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An ale of a journey for CAMRA chief
THE man who would one day champion traditional real ale in Swindon was born in 1945 in Leipzig, which later became part of Communist-controlled East Germany.
Hans Hoffbauer’s father, a painter and decorator in civilian life and a paratrooper in wartime, had been killed the previous year during the German retreat from the Soviet Union.
Hans’ mother was a dressmaker. Later she met an artist who became Hans’ stepfather, and there would be a younger brother for Hans when he was in his mid-teens.
The Hoffbauers managed to escape East Germany before its Kremlin-backed rulers turned the whole nation into a fortress.
“My family left in 1960,” Hans said, “which was a few months before the wall went up.
“Things got much more difficult once the wall went up, but at the time we left it was easier because the whole of Berlin was under the administration of the Allies and we had four sectors with an integrated transport system.”
This transport system, passing in and out of the Soviet and western-controlled zones of the city, was to prove crucial to Hans and his family.
“My stepfather had friends in West Germany, in the Ruhr. You could get exit visas to visit relatives, but they tended not to let whole families go. I was 15 and my brother was nine months.”
Hans’ mother, stepfather and baby brother went first, while Hans stayed with friends of his grandmother just outside Berlin.
The plan for Hans was simple: board a tram in the Eastern sector, get off in the West and hope no guards spotted him and hauled him back to where he’d come from.
“It was all very exciting for a 15-year-old,” he recalled with a wry smile.
Having reached West Berlin, the only way to reach his family was by air, and a friend of his stepfather had arranged a ticket.
In West Berlin Hans tried his first Coca Cola and enjoyed it so much that he decided to have another one when he reached the airport.
He then learnt that freedom included the capitalist rule of supply and demand: “The Coca Cola at the airport was four times the price!”
Hans came to England in 1969 with the Englishwoman who was to be his first wife, having met her when the two were at college in Frankfurt.
They would remain together until the early 1980s. The couple lived first in her home town of Stoke-on-Trent, which is close to the major brewing town of Burton-upon-Trent.
He acquired a love of British beer there, although the British variety wasn’t the first he’d tried.
“I was 15 when my brother was born and my mother had complications. My step-uncle took me out to a pub in Leipzig where there were Czech beers. I was drunk and sick. That was off-putting for a while, but when I was a student in Frankfurt they all drank. That was German beer.
“The first time I had English beer I thought it was not very nice. It was too warm. But the fact that it was not gassy appealed to me – I thought it was a good thing not to feel I had to burp all the time.”
That rather inauspicious first experience quickly matured into a love of real ale that is still with Hans more than 40 years later.
Hans read modern European history at the University of East Anglia, and a varied career saw him work as a teacher, a translator, and a computer programmer and manager with Her Majesty’s Stationary Office.
A new job with Motorola in the mid-1990s brought him to Swindon and in 2003 he began working in IT for Swindon Council, retiring six years later.
His involvement with CAMRA began after the move to Swindon. Hans had had friends who were involved but had never got around to joining.
He is delighted by the fact real ale is growing in popularity even in the teeth of the recession.
“Real ale compared to lager is still in a minority,” he admitted, “but it’s enjoying a steady growth, which is a good thing.
“Maybe people are going more for quality nowadays, rather than following advertising trends.”