Aldekerk is a village near Germany’s post-industrial Ruhr Valley, but it’s all immaculate half-timbered houses and shivering lace curtains. I went there last May and when I arrived – it was a Saturday morning – there seemed not to be anyone outside. Somewhere the mayor’s son was getting married, and I’d been warned that no one would be available to talk to me during my visit. As I wandered past the window boxes of geraniums, the sober war memorial, the parish steeples, a fire engine roared down Hochstrasse in celebration, and I glimpsed a tidy group of people disappearing into a brick Fachwerk inn. The only other signs of life were two old women on their knees scraping weeds from the grout between flagstones. Aldekerk is the sort of village where not even plants may grow out of place, where until recently you might have whiled away your entire life without breaking out of Platt, the Dutch-soaked dialect that renders speech lively and incomprehensible to outsiders. The most recent census gave the proportion of foreigners in the area as 2.8 per cent.
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