So it was early on a Friday morning last September that 21 of us, including dancers, musicians and a number of partners assembled at Heathrow for the short flight to Frankfurt. All went completely smoothly, albeit one musician's ticket was not delivered by the automated machines and 2 others managed by an error to be given both automated and manual tickets - so much for airline security procedures.
Our time in Bensheim was to prove an excellent balance of good dancing spots and great chances to relax, meet the locals, view the passing world and sample the local food, wine and beers (not necessary in that order).
On the first evening we entertained the members of the twinning association with 3 dance spots and one band/song spot, interspersed with a local brass band, the local Ancient Dance Society musicians and a local pop singer. Saturday morning saw us dancing in the market area for the shoppers, followed by traditional schnitzel,
wurst etc fare from the market and German beers for relaxation. Later we were guests at the Official Wine Festival (with several speeches) and sampled a range of German wines that don't ever seem to reach these shores, especially the reds. This was followed by a walking procession to the official opening ceremony (and more speeches). At that point we found a dancing space downtown around the many wine stalls and our intention of 4 dances grew to something around a three-quarters of an hour spot.
And Sunday was the PROCESSION! Did I mention it was about 34 degrees C and we processed through the town for around 2 hours along with 96 other floats! We knew from an earlier trip that this was going to be tough (well we're not getting any younger!) so developed a procession based on single step Jockie which we thought we could use for longer periods. And our reward was 3rd place out of the 97 "floats" - yes we know we don't understand that bit either. In the procession we were cunningly placed between a VW Beetle decorated with cucumbers andcarrying the 2 Cucumber Queens (female) from the next town and the horse and cart carrying the local cider makers plus full barrels - we were somewhat torn! Still it was better than being directly behind Snow White and the seven dwarfs on horseback - although unfortunately we were not far behind them and had to introduce extra jumps at strategic points - particularly enjoyed by the crowd when anyone managed a direct "hit". Obviously, this was followed with refreshments and recuperation at a local "bierhaus" and restaurants on a beautiful warm evening
Monday was the "Earlybird" Street Party at 10.30 am in one of the older residential areas where the twinning arrangement was born - more dancing, eating and drinking and then the coach back to the airport. Nothing remarkable to report
here - oh except the security staff didn't seem to be able to cope with Lank's melodeon. They x-rayed it and then said - what does it do ... then prove it. That brightened up Departures. They then vacuumed it and checked it and several other boxes with a spectrometer for any suspicious dust particles.
And the most asked question/comment during the trip was "Morris Dancing ... not from England ... must be from Scotland or Ireland?" We asked ourselves what was it that made people believe or expect that such a obviously traditional ritual form of dance could not have originated in the English tradition. Was it that we don't "sell" our traditions (or just that the Scots and Irish do it better!) or that most of the population doesn't itself know the traditional music, song or dance of England. Well we hope we dispelled a few myths during the recent trip to Bensheim, and a number of Ring booklets were given away to those with a particular interest or curiosity, and we helped the winemakers create space for the soon to be harvested 2004 vintage.
And our most lasting memory of the long week-end - which is what twinning is all about - is the friendliness and interest of the locals!
This article was originally written for the Morris Ring Circular, by Woodside's Dave Lang.