AN international friendship which developed from an act of kindness in Limerick 20 years ago is to feature in a documentary being filmed for German TV.
A crew for SWR - which broadcasts to millions of homes in southwestern states of Baden-Württemberg and Rhineland-Palatinate - filmed on location around Limerick this week with Clareview’s Eddie Kiely and Peter Benke, from the small town of Kirchberg, among the central characters.
Peter and his family were travelling around Ireland in a camper van in 1993 when their gearbox blew up in Limerick city. It happened on a Sunday night in August and with no mechanic to be found, the Benkes ended up enjoying the hospitality of Eddie and his wife Kay while a new gearbox was ordered from Munich. That misfortune and those few days ended in a friendship which endures to this day.
For Eddie’s bailout of the Germans, he was named a Failte Ireland tourism ambassador for 1993, and groups of friends have been travelling over and back between Limerick and Kirchberg ever since.
Peter’s home town is a short distance from Frankfurt-Hahn Airport, a former US military installation transformed into an air freight hub and, in more recent years, a base for Ryanair.
But its future as a base for low-cost airlines is under threat as the European Commission investigates whether illegal state aids were given to the airport by the regional government.
“It has become very important for the local economy with jobs increasing by around 11,000 since the airport was set up with low-cost,” explained SWR reporter Edgar Verheyen.
“So what we are trying to film is the effect of the airport not just on the economic side but also the human side, which is why we are in Limerick today. These German guys all live close to Frankfurt-Hahn in Kirchberg and over the years they have arranged a very good connection with Limerick, like a tourist programme, where they come over and back, visiting the local pubs and playing music,” he said.
And that human dimension could be put at risk if EU regulation signals the end of the low fares era at Frankfurt-Hahn. Ryanair no longer connects the airport to Shannon but round trips for four crew and equipment to Farranfore set them back only €700.
Obliging Eddie said he was delighted to show the film crew good vantage points around the Treaty Stone for the viewers in Germany.
“They have sent the TV crew over to follow the situation with Hahn Airport and Ryanair, which has made all these kind of situations possible. Peter came to Limerick in his camper van in 1993 and I think in and around 1996 that Shannon was opened up to Hahn by Ryanair and it started from there. Unfortunately you can’t go there from Shannon at the moment but we still have the opportunity to go over. I have been bringing over groups of 10 or 12 lads at a time and we stay over there playing music and socialising. We always get a great welcome,” said Eddie.
And it seems that the feeling is mutual after all these years.
Gert Weil also comes from Kirchberg, which is located in a region of southern Germany famous for its wheat beers and the dark dunkelweizen variety.
But what do they make of Irerland’s dark beers?
“The beer is very nice here. For us it is Guinness, Guinness, Guinness, It has a very good taste and you can drink a lot of it with no problems with your brain the next morning, no hangovers,” said Gert.
Whatever the long-term future of Frankfurt-Hahn and low-cost flights, Peter and his friends intend returning to Limerick again within the next few weeks.
But next time will be arriving by boat taking a cruise along Ireland’s longest river all the way down from Carrick-on-Shannon - hopefully without too many mechanical issues.