Do you ever sneak up on a town unannounced… you know, just to find out what people get up to when they don’t know you’re coming?
Yesterday I paid an unannounced visit to Münster. I went there with Eldest Daughter, because she has just been awarded a place at its university, and she wanted to get an impression of the town.
Despite the unannounced nature of our visit, I’m convinced that they’d found out we were coming. Someone must have been tracking the car, and the minute we turned onto the A43, the phonelines must have been buzzing with the news: “Achtung Münster! Middle-aged British comedy writer approaching…”
When we got there, even before we’d parked the car, we were held up by what appeared to be a procession of people dressed as chefs, waving banners and being afforded police protection to allow them to pass.
I already saw this as a bad omen. You turn up at a city and all the chefs have taken to the streets. A protest at being asked to cater to British tastes perhaps? What if they are actually on strike? Whatever will we do about lunch?
Pushing these worries to the back of our mind, we parked the car and set out to explore the city. Münster, we learned, is a scenic place with a dark side to its history. Take the pretty St. Lamberti church with it’s lacy spire. Closer inspection of the area above the clock reveals three iron cages which once held the tortured bodies of some anabaptists who the city fathers had taken a dislike to. Clearly not a town council one should annoy. From this point on, we were very careful not to drop litter.
The town itself was packed. Not only was it market day… but, we soon learned, the entire city was full of horses. And not just any old nags… no, we’d inadvertently landed in the middle of Germany’s horsing event of the year. The Deutsche Meisterschaft for show jumping and dressage.
The horses, it seemed, were camping in their hundreds. In supersized special horse-tents. A sort of equestrian refugee camp slap bang in front of the Schloss. From the smell of the place, it wouldn’t surprise me if some ponies found themselves dangling in irons on the church spire for fouling the pavements before the weekend’s out!
Show jumping is a sport I can sort of understand. But dressage is just weird. It seems to be a form of Strictly Come Dancing done by horses. I assumed this was all part of the City of Münster’s plot to make a comedy writer feel at home, by picking the least appropriate animal available to try and waltz to the Blue Danube.
Moving back into the city, we tried to visit the cathedral. This was tricky, first because the world’s largest market appeared to have sprung up around the building itself, so we had to battle through crowds lugging baskets of vegetables and wielding salamis and cheeses to get there. Once inside, the entirety of the cathedral turned out to be occupied by the striking chefs.
It turns out that they weren’t on strike at all. In fact, there were around 800 of them in Münster for some kind of annual competitive Bake-Off. We’d caught them in a moment of solemn contemplation, following which they would be wielding their cleavers and meat tenderisers in anger, each trying to out-cook their rivals.
Now, call me a conspiracy theorist, but I see more than just a casual coincidence here. First, the town is filled with hundreds of large farm animals, all herded together into what on the surface seemed to be a camp site for horses, but could equally serve as a canvas abbatoir. Second, several hundred chefs with their pots, pans and kitchen knives gather only a hundred metres away for a cookery contest.While I confess I didn’t see a written menu anywhere for the huge feast which was to be held at the Rathausinnenhof that evening…. I rather suspect Kebab de Cheval might be on the menu…
Can I have fries with that?