On the England trail: Germany, here I come, 'auf Achse'

...Which is German for 'on the axle'. Matthew Beard hits the World Cup in a camper
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Indy Lifestyle Online

It was, in footballing parlance, the champagne moment. I had been dispatched at short notice from Frankfurt to Nuremberg to cover Iran's opening World Cup match in the Bavarian city. Pelting down the autobahn in brilliant sunshine I overtook scores of British camper vans and red double-decker with an acceleration to rival Aaron Lennon's. In a moment of kinship - not since repeated - I tooted at one mobile home and was duly acknowledged with a flash of the lights.

This, I concluded, still high on England's victory the day before, was the way to cover the World Cup. "auf Achse" as the Germans call it, literally "on the axle". And what better way to go than in a Volkswagen, the people's car for the people's game?

Prior to the tournament I was a little apprehensive. Before leaving I heeded the advice of the delivery driver and spent much of my last weekend in the UK testing the formidable array of the California's functions. Leafing though the five-volume instruction manual, I even located the deckchairs stowed in the tailgate to watch a cricket match on the village green. The CD cartridge I finally located under the driver's seat after trying to jam the discs into the slot for the satellite navigation software on the dashboard.

After a 550-mile journey via the Dover-Calais ferry and an overnight stay in a Maastricht hotel I was nearly there. As the van pulled on to a ferry to sail 400 metres across the Rhine to the campsite in Ruedesheim I was reminded of a holiday postcard from Pembrokeshire featuring an empty coastal road with the words "rush hour in West Wales".

Surrounded by vineyards, Ruedesheim is where middle-aged Germans and Dutch holidaymakers come to enjoy a glass of Riesling and an evening stroll on the promenade watching the pleasure boats glide by on Europe's longest river. Its award-winning campsite is also for the discerning.

Its owner explained upon my arrival that there was no television to watch the football. But it would not remain a World Cup-free zone for long, as at the weekend 400 Korean fans were arriving ahead of their team's match against Togo in Frankfurt, an hour's drive away. I was not entirely disappointed to learn that a Harley-Davidson convention would take place on the weekend while I was away covering England's opening match.

As my colleagues checked into their luxury hotels in the sedate spa town of Baden Baden, the England team's base, I set to converting the van into sleeping mode, watched occasionally by a sole angler fishing for perch yards away. As a rod-and-tackle man man he surely approved of the patience I was having to show.

After collapsing the rear to make the bed and pulling down the blinds, it was time for bed. Under the duvet I poked out my elbows, which touched either side of the van. As a double, this can only be for the most intimate of bedfellows.

The California, a luxury version of the VW vans used as police vans and people carriers in Germany, is attractive enough but not as nice as the 1960s design classic version popularised by Jamie Oliver on his gastro-travels. But with its satellite navigation, air conditioning, CD, gas stove and fridge to store that Riesling and Gewurztraminer, I would opt for the creature comforts every time.

If the Germans were ever to build a version of this van to the specific requirements of the so-called "hoolie watch", following England's travelling support, I would suggest even better soundproofing. On the wooded camping site next to Nuremberg's stadium, where England played Trinidad and Tobago last Thursday, I was woken at 9.30am by a blast from a noisy neighbour's CD compilation including "Land of Hope Glory", followed by "Rule Britannia".

And that was before the German campers, with newly emboldened patriotism thanks to the World Cup, broke open the beer keg for breakfast and cranked up their stereos.

Above all, the camper van gave me flexibilty at negligible accommodation costs. A rectangle of grass and camp facilities costs just a handful of euros a night. Compare that with the £100 per night cost (not including breakfast) of a mid-range hotel in Frankurt during the tournament, and you can see why camper vans to rent in the UK have for so long been as rare as a Sunderland away win.

I have promised my four-year old son that, should England get knocked out early, then I will have time to let him sleep, on my return, in the van's "roof" - a kind of loft conversion created by folding the top out on hinges along the side of the vehicle.

He must be one of the few English hoping Sven Goran Eriksson's team don't win the World Cup.

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