Jonathan Schofield, German guests and an everyday moment of magic

There was one German who liked to wander. He was called Jürgen and he was one of a party of mainly elderly guests to Manchester from Solingen, 16 miles east of Dusseldorf. They were in Manchester to learn about “this city’s exquisitely interesting radical history”, as one of them charmingly put it. Frequent stops were necessary as the group weren’t the quickest on their feet. This, fortunately, is in the nature of the guided tours I lead around Manchester.

that day they never stopped remarking on how amazing the Mancunian reaction had been

One such halt took place at the corner of Dale Street and Tariff Street in the Northern Quarter. I was talking about the textile warehouse buildings here, and explaining how the street had been used regularly as a double for New York in films such The Avengers’ movie, Captain America

Wanderer Jürgen had decided to explore. He climbed the steep stairs at the entrance of one of the former warehouses to take a peek inside Beatnikz Republic bar. This warehouse was built around 120 years ago for Robert Howarth & Co, cotton spinners, as I told the group. These structures were always intended to be show-off places, with drama added to any visit by ornate entrances and grand staircases.

On the way back down from his sneaky look, our very tall German, aged 73, tripped, careened down the last two steps and stumbled across the pavement, his arms flailing but failing to defend him. His head bounced off the tarmac of the road with a sound like a bowling ball smashing against a bowling lane.

Kindness Of Strangers In Manchester On Dale Street 1
35 Dale Street, Manchester, and its steep stairs Image: Confidentials

Over the heads of eighteen Germans I caught the last tumble and heard the crack of the impact. I rushed round the group but the angels were quicker.

First there was a gentleman in his thirties who’d been sitting in Tariff and Dale bar over the road. He’d seen the fall, abandoned his post-work glass of wine without a moment’s hesitation and charged into action. Then came reinforcements, two young people, perhaps early twenties, a woman and a man, sprinting to help. People walking past asked if they could do anything. Every single one of them. 

"I’ll call an ambulance," I said. “Done that,” said one of the young people. Suddenly, a chair was found, ice brought from Tariff and Dale and applied to a literally golf-ball-sized bubble forming on Jürgen’s bloodied forehead. I felt like I was having an out-of-body viewing from a roof opposite - looking down at myself as these wonderful locals took control.

The gent from the bar kept Jürgen talking, asked his name and age, and explained how he used to be a site-manager on building sites so had first aid skills. The problem was that all the other seventeen people in the German group were crowding round and offering advice. It was noisy, chaotic, shouty, so I corralled them together and told them I was going to take them back to their hotel, Motel One, to give Jürgen some space. “Good idea,” said Tariff and Dale man, “if you get them away from here except maybe his wife, that will help calm your friend.” “I’ll be right back,” I said.

The German leader of the group, Manfred, said he should stay as well to wait for the ambulance. I looked back as I walked down Dale Street with the remaining members of the group, and saw Jürgen, his wife and Manfred, with our guardian angels waiting for the ambulance in something, it seemed, approaching tranquility. 

Motel One Kindness Of Strangers
Motel One, Piccadilly, where the Germans were staying Image: Hodder + Partners

When I returned from the hotel I thanked the two younger folk and they left. Eventually, with Jürgen settled and calm, our first-aider was relieved from duty and went off into the evening. We showered him with heartfelt appreciation. I looked across at Tariff and Dale and there in the window I could see his half-drunk glass of white wine sitting on a high table.

The ambulance never came. 

Manfred took Jürgen and his wife to hospital in a taxi. In the morning I learned that the Manchester Royal Infirmary staff had been excellent, and our patient was seen quickly. The doctor suggested Jürgen stay in overnight for observation, but the Germans collectively decided he would be better-off in his hotel with his wife and compatriots.

I picked the group up the following morning for another walking tour with Jürgen, bless him, sporting an absolute shiner. Thankfully the bubble on his forehead had deflated after that rapid application of ice. 

Solingen Germany
The town of Solingen in Germany: the visitors' home town Image: Wikipedia

Solingen is only 12 miles from Wuppertal in Germany, where Friedrich Engels grew up. The co-author of The Communist Manifesto spent, off and on, 22 years in Manchester. The group were fascinated by Engels’ experience as a communist in this most capitalist of nineteenth century cities. 

We visited Chetham's Library where Engels read with Karl Marx. The main picture on this page shows the group. Jurgen and his black eye is sitting on the far right. The group were also interested in other political aspects of the city’s history, unions, Chartists, Coops, Suffragettes and so forth, but that day they never stopped remarking on how amazing the Mancunian reaction had been to Jürgen’s fall. 

Again and again they would repeat how kind everybody was and how they were amazed at how young people had come running so quickly to help. Even the taxi-driver was complimented for doing everything he could to help on the trip to and into MRI. It was heart-warming they said, one lady described it as “one of the most beautiful and kind things she had ever witnessed”. I suggested it would be the same in Solingen, she wasn't so sure. 

Chethams Library Solingen Group
Chetham's Library, where Engels read with Marx Image: Confidentials

I agreed with my guests’ sentiments. They were polite enough not to mention that the ambulance hadn't turned up. 

Yet, I felt annoyed and a little ashamed too. In the confusion of the moment I had failed to take the names of the people who ran to our assistance. So, I can’t directly recognise their actions, I can’t send them a note of thanks, I can’t buy that man another glass of wine for the one he abandoned. Of course, they will not be bothered about any of that, they did what they had to and then calmly went on their way. 

All I can say, is they are fine people. They are being talked about in Germany right now I reckon. Manfred wrote after the trip, “We will never forget the kindness of strangers in your city.” 

In many ways this was a commonplace incident, an everyday occurrence, yet at the same time it wasn't, at the same time it was special, an illumination, a good deed in and of itself without expectation of reward. 

We'd all do the same wouldn't we? One hopes so. It's said we live in cynical times. These good Mancunians gave the lie to that.

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