Benjamin Marschall

In May 1912, the poet Rupert Brooke sat in a café in Berlin and wrote his now famous ode to Grantchester. In May 2020, Cambridge students were scattered and dispersed around the world, and like Brooke many of us will find ourselves missing this lovely hamlet. But for the foreseeable future this part of England will be inaccessible to most, splendid hearts notwithstanding. Unlike Brooke, we don’t even have the luxury of whiling away time in trendy cafés, since they are closed as well.

Is waiting the only option? The authors of this piece, who themselves are stuck in Berlin, wondered whether a Grantchester could be found where we are. True, Brooke is partial to Grantchester in particular, since according to him the people in other Cambridgeshire villages are mean, dirty, twisted, and also shoot their wives. This seemed exaggerated to us. Surely there must be other quaint villages across the globe.

In the poem Brooke suggests that in Germany das Betreten is verboten [entering is forbidden] everywhere, which may have been accurate 100 years ago, but is not the case now. True, there is no public footpath system like in England, and most maps are inferior as well. But countryside walks are possible and popular nevertheless. Indeed, in the north of the city we found the farming village of Lübars, which was once the only genuine piece of countryside in West-Berlin while the city was divided. There were meadows, a river, and willow trees, which arguably already covers some essential aspects of going to Grantchester.

Mere meadows aren’t enough though, for what would a trip to Grantchester be without a stop at the Orchard Tea Garden? Brooke doesn’t explicitly mention the Orchard (the Orchard’s website does mention him though). Yet, a tea break was still an important part of the Grantchester idyll that Brooke paints: “Stands the church clock at ten to three? / Is there honey still for tea?”, he asks. While neither of us particularly enjoys honey in our tea, we were still eager to recreate Brooke’s and our own countless afternoon teas at Grantchester.

Benjamin Marschall

Even without a pandemic going on behind us this would have been tricky, as the essential ingredients for cream tea - scones and clotted cream - are not widely available in Germany. Research revealed that creating clotted cream at home would be too lengthy a process for the night before our stroll, so we had to make do without. But scones could still be made. In good old-fashioned British spirit we consulted the BBC GoodFood website. It emerged that one easily underestimates how long 4cm is (the BBC’s recommendation for the thickness of cut-out scones) and our scones turned out a little thin. Fortunately, we did not allow for this to hamper our enthusiasm too much and took to our meadows to enjoy our slightly adapted cream tea.

A further component of a trip to Grantchester is of course a visit to one of the local pubs. We prefer the Green Man for its back-yard outdoor seating and hope post-pandemic life will see it open and unchanged. While it might be a little indulgent to visit both the (imagined) Orchard and enjoy a pint at the (replacement) Green Man back-to-back, exceptional circumstances call for exceptional measures. Fortunately, a local pub close to the replacement meadows was open and selling take-away beer in plastic cups (which incidentally reminded us of summer beers in front of The Mill pub, sigh). However, it has to be noted that drinking beer, for Rupert Brooke, was an exclusively German pastime. He wrote that the Germans “drink beer around; -- and there (in Grantchester) the dews / are soft beneath a morn of gold”. We must respectfully disagree with Mr. Brooke: Grantchester and a pint go well together, and the replacement pint (in our case German 500 ml) and Berlin’s replacement Grantchester work just as well.

We managed one last trip to the pub before they were closedBenjamin Marschall

We also remembered the Grantchester church as an important part of the village (not least because of the TV series). A similar church could be found in our rural part of Berlin. One of us further recalled that on her first walk to Grantchester she made the mistake of taking the road back to Cambridge. While this isn’t an ideal route for pedestrians, it did offer a view of some beautiful cherry trees close to Wolfson - not unlike a cherry tree we found close to the church in Lübars. Cows also make up an essential part of the Grantchester experience - one that we were sadly not able to recreate here. Instead we admired a beautiful foal and its mother.


Mountain View

Looking at the smaller picture

While it is sad to miss what one is used to, there’s also the opportunity to discover new things. Hills, for instance, are noticeably absent both from Brooke’s poem and the Cambridgeshire landscape, but as it happens the highest elevation in Berlin is right next to Lübars. We could thus end our excursion by climbing the dazzling 120m and enjoying a spectacular view of the city. We hope that others can also find comfort in these unusual times by discovering their own private Grantchester or whatever their favourite Cambridge haunt may be - provided it is consistent with the local laws and regulations.

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