Friends, neighbours, foreigners' councillor, Jorge Bravo and infrastructure councillor, José María Rivas Gálvez, joined Alfons Mettel who retired earlier this year after 30 years as president of El Capistrano village in Nerja last Thursday for the renaming of a plaza. Plaza Alfons Mettel, which is in situated in the heart of the village, was named after Mr Mettel in recognition of his hard work and dedication to El Capistrano spanning three decades.
Alfons and Rosie Mettel originally bought a house in the development in 1978, seven years after construction started. The couple used it as a holiday home for a decade and became permanent residents 1n 1988.
Alfons, who spent many years working in top level positions for Unilever in Africa and South America, was asked soon after moving in to take over as president of the village. On accepting the position, he promised his wife that it would “only be for a year or so,” he explains. He took over in the midst of what some have described as “a rebellion.” There was a bank loan that had to be paid back and problems with electricity supply and the sewage system ensued. Many homeowners were not paying the monthly community fees and there was division among residents.
One of the first steps that the new president took was to restrict the use of the pool to those who were up to date with community fees. This led to a knock on the door one Sunday morning, Alfons recalls, from the Guardia Civil, who had received calls from residents asking Alfons to be “more lenient.” The case ended up going to the high court in Madrid. Eventually people started to pay community fees again and the all important swimming pool was available once again to everyone. “We came here to retire and relax,” Alfons jokes.
Among the numerous residents, projects and anecdotes they have met, seen and can recount in the time they have lived there, Rosie and Alfons will have witnessed the filming of popular Spanish television series, Verano Azul in 1981 which used El Capistrano. British television presenter, Judith Chalmers, once owned a property there and they will have lived through the timeshare boom of the late 1970s and 80s.
The couple are originally from Germany, but through Alfons's job with Unilever, have lived in The Congo, Kenya, Mexico and Venezuela, where their two children were born. Reflecting on their 30 years in Nerja, Rosie says, “We have never lived anywhere for so long!”
The couple both speak fluent English, Spanish and French along with their native German. “For work purposes the lingua franca in many countries we have lived in has been English but if you live in the country you have to speak the language,” Alfons says of their linguistic skills.
Rosie has been involved in work with organisations such as the International Red Cross in the different countries the couple have lived in. She has helped in schools and hospitals to get necessary resources and on a project in Zaire along with the Austrian ambassador, to educate people on birth control.
Alfons was awarded an OBE in 1988 for services to industry and for helping British people who were living in the same countries as him. He says that he was the 75th German person to receive the title. Although he admits he was “very honoured to have been honoured,” he confesses that he never uses the title. Alfons was unable to travel to London for the ceremony. However, he was presented with the award at a later date by the UK ambassador to Spain on behalf of the Queen, when a British warship docked in Almeria.
In 1993 the then Mayor of Nerja approached Alfons to set up an association for presidents of housing developments and that is when APCUN (Association of Presidents of Urbanisations In Nerja) was born. The mayor was aware of other presidents of housing developments facing similar problems and knew about the progress he had made at El Capistrano.
Despite the inauspicious start to his tenure as president of El Capistrano Alfons has turned things around in the last 30 years. Potential enemies he may have made in the early days of swimming pool restrictions have become long-term neighbours and friends and the couple talk of the sense of community that exists in the area. “Our neighbours are very nice people, it's a very close community with lots of activities that have developed over the years,” says Rosie.
There are organisations, lectures, films, concerts, international dinners, a social room, book club and library. A host of volunteers of all ages help out with the various activities and despite language barriers “people do come together” they say.
At 85, Alfons says he is looking forward to a retirement full of travel and writing. He has a book published and says he has another in the pipeline. He adds that he always said that if and when there was someone able and willing to take over the job then he would step down. It took him 30 years but Keith Taylor, who was previously Vice-president, took over at the beginning of 2017. “The hand over went very smoothly,” confirms Alfons.