Friday, December 2nd.
We launched. Off like a rocket. Except our rocket was a Volkswagen TRoc. Let me clarify. Before launch we spent a good five minutes figuring out how to open the back hatch. One hurdle behind us. Then it was up to Rylan to execute a 145 degree turn out of the tightest parking spot you have ever seen. It was after that we launched. We had no service in the parking garage so once up in the wild clean air we hurriedly consulted the maps on the go. That is a fool proof plan in a strange car in a strange country in a strange continent while it's raining. Eventually, and you don't know what eventually all entails, we were headed for lunch. Through the country fifteen minutes to a little town, past the McDonalds, then hung a left and we found a cafe. The man behind the counter spoke no English, but with aggressive pointing, and some back and forth conversing that no one could understand we both managed to order something we didn't want. It was damp and cold outside, and dry and cold inside. Energy shortage, anyone? With full bellies and fortified courage we cleared our plates like the locals and went to the counter to pay. No idea what amount the cafe worker told us, and so blank were our looks that another patron eating lunch bellowed out the amount for us in English. Success.
We lurched backwards out of again the tightest parking spot you've ever seen. A man walked by with shoes that perfectly matched his parka and I let out a melodramatic gasp. Rylan slammed on the brakes as he looked frantically around for whatever it was I was saving him from hitting, and the VW stalled. Note to self. No gasping till we are a bit more comfortable with things. We stopped at McDonalds for a kaffee. Again no English spoken behind the counter, but we could switch the kiosks to English to order. How hard is ordering coffee, really. The lady behind the counter gave me a once÷over, then a visible shake of the head when her gaze hit my socks and Birkenstocks. Back on the road, headed to the town of Dachau. Stopped at two electronic stores till I found a portable keyboard. Think twice on that purchase, Grace.
Dachau concentration camp.
A thousand sorrows and more. We stood in the middle of the enormous courtyard. A grey sky, and a raindrop running down my back. Cold. gloom. Blinded by drizzle, or maybe that’s tears. In the distance figures huddled under black umbrellas, peering into dark barracks. I shivered from the inside out. Hate, horror, and a trampled hope have walked here. I imagined the rows of prisoners standing in this very spot for roll call, hours upon hours in these temperatures. Thin, wind beaten sleeves with holes, toes peeking out of soggy shoes, holding up the dead to complete the count. Standing, forced to watch barbaric punishments. So much loss, so much sacrifice, and we walk free. We bowed our heads.
We had little more than an hour in the camp, so on the recommendation of the visitor centre personnel we toured the museum and walked through the barracks. The information seemed endless, and it didn’t take long to feel overwhelmed. The camp is enormous. It would have been way too much walking for Rylan to see it all, and it was time to get on the road anyway. Twilight was settling over the camp as we walk out the iron gates. I shuddered.
We turned our faces and our VW towards Schwangau. Narrow, winding, rural roads. Dimly lit farms flashed by. Ancient houses. Huge houses. Houses attached to barns. Again. and again. Through one window we saw a family eating dinner. Through the next window of the same building we saw cows. Everything looked so efficient. Tiny driveways that Grace would not want to turn around in, stick shift or not. No extra space, no extra lights on. So many buildings were dark. It’s not hard to imagine that many of those buildings are cold inside, just like the cafe we had lunch at. Later when we stopped Rylan researched energy prices. At $0.45/kwh USD it’s not surprising most lights are off and houses are cold. For reference, the average North American pays approximately $0.14/kwh USD.
Hotel Villa Ludwig in Schwangau beckoned out of the darkness. We parked the VW in the tiniest underground parking garage, then schlepped the luggage to our room. The lady at the front desk made our dinner reservations, and we walked 300 metres to Alpenstuben. I nearly fell asleep over our burgers and fries. Water cost 4€ but we ordered it anyway as we were nigh unto dehydrated. It came in half litre glass bottles that are perfect for refilling and taking along.
We walked back to the hotel. The shadowy darkness hides the Ammer mountains looming over us, but in the darkness one can just about feel their presence. Lazy snowflakes dance in front of us in perfect silence. I am nearly overcome with a feeling of déjà vu. After years and years of reading books set in a European setting, I can imagine most any of them happening in this little town. Timber frame buildings surrounded us. Narrow streets without a vehicle in sight. Fog obscured the spires of the old church, and I wouldn’t even have blinked if a horse and carriage had thundered out of the darkness and the Scarlet Pimpernel himself ran into the tavern. I pinched myself. Yes, this moment was real.
Things I learned today: German keyboards are not like North American keyboards. I still haven’t figured out how to type a hyphen. They Y and Z are switched around. There are multiple German letters I will likely never use. There are symbols I never imagined I’d see. Maybe I will return it and see if Staples ships the portable keyboard I ordered by the next time we come to Germany.