If you read my last entry, dear Reader, you will recall that William and I were in the throes of our impending move to Middle Georgia. After a few days of luxuriating in self pity (just a few!), I became intent on making the most of our remaining time in Europe.
This past weekend I arranged for a trip through one of Germany’s most popular regions: Bavaria. Tiny medieval towns, quiet country roads, and all the schnitzel and schneeballen you can schtomach!
Within moments of leaving the mietwagon with our rental car, I am already reveling in the timeliness, tidiness, and efficiency of Germany. The sun is shining and Billy is singing his heart out behind the wheel: …your lipstick, his collar, don’t bother angel – I know exactly what goes on…! We wiggle in our seats to the throwback jams of Taking Back Sunday. The vacay vibes are strong.
A Liberation Celebration
Our first stop is the Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Site. William and I enter the camp through a gate proclaiming Arbeit Macht Frei or “work sets you free.” The grounds are quiet. The only sounds are the soft crunch of gravel beneath our feet and the low murmur of the audioguides pressed to our ears.
What impresses me most about the Dachau Memorial is the attention paid not simply to the suffering of prisoners (which we know was tremendous), but also to the social, economic, and political climate of Germany leading up to these events. The exhibit dares to examine the circumstances in which ordinary people can become complicit in such extraordinary evil. It’s an uncomfortable, but thoughtful, endeavor.
On our way out, I spot a plaque I had missed. It marks Dachau’s liberation by the Americans on April 29, 1945. April 29?
“Hey,” I call out, catching Billy’s attention. “Isn’t today the 29th?”
He wanders closer and peeks at the plaque over my shoulder. Yup.
“Maybe that explains the happy sunshine today… a little nod to Liberation Day,” I muse.
“Yes. A Liberation Celebration!” Billy exclaims. I take his hand, both of us smiling at the thought as we head back to the car.
Cuckoo For You
As we drive further into the countryside, Billy and I marvel at the pristine condition of the vehicles on the road – we’re not in Naples anymore! A few times I remind Billy to slow down: “This is Germany. They have rules in this country.” We pass endless miles of bright green pasture on our way to Rothenburg ob der Tauber. We sing. We snack.
Rothenburg is known for its charming half-timbered houses and medieval architecture. One of the few walled towns left in Europe, its cobblestone streets and preserved gatehouse lend a fairytale feel. We explore the Main Square, buying trinkets and pausing to admire cuckoo clocks. (Germany, in case you didn’t know, is famous for its mechanical cuckoo clocks manufactured in the Black Forest).
We are greeted by the saleswoman who promptly inquires, “What kind of clocks do your families have?”
Family clocks? The question reminds me of an encounter I had a few years ago when a woman asked me where my family liked “to summer.” Pff! Girlfriend, in my family summer is a season, not a verb, thankyouverymuch. But back to the clocks….
Billy and I peruse the wall of clocks, attempting to determine our cuckoo style. It’s exciting to make such a lofty decision together. After a few moments of careful consideration, Billy declares, “I want one with dancers on top.”
‘Dancers on top’ puts us in a higher price range but I had to agree, what was the point without dancers on top? This one was too big, that one was – dare I say – dinky. This one is too boxy and that one not nearly boxy enough. Too cutesy! Boring. This one gave me the vague sense that it was trying too hard…. Until finally, we find the clock for us: a midsize model with a half-timbered facade, blue shutters, and dancers on top. BOOM!
Later we stop to admire the facade of a nearby church. Our quiet contemplation is interrupted by a cluster of commotion nearby and my ear catches the phrase, Mamma Mia! Billy and I exchange glances. Italians. My husband beckons them with a Ciao! Two elderly couples approach us, eager to chat in their native tongue. The men go about the usual exchange: Where are you from? Naples! Where in Naples? Pozzuoli! My cousin lives in Pozzuoli! We’re from Trieste.
The women, characteristically disinterested in the talk of men, turn to me and get right down to business, “Siete innamorati?/Are you two in love?”
Billy overhears and proudly announces, “Sì, siamo sposati/Yes, we’re married.”
Everyone rejoices (I mean, it is pretty fun). We shake hands, we kiss (left cheek, right cheek), and part friends.
William and I end the day by walking the perimeter of the old town wall. We poke our heads through tower windows and peer down into small gardens full of tulips. The sun begins to set, drenching the pointed roofs of Rothenburg in a warm, golden hue.
We’re Still Cool, Right?
The next morning we awake to the delicate, cheery chirping of birds – infinitely more soothing than the desperate wailing of Napoli seagulls. Billy and I have breakfast and hit the road, eager to get to Schwangau and do some hiking.
We drive straight to the base of Mount Tegelberg and lace up our Lowa hiking boots (a pricey but practical souvenir from our trip to Grindelwald). I purchase four hours of parking from the meter, certainly more than we need. You see, dear Reader, unlike Neapolitans, Germans are exacting when it comes to following procedure. It is with great satisfaction that I place our ticket on the dashboard, confident in our irreproachable behavior.
A sign at the base of the trail estimates our hike will take three hours. Billy and I both turn on our Polars – three hours? We’ll see about that. The trail is steep but it offers some stunning views of the lakes below, the alps above, and the überpopular Neuschwanstein Castle. (Fear not, dear Reader, we’ll take you there tomorrow). A mere two hours and 1,258 calories later, William and I reach the top. He indulges in some schnitzel at the summit restaurant and we take the last cable car down the mountain.
“Have you noticed there’s a lot of old people here?” Billy asks over dinner that evening.
A quick survey of the room confirms that yes, we seem to be on some kind of retiree road trip. Maybe the young people are too busy dropping pills in Ibiza to appreciate Franconian Germany – and that suits us just fine! Indeed, we’re old enough by now to know the value of a tranquil weekend.