Old men are stubborn. This saying is notoriously true, and was a prominent part of our trip to Lübeck. We stayed with Richard Wolf, who was my grandmother’s neighbour before her and her family left Germany in 1952. Richard turned 90 this year! His wife of over 60 years, Barbara, who I met last time I visited Lübeck in 2008, passed away three years ago. Richard’s English is minimal at best and thus we were thankful that Brigitte, Richard’s current partner, was around to help translate, although sometimes things get lost in translation.
When our train arrived, Richard was standing outside our arrival gate dressed up in his standard suit jacket and captain’s hat looking almost exactly the same as he did eight years ago. It was a friendly and familiar site. Although he is 90, Richard is still quite mobile and definitely fully aware. He loves having guests and always wants to make sure to show them the best time. He drove us home and then we promptly left for dinner at the nearby yacht club (wasting no time unpacking; Richard is very go-go-go when he wants to do something). We started with a round of champagne to toast our visit. That evening we stayed up for a bit and had a few drinks with Richard and Brigitte. After a somewhat heavy weekend of drinking in Witten, neither of us were too keen for a shot, or more beers, or more wine but Richard doesn’t take ‘no’ for an answer easily.
The next day Richard wanted to take us on a surprise tour and we ended up driving as far north as Puttgarden, right on the North Sea where you can catch a ferry to Denmark. The scenery was beautiful and we would have spent more time outside except for the freezing cold winds blowing off the ocean. We stopped in the small town of Lemkenhafen at a bar for lunch where Richard ordered an entire eel for himself and Brigitte to share and Dan and I played it safe with smoked salmon. The salmon was delicious and while the eel is a northern German specialty, which I have tried before and dislike, we stayed away. Richard also ordered a beer and a shot with his meal. The shot was mostly used for rinsing his hands which were covered in eel but it still made us pretty uncomfortable that a 90-year old man whose driving was already scary, was now one beer and half a shot down.
That evening they dropped us off in downtown Lübeck where we attempted to find WiFi as there isn’t any at Richard’s house and we had quite a few things we needed to check on. The town, which appeared to be full of predominately retirees, seriously lacked WiFi spots. This was probably the first time in our ten plus months of travelling we ran into this problem (besides Cuba, obviously). There appeared to be an open free network throughout the town but it only appeared in random spots with awful connection and we struggled to find a coffee shop offering internet to customers.
After grabbing a quick bite to eat we headed back to the house. That evening I walked over to my grandmother’s cousin’s house to meet some extended family I had never met. Ollie and his wife and daughter welcomed me into their home and we chatted for over an hour.
Richard left the house early that morning, before we woke up, to go out and stock up on marzipan for us. He knows that I love marzipan, and the best (and original) marzipan – which is a sweet almond paste often covered in chocolate – comes from Lübeck. Given its mass and widespread popularity it’s not cheap anymore. There are dozens of other brands making marzipan now but nothing compares to the stuff bought in Lübeck made by Niederegger!
Richard didn’t leave before setting the table for breakfast. So old-fashioned and yet overly heart-warming. Every morning we woke up to a set table and fresh German rolls. German rolls are pretty much the same as the rolls produced in almost every European country and while always delicious, it’s amusing that they are always claimed to be a specialty of whatever country you find yourself in. Sliced meat, cheese, butter and spreads accompanied the rolls with coffee and juice served to drink.
Brigitte joined us on our last day in Lübeck for a couple hours wandering around the city and pointed out some of the historical figures and buildings and told us some of the interesting facts of the town that we would have easily missed. Given the city was founded in the 1100’s there is a lot of history to be found there. Richard knows even more about the history, having lived there for over 90 years; however, his legs aren’t as strong as they used to be and walking for hours doesn’t suit him anymore.
We spent the afternoon at Richard’s granddaughter’s house (his great-granddaughter is 17, if you can imagine that!) with coffee, tea and cake. Richard joined a little late – he was playing cards at a local bar with his friends. He told us there was originally over 30 of them that would meet weekly and only four are left, it’s an interesting and sobering thought to imagine outliving so many of your friends. For our last evening we returned to the yacht club for dinner. It’s just around the corner from Richard’s house and the fish meal I had two days earlier was so good, I ordered it again. Everyone at the club knows Richard as he frequents there at least twice a week, always dressed up in his captains hat and suit. We started with a round of champagne again – this time for a cheers to our last night in Lübeck.
We left with our bags weighed down with marzipan and headed to Berlin.