London 2012 Olympics: The world is in town

During the Olympics many countries have national houses to promote their culture and provide a ‘home away from home’ for fans, athletes, officials and sponsors. Most of these are open to the public, some ticketed and some for free. I had seen a list of locations before the Games started, but wasn’t sure whether I would find time to visit any of these houses during the Olympic fortnight.

Club France at Old BillingsgateOn one of our walks along the Thames we saw Club France at Old Billingsgate across the river. Later that evening we stumbled across the Danish house at St Katherine Docks almost by accident. Whilst there were long queues for tickets at Club France, entrance to the official Danish Olympic house near Tower Bridge was free.Danish house at St Katharine DocksIn fact it wasn’t a house, but an outdoor area in front of the Dickens Inn pub. To get in, we walked across a little rope bridge past a replica Viking ship. Next we admired a LEGO version of the Olympic Park, built from more than 250,000 pieces, and a wind turbine, also built entirely with LEGO pieces.

Olympic Park in LEGOA partisan crowd was watching their men’s handball team on a large screen and several stalls were promoting Danish fashion and design. Others sold hot dogs, Danish bacon, smoked salmon and drinks. At half time TV presenters reported live from just a few metres away, using the picturesque maritime setting as backdrop to their temporary Olympic studio. They must be pretty famous in their native country as lots of people were taking pictures with their phones. The atmosphere was incredibly friendly and we were glad that we had taken this little side track on our way home.

A few days later I went to Canary Wharf where the entire Museum of London Docklands had been taken over by the German House. Entry was free before 5pm so I walked straight in and found myself in what can be best described as a Bavarian beer garden. Almost instantly my attention was drawn to a Strandkorb, a wicker beach basket typical for my home county Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. A tall guy asked if I wanted my picture taken and he didn’t have to ask twice. He was really friendly and told me that all the people working on the Mecklenburg stall were in fact police officers who had been seconded to London to promote Mecklenburg during the Olympics!

StrandkorbI spotted a Games Maker uniform in the crowd and introduced myself to Steffi who was working as a driver during the Games. We ended up chatting for a while over a German beer and it was really interesting to talk to another German volunteer. In the workforce canteen at Park lane I had heard a few stories from other drivers allocated to specific IOC delegations, but Steffi was not allocated to a particular person but on call for different types of clients. I was pretty impressed as I don’t think I would have been comfortable driving around London in a shiny Olympic BMW without knowing the city! The crowd was following the men’s single finals in the gymnastics on big TV screens, followed by track cycling from the velodrome. Somehow I found myself cheering for Chris Hoy rather than the German guy…

I didn’t stay too long as I was keen to see the MS Deutschland nearby. I have seen many cruise ships before at home in Warnemünde, but never had they been moored between skyscrapers! The ship, known in Germany as ‘Das Traumschiff’, was the official hospitality ship for the German team and not open to the public. The German team travelled home in style after the Games.

MS Deutschland moored at South QuayI went around South Quay and admired some of the world’s largest privately owned yachts. There was a large public screen on the other side of the quay. It was a bit sad that there was not a soul about to see Chris Hoy collect his sixth Olympic gold medal.

It was an afternoon full of contrasts. I enjoyed the friendly encounters and the unexpected sighting of the Strandkorb at the Deutsches Haus. However, seeing all these luxury yachts and the empty public viewing area at the foot of the Canary Wharf skyscrapers left a bit of a sour aftertaste to this Olympic experience.

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