House Exchange in Flintbek, Schleswig–Holstein, 4-18 July 2013

Flintbek is a village seven miles from Kiel and ten minutes by train. We drove twelve hours door-to-door, in Germany often ninety miles an hour on the autobahn and doing the ton once or twice. Built of red-painted timber, the exchange house has spacious, well-lit rooms and cellar, surrounded on three sides with garden and lawn.

North-west of Flintbek you drive forever through flat countryside dotted with small villages, reaching Denmark in an hour or so. Schleswig–Holstein swung between disputed Danish and Germanic ownership, not fully settled until the First World War.* The German house owner is called Sven, a neighbour Ulrich Mathiessen, and bek is baek north of the border. Come to think of it, beck is also a small stream in Northern England.

Few buildings in Kiel were not destroyed by Allied bombers seeking naval bases, but the modern-feel version gave us two varied days, interesting town walking, the Nicolaikirche, a round-harbour cruise and an el cheapo university-campus lunch. In particular I liked: Coventry Cathedral’s Cross of Nails like those we had seen in Hamburg and Dresden, taken from the ruins of its old cathedral destroyed in 1940; the U-boat at Laboe, the mouth of the North Sea­–Baltic Canal; the market at Eutin where we couldn’t find the village I knew as a soldier in 1964; Rendsburg on a Sunday, still as the grave; pretty Plön; ignoring the tourist books that ignore Neumünster.

We have tended to do less than planned and a good thing, too, for instance, today I had a quiet walk around Flintbek and we lunched al fresco at ‘home’. Our fast-growing view is that the area is not ideal for us: lots of flat-country cycling, boats, harbours, rivers, beaches, nature walking. Still, one major pleasure has been the 621 miles of distance from the horrible things in the past year at Ampthill: the appalling state the new house was left in; the debilitating slowness of the landscapers; the grind of the Christmas roof-leak’s three-month aftermath.

July 2013.

* Lord Palmerston supposedly said, ‘Only three people have ever really understood the Schleswig-Holstein business: the Prince Consort who is dead; a German professor who has gone mad; and I who have forgotten all about it.’

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