So at about 10am off we set with this lady guide turning out to be very good indeed. With my not-so-good legs these days it was quite a job to keep up but it was managed. One of the highlights of the tour was a visit to the Marienkirche or Mary’s Church with its famous astronomical clock, constructed in 1472 and which will show the correct time and date until 2047.

After this the party made its way back to the square near the hotel and most of them made their way down to the docks to take a boat to Warnemunde. Your scribe didn’t go with them mainly due to the legs problem but also due to concern about having to get back to Lubeck by early evening to catch the plane home. One or two others stayed with me and eventually we all got back together for our party to say their goodbyes and set off for Lubeck.

Our journey back to Lubeck certainly wasn’t as long and as fraught as going to Rostock. We took a shorter route, this time more direct but still over this open, almost flat countryside. I was quite amazed at the number of these modern power generating windmills. In places there were groups of 10 or 15 of them. Anyway, we got to Lubeck in good time although there was some diversion due to new road construction. The cars were handed back to Hertz and I must comment that the Megane we had, one of the ‘derriere’ models, was no better or worse that any other current car and in some respects was rather fiddly - for example we didn’t find out how the luggage boot locked until the last day!

We had time for a snack and a drink prior to getting on the plane. The Ryanair plane came in to time and we got on. Again it was packed full and we left at 6.50pm their time to get to Stansted at 7.20pm our time. I was the last passenger off the plane and said to the cabin attendant that I bet he was happy he’d finished for the day. "Oh no" he said, "We’ve got to go to Cork and back tonight!"

It is surprising, or is it?, that Ryanair is owned by an Irishman and its nearby competitor, Easyjet is owned by a gentleman of Middle East origin. Like just about everything else we leave most enterprise in the hands of foreigners these days. Ryanair aircraft are Irish registered with mostly Irish cabin staff and probably Irish drivers.

Anyway, we made our way out through Customs with no problem. Stella had received ‘the treatment’ back in Lubeck. As Rosemary and I were travelling back to Esher with Rod and Linda we went to a waiting area while Rod went to get the car and then set off for home, arriving about 10.00pm. So ended a successful trip in that we did what was intended.

My opinion of the Germans, for it was the first time I’d been to Germany, was that in Hamburg they were quite businesslike and friendly and prepared to have a smile and a laugh. In Rostock, whilst still polite and businesslike they were rather ‘within’ themselves. One could understand this after 40 years or so of Communist domination. If another trip like this is contemplated then we should get suitable maps before we go and have a better understanding of the distances involved.

Perhaps you may have wondered why the Swedes had their gathering in Rostock. It was because things, especially beer and wines, were a lot cheaper than in Sweden. So they went there to stock up!

Conway Chiles