Come on, Terence,” said Harry, “don’t you know about the Hannover Fair?”
“In Hannover, Germany?” I asked.
Harry took another sip from his teacup. “You and Willy must go there. To find a machine which coats plastic with a mixture of paint and sodium metabisulphate.”
He pointed. “Dr Willy Werner. It’s his idea.”
We greeted. Willy also had a cup of tea.
“Can I have a cup of tea?”
Harry took another sip.
“We’ve run out,” he said sadly.
“Our tea is measured using a tot measure,” said Willy by way of explanation.
It turned out that, if you coat plastic with sodium metabisulphate and put in a box of grapes, then the grapes last a long time. Willy had done all the experiments and proven this.
The Hannover Fair is, guess what, in Hannover, Germany. We had to fly through Dusseldorf and catch a train to Hannover. Here we would get a taxi to the hotel. We hoped. All went well. We found a taxi and gave the taxi driver the hotel address. He frowned slightly. No GPS in those days.
An hour later, we were still in the taxi and darkness had fallen. We finally found the hotel. It was about 90 km from Hannover. Apparently, Harry, giving instructions to the German travel agent, had advised that he was not prepared to pay €100 per night for our accommodation. So he had told the agent, “Find me the nearest hotel to Hannover which is less than €100 per night.” The agent duly complied. Thus, the ‘nearest hotel’ was 80 km from Hannover. Willy and I would have to take the train.
Willy’s family came to the Cape in 1680. They were German bakers, the head of the family being, surprise, Wilhelm. The male Werner line has hardly changed in image: they are medium height, stout, crew cut and look very, very German. Only Willy is Afrikaans and cannot speak German at all. Harry had asked me how my German was. I said better than my Spanish and worse than my Zulu. I told him I could say “Wache! Nicht schießen”, since my father had taught me this (it means “Guard! Don’t shoot!”) Harry said it was probably what we needed.
The following morning, at the railway station, there was an immediate problem. Willy looked so German and I so non-German and, consequently, the lady at the ticket counter addressed all her queries to him, all in fast German:
Ticket lady: “Hello, sir! Where to today?”
Me (in bad German): “We are to Hannover going and coming back. Two first-class coming back.”
Ticket lady: “Very good! And,” (to Willy) “where are you from?”
Willy (to me): “Wat sê sy, boet?”
Me: “Sy wil weet vaarvan af kom jy.”
Willy (to her): “Blouberg Strand, Suid Afrika.”
Ticket lady (to Willy): “Safe journey!” (She ignored me.)
The fair, aka the Hannover Messe, was huge. Take Nasrec in Johannesburg and multiply it by ten. Not even close.
Willy and I wandered around, looking for a machine which coats plastic with a mixture of paint and sodium metabisulphate. I found a German guide. His eyes lit up.
“Oh Ja! You vant to coat zer sodium metabisulphate on zer paper!”
“Right on,” I zed.
“Zat is another messe! Der Drupa in Dusseldorf!”
“Oh great,” I said, “is it still open?”
“Ach no! Vill be open next year in Mai.”
I kept my face averted from Willy.
“Wat sê hy? said Willy.
“He’s not sure . . . it’s an unusual thing.”
At lunchtime we headed for a German restaurant.
A woman wearing traditional dress gave us menus. She spoke to Willy:
“What would sir like to drink?”
I said to Willy, say beer.
“Bier,” said Willy.
We settled for two eisbein. They were huge.
Back in South Africa, Harry poured another tot of tea.
“The wrong fair?” He said a rude word.
“The eisbein was good,” said Willy, “and the beer.”