In July of this year I was invited to the launch of the UK’s first Accessible Strandkorb (literally a beach basket), at the German Gymnasium. This was organised both by the German National Tourist Office and the Tourism office of Lower Saxony. The weather was suitably British and a Strandkorb was needed to protect us from the cold summer day.
This didn’t dampen festivities and a competition crossword was used to test our knowledge of Lower Saxony, of which I thought I knew nothing, hence my surprise when I won and was awarded a trip to Wolfsburg in Lower Saxony. I did in fact, know all the answers including the capital Hanover. So I started to read up on Lower Saxony and was further enlightened by the TV Series Victoria. She was the grand-daughter of George III the Hanoverian King of Germany, Great Britain and Ireland until Victoria became Queen – females weren’t allowed to accede to the throne in Hanover while any male of the dynasty survived; so instead of Victoria, her uncle succeeded to the throne. Nevertheless the UK has had a strong connection to this part of Germany.
But I digress, I claimed my prize in October, accompanied by the Relative Lieutenant and flew to Hanover for our trip to Wolfsburg, home of Volkswagen, staying at the Five Star Ritz Carlton, all courtesy of the Lower Saxony tourist board. We were advised to fly to Berlin or Hanover and chose the latter as it was nearer. Unfortunately we arrived after 10pm and didn’t want to tackle public transport so we tried to find an accessible taxi – not easy and even the concierge at the Ritz found it difficult. It cost €200 so I would use the public transport system in future as we successfully went by train on the return to Hanover – more of that to come in Part 2.
Wolfsburg it turns out, is one of the richest cities in Germany due to the automotive industry and is famous as the location of Volkswagen AG’s headquarters and the world’s biggest car plant. According to our guide, the Germans love of VW cars hasn’t diminished since the ’emissions scandal’ as they believe it’s not the only guilty car company!?
Created in 1938 to house workers of the Volkswagen (people’s car), the Wolfsburg factories were erected to assemble the Volkswagen Beetle. Adolf Hitler also got involved in the Volkswagen project, and ordered the production of a ‘basic vehicle capable of transporting two adults and three children at 100 km/h (62 mph). He wanted his German citizens to have the same access to a car as the Americans’. I have to say the factory is magnificent, just like a ‘Nazi Megastructure’.
The Autostadt where the Ritz Carlton is located is the visitor attraction next to the VW factory that features the pavilions of the company’s model range: Audi, Bentley, Bugatti, Ducati, Lamborghini, Porsche, etc. The hotel serves the visitors to Autostadt as well as customers picking up their new cars from the factory. The cars are stored in glass silos ready for collection, like a giant vending machine. As you can imagine this was heaven for the ‘Petrol Head’/Jeremy Clarkson look a like, Relative Lieutenant.
The Ritz Carlton and Autostadt are completely accessible. At the hotel everything you need is on the ground floor (bar, restaurant etc.) and the rooms are accessed by well lit and well indicated lifts. There’s also a spa that floats in the lake with a heated pool (there are grab rails and steps into the pools but no hoist). The first night we just ate (& drank) in the bar and were serenaded by a live jazz duo whose performance included the theme to the Pink Panther, on sax and double bass. Whilst playing the saxophonist crept up to members of the audience like a panther and frightened more than one of us!?
As far as the accessible room is concerned it was amazing, one of the best in my experience. It was decorated to the same high, modern, standard as the regular rooms with the addition of the necessary facilities i.e. alarms in the bathroom and bedroom, walk-in shower & toilet with grab rails, smooth flooring throughout, fully adjustable lighting plus three great extras: first a fully height adjustable bed, second a height adjustable Hi Lo HEWI sink and thirdly a night concierge who didn’t mind helping me into/out of bed in the early hours!! The video shows the adjustable sink, not sure I like the look of the man??
The staff at the hotel couldn’t do enough for us and the service was friendly and impeccable without being over-intrusive. This was also true of their 3 Star Michelin restaurant Aqua, where we were treated to the tasting menu. At this point I should say we weren’t sure if the alcohol was included in the prize trip so we were slightly apprehensive as vintage champagne and wines appeared at every course but as the Lieutenant said after the second glass ‘no going back now’. The menu by chef Sven Elverfeld consisted of :
Caramelized Kalamata olive & Green olive, caper & smoked almond
Vitello Tonnato “Tartar”
Our burger – roasted beef cheeks & mountain cheese
Gillardeau oyster, artichoke & argan oil
Foie gras & Mole
Marinated chicory & fig
Lemon sour cream, shallot pickles, guacamole & pomegranate
Saddle of lamb from Muritz – cooked in hay
(Soz no photo of this but it was the most delicious well cooked piece of lamb. The knife just slid through the tender meat….mmmm!)
Topinambur, ricotta, herbs & hazelnuts
Champagne cream sorbet „Edition Ruinart Rosé“
Cherry & cherry wood
Matcha and coconut
Elderberry, peanut & champagne
Muscat pumpkin, cranberries, yoghurt & pumpkin seed oil
Donut with sour cream, Campari-Orange & black sesame
Afterwards it was straight to bed as we’d consumed at least five different wines and champagnes, I felt like Monty Python’s Mr. Creosote and just couldn’t eat another ‘petit morceau’! Watch The clip with caution……….
The Michelin Guide says of Aqua
‘Sven Elverfeld has secured his place at the very top of the German culinary world. The modern, creative notes forming an integral part of his expressive and fully flavoured dishes and never seeking to dazzle or dissemble. The elegant service is also beyond reproach.’
We couldn’t agree more as it was one of the most interesting (and tasty) menus we’d eaten in a long time and the wines were superb. I particularly liked the champagnes from lesser known vineyards.
The next day we planned our return to Hanover but not before my favourite Front Of House Manager – Dinesh – surprised us with a packed lunch for the journey. I also have to tell you about the trains and the Autostadt tour but all that is in Part 2 of, very, accessible Wolfsburg………….To be continued.