Schwerin Germany & Ostende Belgium Outgoing May 2015 by Lou Rizk

On or about the first week of May, 2015 12 hardy friendship force members (10 from friendship force of southwest Florida and 2 from Orlando club) turned their attention toward crossing the big pond for a one week visit to the friendship force clubs of Schwerin, Germany and Ostende (Belgium Coast), Belgium.

The earliest to leave were Lewis and Wanda from Orlando. They left the last week in April to visit friendship force friends in England who then escorted them to their cottage in France for a nice visit. They then traveled to Berlin for a visit before catching the train to Schwerin on May 12th.

The next to leave were Joanne (president of FFSWFL) and Richard (webmaster for FFSWFL) Collins. Their destination was the tulip extravaganza in Holland through which they rode bicycles and took beautiful pictures. They then took the train to Berlin for a visit before catching the train to Schwerin on May 12th.

The next to leave was the foursome of Dennis (first VP of FFSWFL) and Jule (secretary of FFSWFL) Yemma and Jody and Russ Garmon. They flew into Germany, rented a car and proceeded to visit old friends of the Yemma’s (who had spent years past in Germany). They then drove to Schwerin to meet at the railroad station at 3 pm on May 12th.

The last foursome to leave was Lou (ED) Rizk, Cheryle Phelps, Cheryle’s 84 year old aunt Patty Fenton and her childhood friend Lorene Ashby. This group flew into Berlin for a 3 day visit and then proceeded to Szczhen, Poland to explore Aunt Patty’s ancestry. Aunt Patty’s grand farther had shown her his birth certificate showing they hailed from Prussia near the Oder River outside the town of Stettin, Germany. So Cheryle always thought she was German. However, Stettin, Germany is now Szczhen, Poland so she is now of Polish decent. Then back to Berlin to catch the train to Schwerin.

In Schwerin, in north central Germany near the Baltic Sea (East Germany before reunification), we were met at the train station and taken to the TV tower restaurant for black cherry, German chocolate cake and coffee and a 360 degree view of the city. We all had a wonderful time visiting the beautiful 13th century castle surrounded by lakes and gardens, the cathedral built from the 11th to the 16th century, the outlying towns and countryside and the 15th century water mill used for everything from grinding grain to sawing slabs of marble. In addition was the excellent food, beer and wine, local markets, coffee houses and pastries were memorable.

Especially interesting was the celebration of MENS DAY (celebrated on Ascension Day) when men were honored with food and drink and old friends. We walked around a 6 mile lake, stopping every ¾ mile to drink beer and/or small bottles of alcoholic beverages (up to 18% alcohol) and eat sausages. When one drank the small bottles, it is customary to put the bottle cap on ones nose and tilt the bottle upside down with the lips to chug the contents. Then a cookout followed with desert and more celebrations.

The farewell party was held in a 400 year old water tower that was so clean you could eat off the floor. Every tour was given by a professional guide speaking English for which we were all grateful.

The most impressive thing I learned was how German reunification was brought about by peaceful demonstrations. It started with just a few people in East Germany lighting candles and on Wednesday evening going to the central government building and singing freedom songs and then going home. Every Wednesday a few more people would attend and eventually the entire nation, including East and West Germany would light candles and come out on Wednesday evening and sing freedoms songs and go home. And when they showed us the places on the buildings where the candles had made black marks on the stucco, it brought tears to my eyes.

On May 18th after sad goodbyes we boarded the train or drove to Koln for a two day tour. In Koln we were joined by friendship force members from Germany, Manfred and Renate Bosse, whom we had met in Cape Coral the March before and who had volunteered to set up a two day tour of Koln for us with English guides. Manfred and Renate had visited our club with German clubs in past years and were old friends with several of our members. We had a wonderful tour experiencing everything from pig knuckles to 4711 perfume history to the Koln Cathedral. On May 20th we traveled to Oostende, Belgium.

In Oostende, we were met at the train station and taken to their president’s home for the welcome dinner which was fabulous. Then almost every day we would travel by train to a city nearby for an English tour, great food and a taste of some of Belgium’s over 2,500 beers (many restaurants and bars have their own micro brewery with matching glasses). Of course there were also the Belgian chocolates sold by the 100 grams (about 10 small pieces) for 2.8 to 3.5 Euros per 100 grams for good quality. The farewell party at the airport was a multicourse dinner with music, dancing and entertainment.

On the way home at the train station in Brussels a thief snatched our bright red backpack and ran up the stairs with Lou and Patty in hot pursuit. Aunt Patty (84) found the backpack against the wall up stairs with the two top zippers opened but nothing missing. Instead of cash, credit cards and passports, the thief while running up the stairs felt 3 pieces of bread on top of a folded jacket and shower shoes, thus tossing the bag to the side.

It was a great trip, everyone had a good time and no one was hurt or mentioned any problems. The Ostende club will visit us (we hope) in March of 2016.