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Published: October 21st 2009
Namibian shoots out of his truck this morning, like a gnu successfully evading a lion only to drop dead from exhaustion. Despite drowning his meals in salt, he still gets leg cramps resulting in rapid, athletic movements...followed by stertorous breathing and collapsing dejectedly. Me doubling up guffawing does little to improve his mood. But, bathed in his usual miasma of grumpiness, he agrees to come on an adventure with Crazy Sandra and her buxom pal, Christine.
It's a short drive from Gelsenkirchen to Duisburg, Germany's eleventh biggest city. But there seems to be a theme when travelling with Crazy Sandra. First, make a show of map-reading while plugging in the oh, so foolproof spaznav, then hurtle up autobahns glued to the headrests, and, finally, err at the crucial step. Looking for a cruise boat moored in Europe's largest domestic port, we pass a sign advertising “Advanced Nuclear Fuels”. This can't be right. One could almost certainly purchase Class A drugs on this street...but there is no sign of a jolly river boat stoking its boiler for a two-hour harbour tour. Personally, I would have followed the brown signs marked “Inner Harbour”, but that's only an educated guess.
As Crazy Sandra battles her Audi round wholesome avenues, Namibian announces that his milchkaffe has gone right through him, and staggers out of the passenger side into Legoland. He returns looking thunderous. 'You've got to tread over so many bloody bricks to have a piss,' he says, frightening the children. Popping my head in - a trot down memory lane, if you like - I am bedazzled at the prices: Star Wars Lego is priced at €560. Perhaps that's why Dad encouraged country walks instead.
Eventually, our goal is reached. 'So what do you say now?' asks Crazy Sandra. And referring to the ship lift adventure we embarked upon last time, she adds: ' This is not closed since thirty years. I am the brilliantest German woman you know. Write that down.' It is a gentle command, and she beams with pride at locating this unmissable tourist attraction. It is not lost on me that we are within a hundred yards of where we were an hour ago. The ubiquitous spaznav may now be the penchant of the populace, but I still obdurately refuse to buy one. As if to enforce my view of people losing their sense
of direction entirely, Namibian pipes up. 'Was this East Germany?' We're bordering Holland here. Say no more.
We clamber aboard MS Stadt Duisburg under a brooding sky, motoring towards the confluence of the rivers Rhine and Ruhr. The Rhine, as you know of course, is the river with the most traffic in the world. What an idyllic cruise: the Bulk Terminal, handling mainly manganese and ore, makes an early appearance, followed by the attractively named Oil Island. Wow, oil depots can be found here.
The sun peeps out - a very brief tease - as we pass silos producing fish meal, then a copper works and the Sachtleben chemicals group factory, producing, among other things, white pigments used in paints.
The next beauty spot is Coal Island. Here, 1200 tons of coal are shipped in one hour. Whoopee! Look what's coming up: Scrap Island. Do I need to say that scrap is pressed here and loaded on board ships?
'Try this,' says Namibian loftily. 'You can't fold a piece of paper more than seven times. Not even tin foil, and it doesn't matter how big the piece is.' It does briefly divert my attention from the picturesque
fuel bunkering station off the starboard side. Oh, and I hate to admit he might be right. 'And,' he presses, 'they reckon you can turn a tennis ball inside out without cutting it.' Bear in mind he thinks we're in East Germany, though..
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