Thursday, 13 August 2015

Desperately seeking benches in Germany, Holland and Poland

It's time for our annual bench-finding tour of Europe. My best imaginary friend Miggy, my imaginary husband Mungo, our dog Sit, an ancient car, a clapped out caravan, three frayed tempers: what can go wrong?  

Because of some problems on past trips, I ask Miggy and Mungo to assure me that they will be dutiful in looking for benches. Yes, they promise, we'll look everywhere.

Right then - ready, set, on our bikes! 

Day 1 - Most European journeys from Britain begin in a queue for Calais and the same goes for us.

my photo, Calais port

At Calais we see a few trucks. Thirty-eight kilometers of them on both sides of the motorway.

Come to think of it, this might not be Calais. 

We see trucks everywhere. All through France, Belgium, Germany, Poland and the Netherlands we see trucks. The traffic is hellish.

my photo, Stevenskerk, Nijmegen

Welcome to summer in Europe.

As it turns out, the campsites are just as crowded as the autobahns.

my photo, Werder, Germany

Mungo swears he can hear the guy next to us combing his hair.

If only there were as many benches as trucks.

We didn't find any benches in Belgium but after crossing into Holland, we see benches aplenty. Of course we do: the Netherlands is ablaze with colourful benches.

my photo, Hamburger Museum, Berlin

Miggy is telling me that this photograph is out of focus. And she says it's in Berlin, not in the Netherlands. 

How would she know? 

On Day 1 of the trip, Miggy lost her contact lenses.  

Day 2 - In Groningen, looking for Miggy's contacts.

my photo, Groningen

Day 3There are benches galore in Groningen. They're outside every shop.

However, you get the feeling that they don't want you to sit down.

Day 4 - Nijmegen. Here they put puffy cushions on their benches. 

I don't think this is a good idea. 

Instead of looking for benches, I find Mungo dozing on a comfy bench. 

This is after he has had a good lunch in the cafe.

Apart from his lunches and his naps, Mungo has a habit of standing around looking at stuff. 

At Appingedam he was watching for Miggy's contacts to come floating down the canal.

my photo, Appingedam

Day 5 - no benches today but we find some brilliant strawberries along the river Waal. They grow them big in this part of the world. 

my photo, Winssen, Gelderland

Mungo is unable to pass by anyone selling cherries or berries or peaches or apricots.

 By the end of Day 4, we have rather a lot of fruit.

I'm going sour on cherries.

And I'm starting to think we need a bigger caravan. 

my photo, Zoetemeer

Maybe this one would do?

Or this.  

Yes, it's a bit crowded here. The Dutch love their caravans.

But we're happy at this camp. 

Our dog Sit has found a little friend.

my photo, Ganderkesee, Germany

And the campsite might be packed with campers but at least I get my daily swim.

In Amsterdam Mungo joins me for a dip in the Singel canal.

Day 5Without her contact lenses, Miggy is a fish out of water.

my photo, Nijmegen

However, she reminds me that she found both the fish bench and the water bench.

my photo, Nijmegen

As in previous trips, she also manages to find plenty of cafes selling koffie and home ge-made ge-baked apple cake.

my photo, Oosthasselin, Drenthe

Day 6  - She didn't find the ice cream though.

my photo, Oldenburg, Germany

Should have gone to Specsavers.

Day 7 - We are still in the Netherlands. 

How do I know?

my photo, Winssen, Gelderland

It's raining so we spend the day playing Scrabble.

I'm very keen but then Mungo wins 212 points with the word kunstnijverheid so I don't want to play anymore. Mungo says the words bad and sport come to mind.

As usual on our trips, Miggy is looking for a house to buy. 

She liked this Dutch farmhouse in Drenthe but she wouldn't buy it since there was no bench.

my photo, Gees

This one was nice too but out of the question since the bench wasn't included in the price.

my photo, Gees

She really wanted this one, but it turned out to be the reception for our campsite.

my photo, de Vliert minicamp, Utrecht

Miggy says she's knackered from all this house bench hunting. Luckily, there's a comfy bench and a coffee table to put your feet up. 

my photo, Siddeburen

Day 8 - I insist that we spend the whole day looking for benches. Not fruit, not cake, not houses, just benches.

We find this one in Slapbummel town centre but unfortunately it has just been painted.

Miggy is complaining that they ought to say Wet Paint in German. She has a point. We move on to the town of Bumdimpel where there is yet more nasse Farbe. 

Our dog Sit is complaining that his bike is too small.

Plus, he has found a kitten friend and wants to spend the day in camp.

my photo, Appingedam

In my opinion Miggy is rather skimpily dressed for a bike ride.

Eventually we spread out to see what we can find.

I see some nice bright benches outside the shops in Groningen.

 In Utrecht Mungo finds the Cafe Rex. 

In Rijksbergen Miggy finds some men threshing.

my photo, Rijksbergen

As far as men go, she's always looking for a window of opportunity. 

Day 9 - Miggy has texted to say she's up on the Delfzil dike with one of the threshing men.

my photo, Delfzil

She says there's a lot of sky up there, and possibly a bench. 

Day 10 - I decide to do some laundry and find that the laundrettes in the Netherlands are rather old fashioned. 

my photo, Rijksbergen, North Brabant

I don't approve of kinderen labour. 

And how are we ever going to get these dry?

my photo, Rijksbergen

The Dutch children just say zullen we die brug-over te steken als we komen om het.

OK, we'll cross that bridge when we come to it.

Day 11 -  I text Miggy and tell her to get back to camp: we've sorted ourselves out a new camping car and we're moving on to Germany.  

Source unknown

She texts back to say she can't find her bike.

She thinks it's somewhere in Utrecht along the Ould Canal.

And anyway she can't come now because she has someone helping her dredge the canal in attempt to find her contact lenses.

my photo, Houten

Right then, Migs, we're going without you. 

Day 12 - Berlin.

Mungo and I drive up to Checkpoint Charlie expecting a hard time.

There's a wall in the way.

And lots of graffiti. 

Even the loo is covered.

These children may be running away from the graffiti. 

We're back at the bench beach at Checkpoint Charlie. 

If we can't get through, how are we going to get to McDonalds?

At the Hamburger Bahnhof museum I mistakingly think you can get a hamburger. Of course you can't. 

You can get a baked potato in the garden though.

Being a former railway station, the Hamburger museum is on an industrial scale.

It's humungous. 

A place like this turns your perceptions upside down.

In the Hamburger there are some very elegant benches.

Sleek lines, clean materials, simple design . . . 

And no, not all of them are white.

Some of them are rusty rustic.

Some are so beautiful they have to be kept behind bars.

Mungo says he prefers his benches made out of plywood.

my photo, Berlin

Or better still, logs.

my photo, Vlotho, Germany

When you get sick of the bench you can stick it on the fire.

Mungo says he's hungry. He'd love to find a snackwagon like the ones we found in Holland selling frites.

my photo, Winssenm, Gelderland

I wonder if this one will do? 

my photo, Berlin

Day 13 - Miggy has now joined us in Ganderkesee. What's good for the goose is apparently good for the ganderkesee.

my photo, Ganderkesee

She arrives on the train, cheerful as ever.

I ask Migs where she's been. Shopping for shoes?

My photo, Enkhuizen

Yes, of course. She's found some nice ones. 

Winssen, Gelderland

Flaunting herself in the town square?

Apparently she met a North Sea fisherman and he wanted to show her his paint-by-numbers. 

my photo, Hamburger Museum Berlin

Then they went out on his boat looking for rollmops and she had to wear her glasses.

my photo, Oldenburg

It was rough at sea apparently. Everyone was feeling sick.

my photo, Zuider Zee Museum, Enkhuizen

You'll just have to chalk it up to experience, I tell her. 

my photo, Hamburger Museum, Berlin

Day 14 - The weather is ominous.

The umbrellas are up and ready for the next downpour.

Mungo makes his morning trip to the loo block.

There are some very nice Ikea benches there.

But it's raining again. The caravan is too small for the three of us.

We check into an Insect Hotel. Or Insekthotel, as they say in German.

There is a nice fire burning in the hotel lobby.

Unfortunately, Mungo mistakes some Berlin street stools for firewood and chucks them in the stove.

Street furniture or firewood? It's kind of hard to tell with the benches of Berlin. 

Day 15 - we roll out the barrel into Poland.

my photo, Szczcerin, Poland

The first bench we see in Szczcerin is rather bleak. Nice flowers though.

my photo, Szczcerin, Poland

There's nothing design-buzzed like the brilliant Undo bench by Kamil Kiendzierski that we've seen in Poland before.

Nor do we tap into clever benches like the William Heerlein Lindley Memorial bench in Warsaw.

The Polish benches we're seeing now are all straight lines . . . 

my photo, Szczcerin, Poland

. . . or tired-looking cubes.

my photo, Szczcerin, Poland

On Solidarity Square Mungo is thoroughly fed up and not at all solid.

my photo, Szczcerin, Poland

We console ourselves with cake.

my photo, Szczcerin, Poland

Day 16 - we're up early and on our bikes. We're very green.

To the Baltic! I cry.

For once, Miggy is suitably dressed.

A tourist looks on with admiration.

The first thing Mungo does is consult the map to find out where he can find some fruit.

Miggy starts looking for houses. And men. There is a sailor on the bench outside this house, which makes it an attractive proposition, even though neither are for sale.

The artwork on Baltic houses is very pretty. But isn't the bench with this one a bit too small?

This house looks just right to me but Miggy has a thing against blue benches.

I don't know why. I think blue benches are lovely.

The first thing I do is look for Baltic chairs. I approach the beach at Dierhagen hoping to see one.

 I see one.

Then I see more.

And more. 

Good heavens, there's a Baltic chair for every person in the Baltic.

Unfortunately, they're closed.

No wonder. The weather is terrible.

We find plenty of solar panels along the beach but there's no sun.

Meanwhile, Migs has dressed up and found a rather nice cafe where she hopes to set some man's heart on fire.

That's HEART, Migs, not hair.

It rains heavily and as I refuse to play Scrabble again, Mungo suggests a game of chess.

No one wants to play, except Mungo and our dog Sit. Sit's hen friend gets out of there before she's roped into a game. 

The caravan reeks of rotting fruit. Our bikes have rusted away and everything is wet. We're all exhausted. 

I'm starting to think we should get in our little camping car and retreat to Dunkirk. 

my photo, Dunkirk

None of us can face the long trek across Europe though.

Mungo says there's no way he's driving back through those canyons of trucks. He'd sooner go by horse and wagon.

Or a tractor would do.

We need a good samaritan to take us home.

my photo, Lubeck

Day 17 - Miraculously, a balloon appears on the horizon.

It gets closer.

Mungo and our dog Sit go out to flag it down.

my photo, Weilgenweide, North Brabant

We catch a lift and the balloon wizards us away, not to the Land of Oz, but back to Paradise Island. 

Five weeks, five countries, trucks, crowds, bad weather  - it's been a brilliant trip. 

We've seen many beautiful benches.

my photo, Berlin

But it's great to be back at our little beach hut on Fribble Sands. And there really is no place like home. 

my photo, Shanklin, Isle of Wight


Every year Miggy and Mungo and I go on a bench-gathering trip. Last year there were plenty of tense tents moments when we ate our way through found the tasty benches of Italy. In 2014 we got high on benches in the Alps but Greece was a mission impossible. And then there are the benches of St. Helier, and the benches of Las Vegas, where Mungo and I gambled on love. If Irish benches don't tickle the cockles of your heart there are plenty of benches from other countries here on Benchsite. Japan, for example. And a whole fiesta of benches from Mexico. There's also an alphabet of Dutch benches and a bench from each of the countries of Europe

Simon James took the bench photo looking over a wall for Bench Monday in January 2011. Simon lives in Gateshead UK with his lovely wife Claire and his dog Alfie. He mostly works from home (research and consultancy) which means he can listen to  music all day long and also make forays out to photograph benches.

Netherlands cities are full of old bikes and university cities like Utrecht and Groningen are fuller than most. These were photographed outside a house in Groningen. 

In the fabulous Dutch town of Nijmegen we attended a brilliant Zomer Expo in the beautiful Stevenskerk. There we saw, among other delights, Ada Dispa's Clowns and Devils, looming above a bench. The church was a stunning venue in which to show paintings. Other favourite artists were Ardi Brouwer, Siemen Dijkstra and Marjoke Schulten and Peter Van Poppel. The fish bench and the Water bench were both seen in Nijmegen too. In Nijmegen we enjoyed a custom-made lunch at de Derde Kamer cafe in the Grote Markt. There were lots of cafes to choose from but we got lucky with Bart, who organised us an excellent vegetarian lunch.

Appingedam looks like any modern suburb from the outside but ditch your car and wander in on foot or on a bike and you'll find your Dutch fantasty. Gabled houses, cobbled streets, canals, rickety bridges - they've got it all. And some of the houses have hanging kitchens, which is what Mungo is looking at as he stands on the bridge. To top that, we saw the tiny grey kitten sound asleep in a pot plant in a windowsill. 

Fruit. It's a fact of life in a European summer. In the Netherlands it was mainly strawberries but good heavens, the Germans had everything, especially cherries. Black cherries or sour cherries, you could take your pick at the many bikeside and roadside fruitstands. Weirdly, there were sour cherries (sauer kirchen) painted on the toilet roll holder in our camp Riegelspitze near Potsdam. Me, I'm a fan of Johannisbeeren, also known as redcurrants.

Last year we travelled with a tiny tent. This year we took our 15 year old caravan, Bailey. Bailes does not appear in these photos. The delightful cupcake caravan is not ours; I photographed it in Zoetermeer in Holland. The yellow-trimmed Tab caravan is not ours. The red Citroen car-and-a-half is not ours either, though Mungo would love to have one. The caravan decorated with orange and green (not ours) was seen at the Oberuckersee camp at Warnitz in Germany.

The very long vintage caravan is from the wonderfully surprising Netherlands Nationaal Archief at  It was built by a French engineer and photographed in 1934.  The very crowded caravans and Dutch people are from the same archive, photographed at the Caravan and Camping RAI in February 1984.

It's a fact of life that if you have a caravan or motorhome with a cassette toilet, someone is going to have to empty the toilet. In our family, that's Mungo. He knows every chemisch/service point/toilettenentsorgung in Europe. From the picture you can see how cheerful he is about it, but that's not always so. 

The sheep and lamb bench was seen in a garden in the town of Ganderkesee, where we camped for quite a while at the delightful Camping and Ferienpark Falkensteinsee.  'See' means lake, which is always good news when it's tacked onto the end of a town name in German. In this case the Falkensteinsee was a warm and welcoming lake in the middle of the park. 

my photo, Falkensteinsee, Germany

The prefix gander also gives you a hint; the town is full of large goose statues decorated in many different ways outside homes, shops and companies. 

Appelgebok, especially when it's home-gebakt is a wonderful thing. In the Netherlands it's a way of life, an essential accompaniment to koffie, which is also a way of life. This particular apple cake was enjoyed at a cafe in Oosthasselin in Drenthe. 

Coblens Eyewear had an amazing window display which caught our attention in the beautiful city of Oldenburg in Lower Saxony. It included a throne holding a pair of glasses, an ice cream cone wearing glasses, and a person throwing up whilst wearing very nice spectacles. The glasses were so nice that Miggy considered giving up her kontaktlinse.

I have a real thing for Dutch shoes and I'm always delighted when I see people wearing them, which they do when it's wet. And it was wet so I saw quite a few on this trip. This pair were inside the barn of Camping de Muk in Winssen in Gelderland.

Yes, we are fans of Scrabble. When there is nothing else to do, we play Scrabble (sad, I know). In rainy Gees in Drenthe we were lucky enough to find a Dutch version of the game, which has different letters than the English version. There are 18 e's and quite a few zeds and k's and v's that you don't need in English. I have worked hard studying Dutch this year so I was a bit miffed when Mungo came up with the word kunstnijverheid which, spread entirely across the board and including triple words and double letter scores, adds up to 212 points. 

There were many traditional Dutch farmhouses in the tiny town of Gees. Among them were the houses shown in the story, one of which was really for sale (Te Koop). Further along the road we came upon Just-British, a little piece of Holland that is forever Britain. Vintage china, antiques, curiosities and collectables - they're all here in Gees.

my photo, Gees, Drenthe

The wood chalet is the reception hut at minicamp de Vliert in Bunnick, where we like to stay. There are fabulous bike paths in this area, including the ones to Utrecht and, if you're up to it, on to Amsterdam. Farmer van Bunkum loves his fruit trees and keeps a well-stocked automat of his farm produce.

Another favourite minicamp is Wilgenweide in Molenschot, near Breda in North Brabant. This is a comfortable drive to Calais so tends to get put onto the end of our trips. This year we were lucky enough to hit Boerendag, a festival of farming which takes place at nearby Rijksbergen. The photographs of tractors, threshing, farm animals, and old-fashioned laundry all come from our great day out at Boerendag. To show you the delights of Minicamping Weilgenweide, here is the path to the shower block.

my photo, Weilgenweide

Siddeburen is an ordinary Dutch town in the province of Groningen and we stayed there at Minicamp Noorderzon, where we were given fresh bread and eggs from the chickens that roam through the camp. It's one of those camps where you think you're going to stay one night and you find yourself still there a week later because it's friendly and cozy and fun. Outside Siddeburen at the end of an exhausting bike ride day we found the bench and coffee table, thoughtfully placed at a crossroads for cyclists to rest their weary feet.

The Delfzil dike in the Netherlands province of Groningen runs along the Eems, opposite German East Friesland, into the Dollard, a body of water on the border of the two countries. We spent a few days cycling the Dollard bike route, inevitably referred to as the Dullard, but it is far from dull. Fields of golden wheat, windfarms, tiny towns, and of course bracing sea breezes guide you on your way. 

We cycled into Urecht along the delightful Ould Canal, which is as picturesque as anything you'll find in Amsterdam. A vibrant, pretty university city, Utrecht is great fun. 

German trains are fast, clean, cheap, and efficient, even when packed with smelly post-festival people returning from a wild week-end in Berlin. The Brandenburg Berlin train delivered us smoothly into Berlin during our first week and then into Poland the next. Network Rail, please note: In Germany you can get a very good value day pass AND bring your bike. 

The Berlin wall was one of the highlights of our trip, especially the East West Gallery where, in 2009, international artists were invited to put their art. This section of the wall stretches for 1.3 kilometers and is an amazing thing to see. There's lots of graffiti over the art now, but that's kind of art in itself. Over on Friedrichstrasse, Checkpoint Charlie is still there, guarded by two guys with American flags and available for photographs outside McDonalds. Checkpoint Charlie beach is there too, a relaxing place to consider this important historical site. 

The Hamburger Bahnhof gallery in Berlin is a museum of modern art in the cavernous neo-renaissance building which used to be a railway station. I spent a joyous afternoon there looking at all sorts of amazing things including work by Joseph Beuys and the Andy Warhol paint-by-number. I also spent a lot of time photographing benches placed all around the gallery; nobody told me not to.

The beautifully austere bench at the end of the story is at the Topography of Terrors museum, the most terrifying address in Berlin. If you want to know how bad things can get, it's all here. 

my photo, Berlin

The snazzy snack van is the kind you see in ordinary Dutch towns all the time. This one did a fish and chip night in Winssen, along the river Waal. And very good it was too. 

Mungo visited the Stasi museum in East Berlin, where he photographed what looks like an ordinary delivery van. In Stasi times, it was used for more sinister purposes. The Stasi museum is near the Magdalenenstrasse U-bahn station.

The people feeling sick are from a fascinating collection of Gapers at the Zuider Zee Museum in Enkhuizen. For all things Dutch, this is THE museum. In the days when many people were illiterate,  'Gapers' were figureheads which showed that a shop was a pharmacy selling medicines. 

The Ratzeburgsee in Ratzeburg is a lovely lake which I swam in daily and nightly. But of course it was raining, so the umbrellas were up. 

Szczcerin is a large port city in Poland, very close to the German border. It used to be in Germany and was called Stettin. It wasn't the city that moved, of course, it was the border: at the Potsdam Conference in 1945 it became Polish. It just so happens that Miggy's ancestors immigrated from here in 1845.

Kamil Kiendzierski is a Polish designer who makes wire furniture with spacial compositions. His prize-winning Undo Bench was made in 2010 and appeared on Benchsite before. He explains that wire furniture allows the designer to make spacial compositions. He was also a finalist in a competition at the Institute of Industrial Design in Warsaw.

Sir William Heerlein Lindley (1853-1917) was a British civil engineer who worked together with his engineering father in Europe. From the 1880s he oversaw the construction of city waterworks for Warsaw, Prague, Baku and Łódź in Poland. The William Heerlein Lindley Memorial bench is in Warsaw, photographed in 2012 by David Stanek. I am sorry to say we didn't see it.

Baltic houses are pretty and bright and colourful. Many of them have thatched roofs and shutters and very cute ornaments and benches in their gardens. They have been lovingly restored as ferien/vakantie homes for people who want a brilliant beach holiday without going to the Med. These houses were photographed in and around Dierhagen and Wustrow, where a fantastic bike path hugs the coastline and you can stop for a swim or a long doze in one of those brilliant Baltic chairs. We've agreed; this beach path is one of our best cycling days ever. 

Among many fascinating self-portraits, Dutch artist Rien Pol did one with his hair on fire (Losing My Hair). We were lucky enough to stumble upon his summer exhibition, The Blue Angel, at the Martinskirk in Groningen. What a great afternoon we had there, topped off by seeing the man himself. His obsessions are intriguing and his figurative painting is just groot. See more on the very user-friendly website at

The Good Samaritan was seen during a day out in Lubeck, one of the lovely Hanseatic cities in the north. Poor notes here so I'm not sure exactly where it was but probably the Heligen-Geist Hospital. 

The hot air balloon drifted across our Wilgenweide camp on a perfect summer evening. We all came out to watch it and it dipped down low enough for the people in the basket to wave to us. This was one of those little magical moments that you get when you travel, and you never forget. 

The beach huts are at Small Hope Beach in Shanklin Isle of Wight. We have a standing order for renting one every year because the huts are brilliant and the beach is brilliant. But there's something like a four year waiting list so if you want one, there's only a small hope. 

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