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Two views from German visitors

LAST YEAR we featured an article by Stephen Moore entitled What the Twelfth means to me. He termed the 12th celebrations “Ulster’s Fourth of July, Ulster’s Mardi Gras” and called for the Northern Ireland Tourist Board to market the 12th July accordingly. Following this theme, we spoke to two members of the German Rangers Network - Hermann from Hamburg and Chris from near Frankfurt. We asked them to record their memories of the colour, noise and flavour of the 12th celebrations - Europe’s largest indigenous folk and cultural festival. Here are their stories…

Hamburg Rangers Supporters Club

I have always fancied the famous Glasgow Rangers. It became clear that there is a deep-rooted love among the travelling Bears for a country on the far western margin of Europe, a country I then only knew as a rather backward, religion-ridden region. I simply had to find out myself. Going to Belfast, after having made friends with some of the Ulster-based Rangers men, was just the logical consequence, as it always seems to be better to make use of ones own eyes before passing judgement.

I was eagerly awaiting the 12th of July. I understood roughly what was going to be celebrated. King William fought a battle close to a river known as the Boyne and defeated his opponent James II (or Jakob der Zweite, as the German authors have it). But it took me ages to get the historical background: What was the situation like in Europe at that time? Why was it that a Dutch king crossed the channel to support the English and Scottish Protestants? And where was the link between Protestantism and a quarrel that was obviously succession-related? I did not have a clue, and frankly, I do not think I really have today! All I know was that on the 12th, people in Belfast would celebrate the victory of "their King Billy".

I was picked up by my friends on the 11th night and driven all over East Belfast to see those mighty bonfires. The 11th night really sticks in my mind. Fragments of impressions are still in my head: that huge flickering bonfire, cans of beer, techno music, short hair, tattooed forearms displaying the Red Hand, balaclavas, salutes and shots fired in the air. It was an atmosphere that was both thrilling and deeply frightening, an atmosphere in which you are glad to be part of it all and accepted as a friend.

The 12th, however, was different. The male, tough mood of East Belfast had been left behind, and Shaftesbury Square was crowded with families, old people and kids. What a joy it was for me to see that the Krauts are not the only nation who enjoy marching! What a sight it was. All those bands with their different colours and flags, those young boys in front of them hurling around their sticks, not to forget members of the audience who were actually clad like the celebrated king himself! It was enjoyable, it was fun. But there was a certain ‘stoutness’, a strange determination beneath the obvious celebrations, a ‘will’ to be proud which made the whole event completely different to the shooters` marches which I am used to in Germany. This was fun, but there was more to it. Nevertheless, I enjoyed myself, because I felt part of it.

Frankfurt, a loyal Rangers Supporter.

 I love Ulster, the country is very fine and the Protestant people are brilliant! I came over for a week to see the 12th parade last year. On the Saturday I saw a fantastic parade of a lot of flute bands on the Shankill Road. On Sunday I went with friends to Portadown to support the Orange Order at Drumcree.

In the night of 11th I saw a big, big, bonfire on the Shore Road in North Belfast. It was unbelievable. Hundreds of people came to see the bonfire and to celebrate. It was 12 o`clock when the highlight began and an Eire tricolour went up in flames.

The next morning, I was wakened very early. It was the greatest event of the year: the 12th parade!

Everyone was dressed in their best clothes and the streets of Belfast were decorated with flags and different colours. Thanks to my friend Billy, I was allowed to march with the local band – Pride of the Shore - who gave me one of their polo shirts.

Then the parade began. It was brilliant!! I had to march a very long way through the streets of Belfast. It was a fantastic feeling to hear the wonderful sound of all the flutes and drums all the time and to see thousands and thousands of people standing at the streets, shouting and celebrating. The people came from all over to see and celebrate the 12th.

On the return part of the parade, everybody in the Flute Band got a sombrero! It was very funny and all the people on the streets laughed about this joke. In the evening after the parade I celebrated the 12th with a drink, but I was very tired and I could hardly move my feet. However, this day was one of the best moments in my life! It was a great honour for me to have marched with my friends and the band. It was a fantastic and brilliant week in Ulster. I'll come over again in 2002.



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