The birthday begins, and this is a fitting metaphor for my whole life, with me oversleeping.
Rottenbuch has, not surprisingly for the area, a pretty church and a monastery. For once, the convent seems to be active, as shy nuns are scurrying across the town square with its huge trees.
Only a wedding ceremony in front of the townhall disturbs the idyll by propagating the Bavarian cliché of dirndls and lederhosen.
Yesterday, Christina and Cordula told me that this cow-skinning kitsch is even sold in the northern Hanseatic cities during Oktoberfest time. At Aldi.
Speaking of Aldi, many people don’t know that despite German reunification 30 years ago, there is still Aldi North and Aldi South. Like in Korea. It’s because their separation goes back to the Peace of Westphalia in 1648. But this article certainly does not suffer from too few historical digressions, which is why it is hereby abruptly discontinued like a special offer prohibited by the Federal Competition Authority, who swiftly filed for an injunction.
However, please allow a personal explanation, which, it can be assumed, will not take long to cut the corner back to history. When I disclose, or when people find out some other way, that I am from Bavaria, I am often asked if I wear lederhosen. “NO!” is the emphatic answer.
Let me explain:
First, for aesthetic reasons. Shorts are okay for children, for sports and maybe for mailmen. Otherwise, this bad habit, adopted from the Afrika Korps, is plain wrong.
Second, I don’t exactly associate lederhosen with the Intelligentsia, to put it mildly. At least I never hear guys in lederhosen, almost always with a beer bottle in their hands, discussing decolonization or Pierre Bourdieu, although the latter would be quite interesting in this context. I think these are rather unsophisticated folks who enjoy watching football. This may be a prejudice, even an unjustified one in certain cases, but I see no reason to disfigure and spoil my habitus like that.
But when I was a child, I too was forced to wear such stupid pants:
My parents have not apologized until this day.
In the church, there is a stamp that can be pressed into a pilgrim’s passport. When you mail in the fully stamped passport, you get a pilgrim’s trophy or something like that.
And, so I have heard, in some hostels you get neither admission nor accommodation without a pilgrim’s card. This seems to me not only bureaucratic and unchristian, but also unfair. Because sometimes you pass through a village at a time of day when all churches, monasteries and other places with stamps are closed.
“How does it work with the Way of St. James?” I have to ask the more experienced readers. Is such a stamp card really a requirement for accommodation?
In the bread and pastry shop, there are very fine things on both sides. Because it’s my birthday, I treat myself to a bar of chocolate. There are several on offer, all with different fairytale motifs. I choose the one with “Hans in Luck”, because luck is what I need. And the fable about achieving happiness through overcoming material possessions somehow suits my life.
As I step out of the bakery, I spot a cute little bunny. There it is already, the sweet little luck.
Under the big trees, I settle down for a while. As in so many villages along the trail, my gaze falls on a monument to the locals who didn’t find the way back from the wars.
These villages are not big, maybe a hundred or two hundred houses. But on the obelisks, there are often more than 50 names of men who now contaminate the groundwater at Verdun, Ypres, Uman or El-Alamein. Fortunately, they came from a region where they only consumed beer brewed according to the Purity Law.
Over these heavy thoughts, the clouds are getting dark.
Not having come very far yesterday, I want to walk at least 20 km to Trauchgau today. Halfway there is Wies Church, one of the highlights of the hike, as acknowledged by UNESCO.
Because there is the threat of rain, I try hitchhiking. (On one’s birthday, one shouldn’t march oneself to death, like the men on the monument in the middle of the village.) But it doesn’t work. Dozens of cars, but nobody stops. Strange, because I look rested and clean. And Rottenbuch had made such a nice impression. It suffers with every driver who ignores me until I curse the place and wish a hellish thunderstorm upon it.
Not even the chocolate gives me hitchhiking luck. Bitter and depressed, I have to move on by foot. But the views are truly wonderful.
Sometimes, Bavaria does indeed look like a fairytale. These cows probably provided the milk for the chocolate I’m enjoying at the moment.
The next village is Wildsteig.
Below the church, there is an artificial grotto, dug for saints and Mary and Jesus and such. Two construction workers are occupying it now for their lunch break. Goats are grazing the steep slope below the church.
Apart from that, there is nothing happening here.
The war memorial, which is enormous for this small village, suggests that a large part of the population is indeed dead or missing.
The occasions on which the men of the village got on horseback, on bicycle and on the train to conquer the wide world are meticulously listed: Austrian campaign 1800-1809, Prussian campaign of 1807, Russian campaign of 1812, French campaign of 1813, German-German war of 1866, German-French war of 1870-1871, World War I, World War II. Finally, the fallen of the Bundeswehr, although I am not sure whether the contemporary German Army sees itself in such a line of tradition.
The church in Wildsteig also offers a pilgrim’s stamp and a guest book. I browse curiously and discover a lot of blah-blah, just like in the poetry albums in elementary school and on Facebook. A woman signed her entry about clouds and happiness with “Uta Hahn, poetess”, rather immodestly.
What is clearly missing here is some constructive criticism. I can help with that:
Witnessing the wealth of the churches around here, one longs for another round of secularization, preferably to set up affordable hostels for hikers,
Sometimes the way markings of the King Ludwig Trail are not sufficient. Or I overlook them because I am exhausted or distracted. Furthermore, I forgot to bring my glasses.
“You want to go to the Wies?” a woman calls out of the window.
“Then you’re going the wrong way. You have to turn left and walk down that way.”
“Oh, thank you very much!”
That was really nice.
But the clouds are becoming darker and more threatening.
My thunderstorm curse (chapter 98) worked. And then, like all cursing, it backfired, because now the thunderstorm is chasing me.
And all this while I’m walking down a dirt road in open country instead of under the protection of the dense German forest.
But there is something ahead: A chapel! Faster!
Oh. With my luck, this one chapel was constructed in violation of the building law regulations for chapels next to hiking trails, offering no canopy to protect from the rain. Somebody wanted to save some money, it seems. And it’s pouring like in Genesis 7:11.
But then I read the note next to the doorknob: “Turn knob to the left.” It works, and I enter the sanctuary. It is small, very small, because a grating blocks access to the pews and to the altar. Together with my rucksack, I fill out the small anteroom completely. If other walkers will seek shelter, we will have to stand like candles in a chapel.
The rain is pelting against the door, the roof, the windows. It is a deluge that would have thoroughly ruined my day and my mood if I hadn’t just passed the Trinity Chapel in Holz.
There is a brochure “Church in Need” in the chapel, and for once, the title is fitting. Maybe my comment in the guest book of the church in Wildsteig (chapter 100) was too ungrateful after all, and I should be thankful for the open doors.
Hans in Luck!
After about half an hour the downpour is over. Due to my own measly financial situation, I only throw a few poor coins into the donation box and move on.
But not for long, because the sky dims and darkens again. After the last rain it is hard to believe, but there is still water up there. And that water wants to descend to Earth, probably because of this stupid gravity thing.
Should I return to the protecting chapel?
No. Forwards always, backwards never! And once I reach Wies Church, I can take shelter again. I am leaving the marked hiking trail because I think I see a shortcut through the forest on the map.
I am not even deterred by the gallows standing at the side of the path.
Oh, that’s for the vultures who are picking up the dead here.
I sneak on as quietly as possible.
Out there, always expect the unexpected: Out of the fog emerges a refuge, as if placed there by fate. A proper spacious cabin, with roofed benches in front of the house, where I settle down immediately, because it has started raining again.
There is also a guestbook, but only few visitors seem to stay here. The last detailed entry is from June 5th, one month ago:
Pascal Perkams & Henning Beckhoff had a wonderful night in this rustic hut after several weeks of touring the Alpine landscape in five gears. By candlelight, the two men remembered past journeys like “Down to Greece” or “Onekickonly” and philosophized about the meaning of life. Ever critical of capitalism, they were grateful for this night in the absence of any civilization.
The capitalism-critical colleagues did not leave any candles, but when I enter the hut and spot a writing desk, the decision is made: I will stay here.
I take Henry David Thoreau’s book from the backpack and can hardly believe my luck. On my birthday and without looking for it, I have stumbled upon the Walden cabin.
Hans in Luck!
Instead of a pond, there is a cow pasture behind the cabin, and the cows are quite curious.
A heartfelt thanks to Farmer Neu from Morgenbach, who made his property and the cabin accessible to the public, and to Leonhard Hitzl and Johann Niggl, who constructed it. You guys saved my night, because that one would have been rather uncomfortable outside.
I am still a long way from the destination I had planned for today, but you don’t give up on such a great place to sleep. Especially because it is still raining, only briefly interrupted by rainbows.
If I moved on, I would only get soaking wet, angry and sick. I’d rather stay in the cozy cabin.
The wooden door cannot be locked. Which makes sense. After all, it should also offer shelter to other hikers.
Will someone else show up tonight?
If so, they will hopefully have food with them. Because I was smart enough not to pack any food today, because I thought: “I will be at Wies Church at noon and there’s definitely something to eat there.” Well, now I’m sitting in the forest with a miserable rest of chocolate.
Hans remains hungry.
But he is satisfied and is still happy about his luck. Instead of dinner, there are cigars. Finally a hotel where you get to smoke in bed!
And then it is dark. Pitch black dark.
When the clouds lift briefly, the full moon shimmers through the cracks in the wooden wall. But otherwise, I see nothing. I just listen. Rain. Wind. Cowbells.
Were there voices? I don’t move. If they will enter the hut, they will be just as scared of me as I am of them. – But they were only cyclists passing by.
In front of the cabin, there is a wayside cross, which reminds me of the opening of “The Hateful Eight”. In the movie, it was not a good sign for those who thought they found refuge from the snowstorm in the lonely cabin.
Maybe the guestbook is so empty because hardly anyone survives the night here?
Would Hansel and Gretel have been the more appropriate chocolate bar?
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