A POTTED HISTORY OF THE
GERMAN-BRITISH ASSOCIATION WÜRZBURG
by Colin A. Humphrey
Chairpersons to date
1977 - 1981 Peter Borufka
1981 - 1985 Heinrich Wacker
1985 - 1988 Heiner Ratsch
1988 - 1992 Patricia Werner
1992 - 20.... Elke Wagner
The idea of founding a German-British Association in Würzburg was launched in 1977 by Peter Schäfer. As both an Anglophile and Francophile, he felt that Würzburg needed a German-British counterpart to the German-French Association, of which he was then the secretary. He therefore whipped up interest among a number of potential members and after the Main Post had been persuaded to publicise the new venture, an inaugural meeting was convened in the Hofkellerei on 24.5.1977, which was attended by some 40 people. It soon emerged that there was considerable support for setting up a society whose aim - in the words of our governing rules - is "die Förderung der deutsch-britischen Verständigung auf kulturellem und gesellschaftlichem Gebiet". However, a very heated discussion arose about what to call the new child - those unrepentant members of the 1968 generation wanted it to be called a "club" in order to stress the air of informality which, they hoped, would be its hallmark; others, of a more traditional bent, thought the term "association" would lend it greater degree of social respectability. In the end, the conservatives won the day, and the German-British Association Würzburg came into being.
Peter Borufka, Patricia Ott and Peter Schäfer were subsequently elected as the first officers of this new association, an Anglo-German team who proved to be untiring in their endeavours to produce a rich and varied programme of activities for the 50 members who had soon signed up. To this end, they were assisted by the fact that there were quite a number of Anglo-German couples in Würzburg, who welcomed this new addition to the Würzburg cultural scene. In the late sixties and seventies, Britain had been invaded by hordes of German males - particularly German students of English - who had descended on our sceptred isle set in the silver sea, had scoured the land in search of the pick of Britain's womenfolk, and had then dragged off their booty to Germany. This state of affairs might have moved Elton John to have sung:
Goodbye, England's Roses! You've been swept of your toeses And carted off to darkest Germany.
Such tender British roses, so rudely uprooted from their native soil, yearned for some civilised contact with fellow compatriots; they longed for a change from grating raw potatoes for the Knödel and kneeding dough for the Zwetschgendatschi, and stomping around in vats of Sauerkraut. And by now they also had children, who they wanted to acquaint with British customs and the British way of life.
So it was that during its first ten years or so, the German-British Association benefitted considerably from this influx of such ex-patriots: Janet Gross ran the conversation evenings and led our annual carol singing; the Grossens organised walks and car rallies; Glenys Schíndler ran the literary circle and organised treasure hunts; Magaret Wirth and Irene Ratsch taught members the intracacies of Scottish Country Dancing. And the children certainly also came into their own: we had those marvellous summer fetes in the garden of Gerlinde Müller Veith, with games and competitions and tugs-of-war and magicians and conjurors; we had Christmas parties with crackers and paper hats, pass-the-parcel, musical chairs and Father Christmas; and we had bonfires on mid-summer's day and Guy Fawkes Night in a disused quarry near Eibelstadt, for which Heinrich Wacker came up with huge supplies of wood.
At the same time, though, our triumvirates of chairpersons went to great pains to put on events of a cultural nature, and here drama featured very prominently thanks to the help given by the British Council, who got British companies to include Würzburg on their continental tours. In the mid-eighties, however, the British Council started to concentrate its energies on running English language courses to make money, and their support for our activities practically dried up. So we had to take on the task of inviting theatre companies to Würzburg ourselves and gradually succeeded in getting the Rose Theatre Company, the Confederacy of Fools and the New Triad Theatre Company to come to Würzburg on a regular basis. As a result, over the last thirty years, we have sing from Pygmalion to Equus. Such performances have always been very well attended and, in fact, the interest shown by members in theatrical productions has been so great that we have also arranged several visits to Frankfurt, Schweinfurt, Schwäbisch Hall, Schloss Massbach, Meiningen, Feuchtwangen, Bamberg and Munich to see English plays and musicals. Similarly, in the field of art, many of our members have taken the opportunity to take part in our conducted tours through the special exhibitions which have been staged by the Museum Georg Schäfer since it opened in Schweinfurt in 2000.
Particularly during the reigns of Heinrich Wacker, Heiner Ratsch, and Patricia Werner musical events also occupied a prominent place on our programme. Concerts of English chamber music, English madrigals, and English renaissance music were held in the Toscanasaal of the Residenz; the Cardiff Motet Singers gave a superlative performance of acapella singing in the Burkarduskirche while Jürgen Buchner gave us a recital of British organ music on the organ of the Neumünster. At the other end of the musical spectrum, we were also treated to a concert of British music "in a lighter vein" by the Tiepolo string quartet, to a performance of music hall songs and sketches by George Lowe and his Munich group and to an evening of Dorset folk songs and barn dances given by the Yetties.
Over the past thirty years, we have also had numerous talks, given in the main by our own members. People like Wolfgang Ott, Karl-Heinz Arlt, Peter Kelber, Courtney Shaw-Close, Gary McAllen, Margaret Wirth, Professor Rüdiger Ahrens, Dr. Mathias Meltzer, Elke Wagner, Klaus Bodky and Colin Humphrey have covered a plethora of topics ranging from the Northern Ireland Conflict, Britain and the EU, the British Monarchy, David Lodge, Winston Churchill , and the daughter of a grocer from Grantham who made quite a name for herself, to talks illustrated with slides on London, Glasgow, Wales, English cathedrals, Scottish castles, Northern Ireland and even the flora of Würzburg two million years ago. In this connection, particular mention must also be made of the wide variety of talks which Professor Ernst Burgschmidt has given on subjects pertaining to England and the Celtic fringe.
Mention of the Celtic fringe reminds me that Scottish items have often featured on our programmes. In addition to Scottish Country Dancing, we have also had a Burns' night celebration, organised by Margaret Wirth, complete with a laudation to the poet, recitations from his works, a loyal toast to the Queen and the haggis being piped in, slit open and then served with neeps and mashed potatoes - a meal which participants described as being as "interesting" and "something definitely different". And in his role as Bavaria's chief promoter of Scotch whisky, Heiner Ratsch has held no fewer than ten whisky seminars. The English contingent retaliated to this Scottish take-over bid by running three tea seminars, and Pat Hammet conducted and put on an evening of English cuisine, which all the participants fortunately survived. Pat Hammett then went a step further and organised the first of three English wine-tasting evenings, which even impressed two Franconian vintners who attended it.
But if the emphasis so far has been on things British, we must not forget that the German-British Association has also been very active in exploring its German Heimat. We have been rambling through the Rhön, the Steigerwald and the Taubertal; we have been on bike rides through Lower Franconia; we have held quizes where the participants had to race around Prichsenstadt, Röttingen, Ochsenfurt and Veitshöchheim to find the answers to such questions as "At what time does Herr Günther Seufert, aged ninety-two, usually go to bed?" And we have been on Kulturfahrten to places like Eichstätt, Aschaffenburg, Darmstadt, Bayreuth, Bamberg & Schloss Seehof, Coburg & Schloss Rosenau, Weimar, Kloster Maulbronn & Karlsruhe, Schwetzingen, Bad Windsheim and Kloster Ebrach, where Professor Alfred Reichling demonstrated his prowess on the organ. On such outings, we have benefitted from the extensive knowledge of history, geography and the history of art, which our present chairperson, Elke Wagner, is endowed with. Elke's love of visiting places of historical and cultural interest also prompted her to organise two four-day excursions to Berlin and Dresden and two eight-day tours through southern England and Ireland.
At the same time, we have also tried to play an active role in the life of the local German community - over the past 30 years we have regularly run a bi-annual English reading competition, which some 450 Würzburg pupils have taken part in to date, and we have offered a number of weekly "English for Kids"get-togethers, which have been well received. For many years, we also took part in the annual Internationales Kinderfest, for which Heinrich Wacker designed and built a special stand. The sight of our motley collection of sunshades, orange boxes and collapsible tables, which we usually used for this event, hurt Heinrich Wacker's aesthetic feelings so much that he resolved to build a proper stand, complete with a roof to protect us against the elements. Two evenings before the big day in 1982, Heinrich rang me to say that he had built a stand, and he had - it was not so much a stand as a full-scale replica of Noah's Ark! "How on earth are we going to get that down into the centre of Würzburg?" I asked. "We'll get some strong men to carry it," came the reply. "Now look here, Heinrich," I protested. "We'll never be able to cart that four kilometres!" In the end, I had to bribe my landlord, a Gerbrunn farmer, to get out his tractor and trailer on a Sunday(!) and progressing at a snail's place, we rolled down the Rottendorferstraße with six of us hanging on to ropes to stop the whole contraption from jumping off the trailer. But it really was a magnificent stand and it certainly promoted our public Relations.
One of the highlight of our public relations work was the British week which we staged in Würzburg in 1987, with considerable help from the British Council and the City Council of Würzburg. And mention of the city council prompts us to express our gratitude for the generous financial support that the city council has given us over the years. For a long time now, many local authorities have been struggling with financial problems, but the City of Würzburg has tried as hard as possible to continue to promote the work of the various international organisations active in the city and this deserves our unreserved thanks.
Last year the German-British Association celebrated its thirtieth anniversary by inviting members to a buffet and drinks in the Greisinghäuser, punctuated by songs performed by Heart and Soul, sketches, a quiz - and only two very short speeches. In short, the evening was permeated by an air of informality, which certainly warmed the hearts of those founding members present who back in 1977 had pressed for calling the fledgling organisation a "club" rather than an "association". In the event, that debate of 1997 turned out to be superfluous: as the old adage goes, "the proof of the pudding is in the eating" and those who have partaken of the pudding served up by the German-British Association of Würzburg over the past thirty years will immediately confirm that an air of informality has always been the hallmark of its activities.