I have just returned for a weekend riding a very old motorcycle around the roads of an area called the Holledau (or Hallertau, depending on who you ask) in Bavaria. Apart from being a lovely place with excellent motorcycling roads, it is the largest hops-growing area in Europe. It’s not an area you would usually visit – after all, Bavaria already has Munich, Neuschwanstein and the Alps – but this just lends it even more charm. The weather was perfect, the ride went well and the company was good too.
Most of the Saturday was spent hanging around. The main event is on Sunday but on Saturday the organisers arranged for all the participants to go on a short ride of about 20km. The bikes are then put out on display in the large beer garden which is the start and finish area of the event. After they had been out for a little while the organisers had arranged for a large secure barn to house all the bikes overnight. This is a great relief because the alternative involves loading bikes back into vans and trailers – which is just what you don’t want to be doing when a load of your mates are there and there is beer to be drunk.
So we ended up sitting under the trees having a few glasses of the local “Jäger” brew. We then had a break and a snooze in the late afternoon and returned to the beer garden in the evening for something to eat. As in any self-respecting German beer garden, all the tables are the same – long with a bench on each side and comfortably seating 10 people. So it is quite common to end up sharing your table with another group, especially if there are only two of you. This is exactly what happened to us and soon my Dad and I found ourselves in conversation with a couple of locals.
They were both mechanical engineers. One specialising in building machines and the other a machinist. Even though they were not veteran motorcycle experts, they appreciated the old machines and were delighted that the vent was taking place on their home patch. After a while one of them got his phone out and proudly showed us the precisely milled headstock he had built for his BMW motorbike back home.
It occurred to me that there is a reason why the British manufacturing industry has declined while in Germany it continues to thrive, and it wasn’t just Margret Thatcher. Being an engineer is a profession which is really respected. In the suburbs and villages around Munich and Stuttgart there is every chance that you will meet lots of engineers. A quick google check, and I found out that mechanical engineering is the second most popular degree in Germany. In fact, five of the top ten degrees are engineering-related (including IT). In England things are very different – the first science (IT) is down at number five behind business studies, law, sociology and art. To be fair, both countries business studies at number one. The difference being in Germany that the business graduates will actually having something to sell.
We left the beer garden under the stars and wobbled the hundred yards back to our hotel, ready for a good night’s sleep in preparation for the “proper” run over 120km the next day. I knocked on Dad’s hotel room door at 8 the next morning and we wandered over for breakfast with the other motorcycle enthusiasts. The weather was even better than the day before – blue sky dotted with some benign cumulus clouds and not too hot. This is important because we ride the bikes in “appropriate” clothing. In our case this means an itchy tweed three-piece suit and tie. The only time Noel wears a tie is when he is riding his beloved old bikes and in Germany the eccentric “very British” rider image goes down a storm. We play up to it a little.
By ten o clock we were finally off and running. The scenery was perfect. Rolling hills stretched between the hops fields. Some times we would get a break from the sun by passing through a forest, other times we would be cruising along past open fields and quite often we would drop into the valleys and follow small rivers to the next village. It is fair to say that not a lot happens in many of the villages we passed through, so the locals had often set up chairs to watch us pass through. More often than not they were waving and smiling and always appreciated a wave back or a couple of toots on the old-fashioned bulb horn fitted to the bike. One bloke was busy waving the blue and white chequered Bavarian flag and I when I tooted the horn, he frantically upped the waving speed to indicate his approval. We pulled in for three pre-arranged stops (elevenses, lunch and afternoon ice-cream) and at each time the locals were out in force to oggle the bikes, ask questions and just generally make us feel very welcome.
When we finally made it back to base after a long day’s riding, the organiser had us parade through the now packed beer garden and said a few words about each rider. The whole thing was like an advert for Germany. Perfectly organised, lovely scenery, everything neat and tidy and quite beery. Our new-found English friends Simon, Steve and Nick were most impressed and promised to return. I certainly hope we go back next year and look forward to another old-fashioned weekend in a strangely charming old-fashioned corner of Germany.