You’re only here once, so you’ve got to get it right
– no time to fuss and fight –
Coz life doesn’t mean much if it’s measured out in someone else’s time
XTC, King for a Day, 1989
A lot of IPod this time, walking; speeding the pace and breaking out the sweat. Standing on the bow, staring Byronically into space. The walk back to Konigswinter is a sign of what it is to come in Bonn, capital between 1949 and 1989 and reunification. There is a nice old town, riverside bars, a sense of fun. But there’s also Alphaville down the road, where now the Post Office Tower dominates. Politics is gone; though there is a healthy amount of marxist merlarky in the bookshops near where I’ve been sick in Bonn.
So down through Alphaville, without stopping, that’s for Bonn when I’m back, then a twist to cross the bridge and a four hour romp to Konigswinter. A two street town in once sense; that’s where the cafes and restaurants are, but looming behind, the Seven Mountains, the Siebengebirge, where the dragon was slayed by Siegfried. Dragon is Drach, see various plays on this in Bram Stoker and indeed Ian Fleming, Moonraker’s villain is Drax. And Fleming always said his plot was George (Siegfried) versus the Dragon.
The hills merge and at their peaks, inevitably, castles or ruins. Drachenfels, which gets its own stanza in Byron, is the daily tourist schlep. Most go by the mini-railway, stopping off at the late 19th century industrialists’ house cum castle, half way, or going straight for the top and what is, very often, a foggy day in Konigswinter town. It seems fitting that the view back down the way I’ve come is clouded and mysterious; This is a new phase, moving into the Ruhr, and expected industry. I can cope; quite like the bleak industrial. From the peak of Drachenfels a view backwards reveals an imposing building on the Petersburg. What’s that? Hmm, a huge hotel; that would have been the state residence of the President, had the hotels refurbishment not been completed in 1990. Bad timing. Anyway, I make a note to walk up there tomorrow.
There’s a wedding going on in the industrialist’s ex-haus. Cameramen and women in hats. Inside there’s a lot of late 19th faux frilly art, which was once so popular books were published so that arriviste Germans could copy the style in their own houses. The place is monstrously large, and became a catholic boys college in the 1930s – what they must have made of the largely naked Greek-ish art….anyway, then it was a Nazi college of some kind, but details are thin these days. I wander back down to the river, order some schnitzel and download John Le Carre’s A Small Town in Germany. A mini classic of espionage from 1969, which benefits from Le Carre’s having lived here; in fact I think he wrote The Spy Who Came in From the Cold here. God it’s a bleak book; the back drop is a suspected rise in the German far right; and Britain’s general impotent uselessness. I read the whole thing in a riverside gloom of red wine as the tourist boats pull away from the bank in search of more fertile excitements.
The facial type I keep seeing is Putin and Harrison Ford. Strange. The world of Bonn and Konigswinter found in Le Carre makes me weep tears of joy I wasn’t an adult for the 60s; grey, brutish and run by Etonians. Er…and that’s the other thing: the riots in London are playing out their political aftermath and the London hacking scandal lurches on in more – no, they didn’t hack thems… – and it is impossible not to follow this real-time on Guardian or Telegraph feeds, how The Times must wish it wasn’t behind a firewall….not. So it is a curious triangular experience, the real, the fiction and the Siegfriedian, and what’s happening in the world. I’ve got the Skype app now as well, so London can be calling anytime. The world grows small. The Petersburg Hotel, I learn from A Small Town is where Neville Chamberlain stayed when he signed off on the last vestiges of morality that Britain owned in the 1930s, that we call the Munich Agreement. As I climb the windy forest past a series of 18th century stations of the cross that have been restored now, I think about the car driving the British delegation up here; and I’ve just read of anxious meetings over lunch here between the diplomats and the Bonn hacks, trying to get a story in the cold war 60s.
The Petersburg is restored now, but a conference centre; the Clintons, Mandela, the Queen twice have stayed, but I am able to wander into the deserted ball room without meeting anyone. On the terrace I imagine the intrigues, then, and during Bonn’s prime time. The choice was Adenauer’s, a local, who signed the treaty in 1949 that restored some forms of German autonomy. There’s a party of Americans and Brits taking a quick tour; most interested in the hotel chapel, where Michael Schumacher married. One of the kids, rotund, aubergine’d in the Cameron mode, throws rocks over the terrace wall with thuggish entitlement; a moment later a cry in german. He’s hit an elderly woman walking back down the Petersburg with her husband. The kid does nothing; his mother shouts down in Home Counties: “He didn’t mean it.” A few minutes later I am in the same place as the walkers and the next Prime Minister but, say, three, is by my side throwing more rocks. “What the fuck are you doing?” I say. He wanders off, probably 9 or 10. His parents give me the full diplomatic diss as I walk past them.
History up here; but not many arrive; there’s a far more modern spa half way up the hill, golf not so far away. Once all these towns housed the diplomatic teams from around the world; now they are away in Berlin. So what now for Bonn?