20 February 2019
By Nigel Longley
Here Nigel continues his story from yesterday about Frankfurt Germania and the club’s 150th anniversary, which is going to be celebrated with a row-past at Henley Royal Regatta during the tea interval on Saturday, 6 July.
In the year 2000, I, then a Committee Member and Honorary Secretary of Frankfurt Germania, attended Henley Royal Regatta. I spent some time in Stewards’ Enclosure as a guest of some friends from London Rowing Club. The LRC members promptly enquired as to why I had never rowed at the regatta. I, a 38-year expat Brit, had played a bit of rugby back in my prime, but I had only discovered rowing at the ripe old age of 33 – after two serious rugby injuries led me to pack in the sport of my youth. At the time, the thought of me actually rowing at Henley seemed preposterous! Nevertheless, the seed was sown and upon return to Frankfurt following the regatta, I spoke to the then Germania Head Coach Rüdiger Hauffe about the possibility of getting a crew together to enable us to enter the 2001 Thames Challenge Cup for eights – a cup open to club crews only. Upon studying the regatta programme from 2000, a close look at the times taken by Thames crews over the 2,112m – against the stream – persuaded Hauffe that he would be able to prepare a crew that could compete. I insisted that the crew should be in a position to compete with honour, as I would not countenance a situation which would mean any embarrassment to Frankfurt Germania, especially at such a prestigious event as Henley Royal Regatta.
Subsequently, a club-eight was formed – consisting of a 21-year-old stroke, a couple of 22-25-year-olds, four 30-35-year-olds, an inexperienced female cox, who was 6 kg over the minimum weight…and a 38-year-old Brit at the three-seat!
After successes at several regional German regattas during the early 2001 season, Frankfurt Germania was ready to enter The Thames Challenge Cup.
The challenge was to avoid having to compete in the qualifying races with all the associated logistical problems involving early travel from Germany. Help was recruited from a senior Frankfurt-based British diplomat, who used to row for Germania. A carefully-crafted letter in perfect English setting out the achievements of the crew was sent on a Germania letter-head paper to the Chairman of Henley Royal Regatta. An excited early evening was spent refreshing the regatta’s website with details of those crews who needed to qualify. “Frankfurter Rudergesellschaft Germania 1869 e.V.” was nowhere to be found! The Stewards had decided to “select” the German crew; in the programme the name was in italics – a great honour.
Towing a trailer along the country lanes on the “wrong” side of the road behind the German club van was an experience in itself. Having safely arrived in Henley-on-Thames, the crew attended the “Draw” in the Town Hall and were very impressed by the associated tradition, custom and pageantry. It suddenly became very clear that we were rapidly approaching the sharp end of “Henley”. If the crew was not already nervous enough, the heart rate went through the roof on Wednesday when, sitting at the start, the Chairman of Henley Royal Regatta, Mike Sweeney, himself, awarded a false start to Frankfurter Rudergesellschaft Germania – henceforth “Frankfurter” – for being late at the start. In all the preparation and studying of the “Traffic Rules and Training Times” and other regulations, the need to be at station 2 minutes before the published start time – without a specific invitation from the umpire had been overlooked. In spite of being warned several times for bad steering, Frankfurter triumphed over a local opponent, Maidenhead Rowing Club. Thursday’s win against Reading Rowing Club was achieved without a false start but with a heart- and boat-stopping crab in front of the Grandstand! Friday’s opponents, London Rowing Club “A”, were the Friday (quarter-final) opponents and history repeated itself 121 years later with LRC coming out on top in direct competition.
In 2014, the club eight made Germania history by winning The Thames Challenge Cup – the first time Germania had won at Henley – beating a very determined Sport Imperial by a canvas in the final. To honour this occasion, a group of very impressed Germania old boys decided to have “Henley-style” blazers made for the victorious crew by the local Henley tailor Collier & Robinson – a new tradition that has resulted in some 40 blazers now having been donated to successful Germania oars-women/-men and scullers over the past five years.
During the 2019 Henley Royal Regatta, a large group of Germania members will be maintaining the international rowing blazer tradition and proudly wearing their colours.
We do hope fellow rowers will approach our – mainly German – members while visiting 2019 Henley, and we are very much looking forward to new experiences and making new friends from across the globe at this quintessentially English event.
Note: This article was updated on 4 March 2019 to reflect a comment from Peter Gallagher.