In the King’s Footsteps (Day 4) The Longest Day

Zur deutschen Fassung dieses Berichts.


54

Two fishermen go to sea and I have the whole shore to myself.

At 8 o’clock, I snuck out of the cozy house without waking my hosts, because I wanted to catch the first ship that departs from Breitbrunn.

Will it even bother to make a stop for one single lonesome passenger?

It does, more punctual even than the railroad. The captain calls me through the loudspeaker, allowing me to take off the antivirus mask as I am the only one sitting in the wind at the bow.

55

From aboard the ship, you have a beautiful view of Diessen, featuring the church tower of the cathedral from chapter 42 most prominently. And behind it, I can already see High Mount Peissen, the highest point on the hike, which we should reach by tomorrow. I don’t like the thought of climbing it at all.

56

And another thing strikes me as I stand at the lookout, happy not to be a captain, because I would constantly get lost like Columbus: Outside of Diessen, several suspicious, huge installations glisten in the light of the morning sun. They are actually top secret, but I will reveal their secrets in chapter 60, accepting all the dire consequences that may ensue.

57

Diessen is very nice on the second visit, too, but the weather is even nicer, and thus I am drawn further south. Let’s see how far we will get today, because I have not planned for any accommodation.

At the end of the town, just before Schacky Park, there is a hitchhiking bench with several fold-out signs, where you can indicate your destination. I fold down the sign for Raisting, the next village. The King Ludwig Trail doesn’t really go through there, but I’m curious to see if it works.

Just a the sign falls into position, the first car brakes sharply. It is a young man who often uses this opportunity for a lift himself. Whenever he can, he takes hitchhikers with him. His little son has gotten so used to it that he thinks it’s great. Even when the car is full, the child thinks that you have to help other people. He then offers to climb into the trunk to make room for others.

“And where shall I take you?” he asks.

“Where are you going in Raisting?”

“To the butcher’s.”

“Then I’ll join you, I have to buy breakfast anyway.” And I like coincidence to guide my ways instead of plans or maps.

58

The butcher’s shop Weichart, founded in 1923, when Bavaria experienced a state of emergency and Hitler’s failed coup d’état, is very popular. Six hungry customers are already waiting in front of the store. It will be a bad day for the little pigs squeaking in the backyard.

But that’s how you get into a conversation, which of course soon revolves around my hike. “Where will you be sleeping tonight?” a woman asks. As she realizes that I have no idea yet, she offers: “If you are walking towards Diessen, you can stay at my house. The whole upper floor is vacant, you’ll have a wonderful view of the stars.”

If I accept every invitation here, I’ll never get away from Lake Ammer. But once again I am touched by the warm helpfulness. Does it only happen in this area? Or is it only this year, possibly as a positive side effect of a deadly but decelerating epidemic? Have people realized that there are more important things than work and money and competition and performance? Does the lack of regular social contacts lead to more openness towards strangers?

59

On the further way through Raisting, photographers with telephoto lenses are following me, as if word of my passage had already spread or was announced in the local newspaper.

Until I realize that they are here for storks.

60

The village of Raisting probably doesn’t ring a bell, although this is the place that makes all the literal bells ring. This is where your internet connection, your telephone line and your television program come from, at least if you live in Europe. Between the fields, there are dozens of giant antennas with diameters of up to 32 meters, which also search for aliens and control rockets and satellites. When a meteorite speeds towards Earth, the people here are the first ones to know about it. And if the meteorite hits right here, you’ll have to do without Facebook and Fox News until the internet and TV will be rebuilt from scratch (which hopefully wouldn’t be done).

A farmer chugs past on an old tractor as if to enhance the contrast between agriculture and technology.

In the middle of the 5G machines there is – maybe as camouflage, maybe it was there before – a small church with shade-providing trees, several benches and a view of the mountains that invites one to take a rest. Many cyclists come by, most of them electrified, as you would expect in such a high-tech region.

An old man follows on his rollator. His family had ventured ahead on their bicycles, probably hoping that he would get lost in the space radio antenna jungle and be taken to Guantanamo by the Counterintelligence Service. But someone who once found his way home from the Eastern Front cannot be shaken off that easily.

61

In the course of the day, I see barns again and again that are open on one side. Apparently, there is no theft here, maybe no crime at all. These would be perfect accommodations to spend a dry night.

But it is still too early.

So on we go.

62

While I am thinking of the open barns, the open houses, the open cars and the open people who invite me in, I wonder why other people are afraid.

“But this is dangerous!”

“I wouldn’t dare do that.”

“Oh my gosh, I hope nothing happens.”

These were some reactions to the announcement of this hike. People associate forest and nature and outside with danger, although many more people work themselves to death in offices, drink themselves to death in restaurants, or drive themselves to death on a highway.

Some friends from other continents do not even come to Germany at all anymore, because they read somewhere that we were overrun by wild hordes and that Sharia laws apply here. (Which, by the way, the little pigs from chapter 58 would welcome.) These people believe that a country that has twice reduced Europe to rubble and ashes suddenly becomes dangerous because there are now some people among us called Ali or Samira instead of Hans or Franz.

Perhaps one should only judge countries after having crossed them on foot. But always stay on the paths! Otherwise the wild bull will tear you to pieces.

62

The road to Wessobrunn is long, the sun is scorching, and the long stretch on the tarred road is an ordeal for the feet.

Time to hitchhike.

But this time, it doesn’t work. Car after car rushes past me, the drivers stubbornly looking ahead as if they hadn’t noticed me. Until after 20 minutes a friendly couple stops, two landscape gardeners on their way to an appointment: “We always stop for hitchhikers, that’s only natural.” So natural that I wonder what the preceding 57 drivers were thinking to let a hiker rot in the son. Husband and wife, who are spending their weekend working, drop me off in Wessobrunn directly in front of the monastery.

63

The small villages here have monasteries larger than small towns. Or had monasteries, I should say, because the secularization of 1803 destroyed a lot. Have I already explained about secularization? “Yes, more than enough,” the readers scream out in panic, referring me to chapters 49 and 50.

This is how the fraternal facility used to look like:

Only a third of the original complex is left, but even the remains do not fit into one photograph.

Wessobrunn was not only large, but also one of the great art and cultural sites of the German Middle Ages. Firstly, because of the specific stucco art which was developed here and which was applied in about 3000 churches and palaces throughout Europe. The highlight of this creative period is the world-famous church of Wies, which we should reach in a few days. Secondly, because of a language document, but I will come to that during my nap under the lime trees a little bit later (chapter 65).

Due to the accumulation of unfortunate circumstances, I arrived one hour late for the tour of the monastery wing, which is why there is only one cheekily stolen photo of it:

But apparently it was cheap to buy once it was ultimately abandoned in 2012, because it was bought by a natural cosmetics manufacturer who runs her oversized store there. The nuns aren’t picky. Another monastery, the Maltese Castle in Heitersheim, is being sold to a member of the Chinese National Congress who wants to open a cadre school there.

A hostel would be a better idea, because I am still looking for a place to sleep.

64

Every monastery has an absurd legend about its foundation.

In Wessobrunn it is said that in the year 753, Duke Tassilo III took a break from the hunt, laying under a tree and thirsting mightily. In a dream, angels then pointed out the way to three springs. When he woke up, he actually heard the water rushing and discovered the springs.

Well, I do believe that it had something to do with drinking, but that’s about it.

But I am going to try it myself and lie down under the three lime trees in front of the monastery.

65

The first part of the plan works out: I nod off immediately. However, under the centuries-old trees, no beer, no water, but only a stone appears.

The menhir with the Wessobrunn Prayer keeps distracting me from sleeping:

Dat gafregin ih mit firahim firiuuizzo meista
Dat ero ni uuas noh ufhimil
noh paum noh pereg ni uuas
ni […] nohheinig noh sunna ni scein
noh mano ni liuhta noh der mareo seo

It is one of the earliest texts in Old High German and the oldest Christian poem in German language. I understand so little of the Old High German that I would outright deny any relationship to contemporary German. Hopefully, I will not experience a linguistic regression in my lifetime, because I really wouldn’t want to speak like that.

Do dar niuuiht ni uuas enteo ni uuenteo
enti do uuas der eino almahtico cot
manno miltisto enti dar uuarun auh manake mit inan
cootlihhe geista enti cot heilac

I lie under the green canopy of leaves like Athanasius Kirchner in front of the Egyptian hieroglyphics. My unsuccessful attempts at deciphering are probably merely a pretense for not continuing with the hike. But it is only afternoon, too early for the night’s rest.

66

Well, I will look for the springs then, because, remembering the legend, I realize that I could use some water, too.

Behind the monastery, there is a pretty little house and a roof over the three holy springs. (This is where holy water comes from, and maybe this is how the convent-confiscating cosmetics company finances itself.) But they were really not hard to find. I don’t know why you have to have nightmares about angels and divine finger pointing.

67

The next destination is the yew forest near Paterzell, which sounds somehow mystical and tempting.

From the hiker’s point of view, however, it turns out to be more of an arduous up-and-down forest with deep incisions and brook valleys.

And the promised yews?

Well, if you look closely, they are slightly different trees, but they are not more beautiful or less beautiful than the beech forests I have been walking through. I could have spared myself the detour. Besides, yews are poisonous.

At the exit of the toxic forest, a bench invites me to spend the night. I’m giving it a test, it feels good, but it’s still too early.

68

The next inn would be the “Bavarian Hiasl” in Forst. I should still be able to make the few kilometers if I hurry. And if I don’t get shot by the gang of the Bavarian Hiasl. They were a rather brutal but also partly generous gang of robbers and poachers in the 18th century, whose leader Matthias Klostermayr, the so-called Bavarian Hiasl, was the model for Karl Moor, Robin Hood and the bulletproof monk.

The readers benefit from the fact that I can abbreviate in writing what I could not abbreviate on foot, and so I transfer us to Forst about an hour later.

The inn is really there, big, angular, massive, unmissable.

But no longer active. The trees are already growing out of the windows on the upper floor. Or is this a mirage, confusing tired hikers?

Perhaps the inn has been closed since 1771, when the Bavarian Hiasl was executed with exaggerated meticulousness, namely strangled, crushed, beheaded and quartered.

69

Again and again on my hikes, I come across such testimonies of once active life, which are now decaying. The inns occupy a prominent place in the center of the village or a particularly beautiful spot by a rushing brook. Large lime trees still provide shade and coziness. You can still hear the beer hissing and the schnitzel steaming. But the shutters are shut, the kitchen is closed, the stomach remains empty.

This is not only a pity for the culinary enjoyment I am missing out on. On the one hand, it was reassuring to know on journeys that one could rest and even stay overnight almost anywhere. This may seem unbelievable to the AirBnB generation, but in the past, you just hiked or drove until you couldn’t or didn’t want to anymore, and then you looked for a place to stay. There you asked for a vacant room. There was always something available. Traveling itself was more free, more spontaneous.

On the other hand, inns offer the lonely hiker the opportunity to get into a conversation with the locals. Often the same people are sitting together every evening and are happy when someone shows up with a big backpack and unpacks new stories. Once, without being asked, the innkeeper sat down at my table and told me, also without being asked, why more and more inns are closing. Missing customers are not the problem. Lack of staff is.

“Nobody wants to work 16 hours a day anymore,” he complained.

“And it would be illegal,” I thought to myself, but said nothing.

“Young people are all about free time. They want to know on Monday what time they have off on Friday evening,” he was puzzled.

I didn’t know what to think, because I was torn between delight at the increasing emancipation of the working class, which no longer regards itself at the free disposal of capitalists, but disappointed at how the young people would probably spend their Friday nights off. I may inadmissibly generalize the occasional experience I have made with rural teenagers, but I imagine that the young waiters and cooks would rather get drunk and then crash into a tree than to discuss Marx and Hegel with their friends.

“And the laws are made by people who have no idea. Take Ms. Nahles,” who was Secretary of Labor at the time, “she studied for 32 semesters, but never did any real work.”

I could have pointed out that studying can also be quite exhausting. Or that the overestimation of physical versus mental work is a leftover from fascism. Or that laws are made by parliament, not by federal ministers.

But I preferred to say nothing, because the innkeeper had just crossed out the gypsy schnitzel on the menu and renamed it paprika schnitzel, so he was generally open to social progress. And he made an effort, offered higher than standard wages, offered accommodation for applicants from afar, but still: “The young people want to work in the office, with computers and all that.” And in the disdain of people who believe that social media content feeders or Instagraph influencing data analysts are more important than publicans and cooks, the old innkeeper and I could agree.

I would have a proposal against the death of the taverns, but it is just another theoretical solution by someone who has been studying for so long that he no longer counts the semesters. Inns as rooms of public gatherings could be counted under the utilities that municipalities have to provide in accordance with Article 57 paragraph 1 of the Bavarian Municipal Code (or similar regulations in other states), so that in the absence of private facilities, the municipality must operate a beer garden in summer and a parlor with a tiled stove in winter and offer currywurst and Kaiserschmarrn.

The State of Bavaria has recognized the problem, but ever since it was a Soviet Republic in 1919 for a brief time, it has been so afraid of public property that it prefers to waste 30 million euros, handing over money to existing pub owners.

70

As the sun is inching towards the horizon, the search for a sleeping place should put any revolutionary thoughts on the back burner. Disappointed by the people of Forst, who failed to celebrate my ideas jubilantly, instead sitting at home and watching football (TV and the internet have done much more damage to pub culture than employment laws), I set my sights on a new target. A high and far-away target, the highest point of the hike, High Mount Peissen, almost a thousand meters high.

There is a tavern up there, and with my luck, they should have vacant rooms.

10 kilometers lie between me and the summit. The sun is getting ready for bed already. This is going to be close. I definitely must stop dawdling around.

Without energy, but with all the more doggedness, I am forging forward, fighting fatigue, killing kilometers, waging a war against the weight of my backpack, defying all doubts, and ignoring the improbability. And always a worried look back: What is the sun doing?

It is falling rapidly. Without pause and without mercy. In the forest, it is already pitch dark, the sun glows its last red through the branches, needles and leaves. My lungs are bursting as I am almost running the last two kilometers uphill. It’s incredible what reserves one can activate when necessary!

And then the sun finally burns out, just before I make it to the summit.

A candle is burning in a chapel, as if to beckon me: Why don’t you sleep here?

It’s spooky, but if I had known where I would end up spending the night, I might have settled in the dimly lit temple. But neither I nor you know about the impending midnight scare yet.

71

The hope for the tavern on top of the mountain drives me on. I wonder how long it will be open? I haven’t eaten since the sandwich in Raisting in the morning, and this damn mountain is getting steeper and steeper.

To the pain in my lungs now comes a headache, but I feel like the first marathon runner, the one from the battle between Athens and Persia, who had to transmit the “νενικήκαμεν” at all costs because the Greek telegraph authority was on strike, on summer vacation or on siesta at the time.

Finally on the summit, I can take a breather and am rewarded with magnificent views.

But now quickly to the Bavarian Rigi, as the guesthouse is called here.

“Do you still have a room for tonight?”

“We don’t have any accommodation.”

“Oh. Do you still serve food?”

“I’m sorry, but we’re about to close.”

“Oh. Could you fill my bottle with tap water then, so I have something to brush my teeth with when I sleep outside?”

The lady complies with the plea, but the discreet hint of my impending homelessness does not soften her up enough to slip me any leftovers.

72

It has become cold and the wind is blowing hard. Probably because there is a weather station up here, and the weather wants to put on a show. And it’s not just any weather station. High Mount Peissen houses the oldest mountain observatory in the world, built in 1781, when Bavaria was not even a kingdom. (Speaking of which: Did you notice that I am so exhausted from hiking today that you have to do without the long monologues about Bavarian history? But I will make up for it tomorrow, I promise!)

In the meantime, it is less about the weather, but more about the climate. Because of its 240-year history, the collected data is particularly well suited for long-term comparisons. And the location is exposed and far away from conurbations, which can falsify the temperatures at other measuring stations due to increased building development and higher traffic volumes.

73

Tired and a little desperate, I let myself fall onto a bench. Only then do I spot the full moon.

It makes the green hills of the Alpine foothills shine in silver. Like a night watchman on his last tour, delighting in the beauty of the landscape and the peace and quiet that he himself imposes.

But on the exposed bench, the wind is blowing like a hurricane, and young people from the nearby towns apparently find full moon romantic and come here to hold hands. There is more activity up here at night than in some towns during the day. A group of blonde, hence probably Russian, youngsters has set up a large antenna and is sitting in their Volkswagen Polo with radios and headphones to listen in on the German military radio. The KGB is becoming more and more brazen.

I wander around, looking for a place to sleep, having lost any hope to find food. (The three pizza boxes in the trash next to the bench were all empty.)

74

The most wind-protected place is, as sorry as I am for proponents of the sanctity of burial grounds, the cemetery. Even at 10:30 p.m. two mourners still place flowers on a grave in the candlelight, so I have to go for another walk through the cold. But at 11:00 p.m. they have given up their attempt to bring the deceased back to life, and I have the final resting place alone for my temporary rest.

I put on both jackets, lie down on a bench, use the backpack as a pillow and cover myself with a blanket that the dog has already bitten holes in. I don’t carry a sleeping bag, because pilgrims of previous centuries managed without this modern plastic stuff too. Besides, I don’t like to be constricted when suddenly people with guns, knives or swords stand around me.

It is not comfortable. Nor is it warm. The red grave lights flicker like ghosts warning me. The fat moon shines in my face like a searchlight. “You are not safe here!” the pale moon face seems to signal, and I wonder how a celestial body without its own power source can shine so bright and cheerful.

But I fall asleep. Until a falling cone wakes me up.

I fall asleep again. Until my own shivering wakes me up.

I fall asleep again. Until drops of water fall on my face.

I turn around and fall asleep again.

Even the moonlight wakes me up. I fall asleep again.

75

Will I survive the night? Who comes to visit the cemetery at night? Are there ghosts? Will the wolves or the grave robbers come first?

Tune in for the next episode! There, we will hike through the Ammer Gorge, supposedly the most spectacular part of the King Ludwig Trail. And I won’t be walking alone anymore, that much I can already reveal.

Links:

About Andreas Moser

Travelling the world and writing about it. I have degrees in law and philosophy, but I'd much rather be a writer, a spy or a hobo.
This entry was posted in Germany, History, Photography, Travel and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to In the King’s Footsteps (Day 4) The Longest Day

  1. I can’t imagine being so cold, even in the mountains in July. I’ve camped at 6000ft (around 1800 meters) but maybe Bavarian mountains are colder than California mountains.🤷🏼‍♀️

    The artwork in the cathedral is beautiful. Almost as beautiful as the sunset. I prefer sunsets.

    Now I’m curious where in the U.S. the big internet transmitters are. I would guess it would be somewhere in the middle of central states.🤔 it seems there are cellphone towers (disguised as palm trees) on every other corner here.

    Xenophobia seems to be a worse pandemic than COVID. I always wonder how people can dislike a entire culture when they’ve never met anyone from that culture and the information they have is skewed or completely false.

    I always enjoy your stories. Thank you! And the pictures are fantastic. I love that you captured pictures of a kitty too😻 dangerous wildlife you encountered😉 😂

    • Seriously, your cell phone towers are disguised as palm tress? That’s cheesy!

      As exhausted as I was, the sight of cats in the fields always lifted my spirits.
      Over the next days, the dangerous wildlife will be upgraded to foxes!

  2. Now I’ll have to scour the internet for the first 53 chapters! What a bother. Hope the internet does not vanish while I’m doing that.

    When I spent a year living in a tiny town in the middle of beet fields in Germany, you could tell when it was the weekend by the incredible number of ambulance rides the youth would take to hospitals after getting drunk and crashing their cars into trees. Either the supply of drunken youth was unending, or the same people would go out and crash their cars again the next weekend.

    • How could you even read part 4 without having read the previous 3 parts? :O
      Now you’ll get everything confused!
      I wish I could ban people from reading my articles in such a disjointed way…

      With your description of German adolescents’ weekend activities, you made me laugh, although it is a serious matter.
      I live in a rural area (near Amberg in Bavaria) and it was the same in my youth. Every Monday, the newspaper announced the death of a few more people. From my village alone, I know two people who died that way. And the roads are lined with wayside crosses.
      But it has become less. People drink less alcohol and I have the feeling that young people have become more responsible. Also, fast cars and motorcycles are not that important as a status symbol anymore (maybe replaced by Instagraph accounts or other gadgets).

      Where in Germany did you live?

    • This was not far from Aachen.

    • Now that the borders are open, I think people there just go to the Netherlands to get stoned.

    • Unless they are being responsible and uploading photos on Instagram

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