‘Generous’ Barking and Dagenham freeman dies at 82

Willi Schallenberg (left) enjoys a Cockney night in Barking and Dagenham.

Willi Schallenberg (left) enjoys a Cockney night in Barking and Dagenham. - Credit: Archant

Tributes have been paid to a “gentleman” who championed the forging of friendship between two coutnries.

Friedrich Wilhelm “Willi” Schallenberg, a founding member of the club celebrating the twinning between Barking and Dagenham and Witten in west Germany, died at 82 after a lengthy battle with cancer.

His tireless work in promoting links between the twin areas was recognised in 2001, when he was awarded an honorary freedom of Barking and Dagenham.

Dagenham colleague Alan Stevens remembers his friend, who died on January 10 in Witten, as a loving dad, grandpa and friend.

“He was a gentleman,” he reflected. “He was a very generous and friendly man, he was 100 per cent behind the twinning,” explained Alan, 66.

“He was very open, he was a very hospitable man, he was very much a family man.”

After helping establish the club in 1979, Willi enjoyed hosting his English guests with outings around Witten.

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“He and his wife Margo used to invite us across for an English tea,” remembered Alan. “He brought out bone china cups, he loved to put it on for us.”

Alan, who remained in the club after moving from Dagenham to Southend-On-Sea, recalls that his German friend was a small-holder who loved tending his land after retiring from his job as a maintenance engineer in 1992.

Less well-known is that Willi owned a turn-of-the-century horse and coach which he would enter into competitions around Witten – and sang in an all-male voice choir.

Willi, who also recieved the Order of Merit from Germany in 1989, enjoyed everything from hops-picking to a Cockney night on countless trips to the borough.

“He was one of those people who always worked behind the scenes,” added Alan, who will celebrate Willi’s life in Witten in May. “I rated him very highly and had a lifelong friendship with him. We will miss him hugely.”