Adventures in W. Germany via the Harwich-Hook Ferry


In summer 1976 when I was living in London with Ty, I got a letter from my MuM.  She was going to visit her stepmother, Clara, in Bickeburg, West (its was still divided then) Germany.  As I was relatively close to Europe, as opposed to North America where I usually lived, MuM asked if I would be able to join her there for a few days.

It was tough to arrange, especially with my low JJ wages, but luckily for me, MuM and DaD wired me some money.   I managed to arrange my holiday time at work and then it was on to a travel agency to find out how to get there.  It turned out that the cheapest way was to take a ferry and then a train.

hey, I found this recently showing the travel agency .information for this trip! and the name of the ferry...

hey, I found this recently showing the travel agency .information for this trip! and the name of the ferry…

Ty was okay with it all, even though there was no way he could afford a trip, he was pleased for me.  I packed lightly (quite a task for me, believe me), and took a train to Harwich in the morning where I got onto the overnight ferry.  I cannot  for the life of me remember the name of it and I am usually really into sailing vessels, but look what I found………my itinerary…it was called the Queen Julianna and from looking at the above post card, I had a berth #628 for my return trip…live and learn

the other side of the postcard...

the other side of the postcard…

As I had purchased the cheapest ferry ticket, I would not have a berth, but there were lots of seating areas, so that would be fine for me.  Later in the evening, after I had eaten, I decided to get a liqueur at the bar to make me sleepy.  Of course (not vanity… just life when you are a twentysomething blonde), a youngish guy tried to strike up a conversation with me.  He was Dutch, decent looking and told me he was delivering goods in his lorry which was in the ferry hold.  He spoke reasonable English and was quite nice and we chatted for a while as he bought me another drink.  He was knocking them back, but remained pleasant.  I cannot remember his name… but he asked me if I would like to see his lorry?  I was pleasantly buzzed, and said ‘sure’.  Looking back on it, I know I was dumb, dumb, dumb, taking a risk, but I had had (miserable, soul-destroying) one-night stands before if that was his game (if that was his game???!) and despite Ty at home (deep in my heart, I knew that my relationship with Ty would never survive longerm, and when I strayed, it was almost like a ‘there asshole’ – for all the times you poured your alcoholic shit on me)  I still had this overwhelming need to be seen as normal, desirable, and thus sometimes, fueled by booze, I stupidly took  risks.  I guess you could say, I decided to go with the flow with  the alcohol in my system providing Dutch courage (oh please excuse the pun).

As we finished our drinks and started to head out, a ferry steward grabbed my arm, pulled me away from the lorry driver, and said:  “Are you mad, if you go with him, you may never be seen again…the ferry hold is big and full of cars and lorries… young girls have disappeared forever down there”!   Oh my, oh my my my, I had not really thought of the (Looking for) Mr Goodbar (a book and movie made in the seventies with Diane Keaton highlighting the swingles scene and a psychopathic rapist/murderer) connection.  He led me away from Mr. Dutch, to a kitchen galley and said “I’m going to make you a cup of tea”!  He was a short, much older than me, about 40 or 50ish, and not a handsome man.  As he made the tea he told me “I’m going to find an empty berth for you so you can stay out of trouble”.  Wow I thought …. I told him that I couldn’t afford the cost of a berth, to which he replied “it’s okay, it’s empty anyway, there’ll be no cost)”.  Hey, how great was that.  I thanked him profusely. When I finished my tea, we headed down the corridor toward the berths.  When we got to the intended door, he put his arm around me and tried to pull me close … was then I could smell booze on his breath!  I pushed his arm off, and said ‘I am very grateful to you for doing this for me…..but no!………. luckily for me, that’s all it took for him to back off.

He knocked at the door, quietly ‘shouting’:  “it’s the steward, I am bringing in a passenger for the empty bed.”   We heard a muffled okay, and he unlocked the door.  As the cabin was in total darkness, he turned on his flashlight and pointed it to the upper bunk of a bunk bed affixed to the wall (of course).  There appeared to be a young woman sleeping on the lower bunk.  She mumbled ‘hi’.  The steward pointed to a night light, which I turned on so that I could see.  I thanked him again as he closed the door.   I quickly locked it……. phew!!

I told the young woman that I was sorry to have disturbed her.  She introduced herself, and I mentioned  the wolf situation to which she replied “yep, I know, that’s why I always get a berth”.

Talk about a double-edged sword!  I lay in the  safety of that berth, thinking how ridiculous it was that the steward  who ‘saved’ me from danger,  had the nerve to try it on himself!!!  Maybe the ferry staff were told to watch out for any sign of trouble with women?? I don’t know how come he stepped in and stopped me in the bar, but one thing I am quite sure of is that staff were not allowed to drink on duty.  Perhaps Mr. steward tried his luck all the time,  but backed off quickly when rebuffed, not wanting to lose his job.

Happily when I got up, ready to disembark at the Hook, I didn’t see either Mr Dutch or Mr steward at all.

Finally in Holland, I managed to find the train to take me to Dusseldorf.  I honestly don’t know how I did it, not speaking any Dutch… I remember trying to use a Dutch payphone, probably to call my mother in Bickeburg to let her know of my progress, Dutch coins, more buttons to press than the A and B buttons on the old British pay phones… I can’t remember if I succeeded or gave up on that telephone call.

me at a train station in Germany ... maybe on my journey, I shouldn't have worn this tee, which said "Easy Jeans"!!

me at a train station in Germany … maybe I shouldn’t have worn this tee on my journey!  it said: EASY JEANS!  The jeans are from JJ, and the golden plastic belt whose buckle says MISS LONDON I bought by mail order from the free weekly mag of the same name!

I got on the train and snoozed for a while.  The first stop before my destination was the Dutch – West German border.  The next thing I know, there are 2 burly armed German border guards in uniform walking through my carriage randomly (I think) checking passports.  They said ‘passeport bitte’ to me, and then spent a while perusing it, looking at each other, and whispering!  I was beginning to get alarmed, when one of the guards asked me something in German… I said ‘ich nicht spreche zie Deutsche’, one of the only phrases I know… they smiled and then the other guard spoke in English saying, “we were wondering why if you were born in Germany, did you leave??”  (I was born in Rinteln, an RAF base in Germany).  Then they started laughing and thankfully handed my passport back to me!  Whew, they had me going for a while…

see the man in scrubs at the window a minute after this photo was taken, he came out and told us that no photographs were allowed on RAF property... Lucky for us, he didn't ask for film when we told him I was born there!

see the man in scrubs at the window ~a~ minute after this photo was taken, he came out and told us that no photographs were allowed on RAF property… Lucky for us, he didn’t ask for film when we told him I was born there!

At last we pulled into Dusseldorf station …  yeahhhhh, there was my dear mum waiting for me.  It was so wonderful to see her after my experiences traveling there.  We went into a little cafe and she bought me some breakfast.  It didn’t taste so bad, but there was a feather in my scrambled eggs!! yuch

town hall in Oberhausen?

town hall in Oberhausen?

My stay in Germany was fine.  I got to meet Clara, mum’s cousin Gerda, and my uncle Gerd who was also visiting from Australia.  He was my mother’s brother, and had emigrated from Germany with his wife and young son in the late 1940s.  We also drove a lot on the autobahn… really fast!!

On my way back to London, I guess you could say I had become a little more of a seasoned traveler.  I paid extra for a berth, and stayed away from the bar…


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