The night was dry and without wind, thanks to the cabin. This time it was only chilly, not freezing cold.
Nevertheless, I could not fall asleep until after midnight. Probably because I had not walked enough yesterday. Less than 10 km, that’s really nothing. I could sleepwalk that.
If only I could sleep. It’s nice that there are benches in the hut, but 25 cm are so narrow that I’m afraid to fall each time I turn. The blanket is not big enough to keep me warm me from above and underneath at the same time. As you know, I don’t have a sleeping bag. Each time I turn in order to distribute the pain evenly all over my body, my whole skeleton wants to break apart.
At times I have thoughtlessly used the term “homeless” for my existence, but I have no idea how real homeless people can endure this every night. It’s only getting colder from now on. And the country is not exactly dotted with cabins. Then, there is the social stigma. It’s really absurd: When I say that I am on a hike and that I will sleep outside if necessary, people invite me into their houses (chapters 14 and 15, chapter 33, chapters 46 and 52, chapter 58) and listen to my stories. If someone is poor and sleeps outside out of necessity, no one invites him or her in, and people look the other way.
At 3:30 a.m. the limbs and bones are hurting unbearably, even when I lie still. Months later, I will still feel the permanent damage, and thus, this very 45th birthday night marks the zenith of my life. From now on, I am on the downhill slope, at least physically. If I won’t discover the Holy Grail, then the decay is unstoppable.
Sleep is no longer an option. So I pack my things and set off into the darkness instead of sitting around, freezing pointlessly. The full moon is shining, as far as the clouds give way, and Wies Church is not far. Walking is good for the joints.
A full moon is completely sufficient as a lantern, by the way. For all I care, there was no need to invent electricity.
And what a sight it is: As the first person on this day, all alone, I see the most famous church of Bavaria under the full moon.
It is said to be “the most light-rich of all German baroque churches of the 17th/18th century”, a “miracle of light and space”. Yet it is not even illuminated properly. This honor is only given to the cash machine opposite. A few windy lanterns stand around the church and confuse the sundial attached to the southern wall.
There is a fox again, this time completely in black. It flits off in the direction of Wies Church, unsettled by a walker outside the regular visiting hours.
I turn the corner, and it sits there, as if teasing me.
Oh. So maybe the fox from the day before yesterday (chapter 78) was also a large cat.
It is 4:30 a.m. The church does not open until 8 o’clock. How something can become a UNESCO world heritage site with such lousy opening hours is beyond me. I am not going to stick around in the cold that long. The restaurant, which tempts me with currywurst on the menu, will hardly open sooner.
So I move on.
Because that’s how cool I am. Walking 100 km and then not making a big fuss about a UNESCO world heritage site. Anyway, we have seen enough churches on this hike. And if you want to see Wies Church from the inside, here is a photo from Wikipedia and the link to the virtual tour.
But now, I feel more like continuing the walk in the full moon, into the rising sun. I have the whole road to myself, and soon the birds are singing from all directions.
Looking back, one can glimpse the sun rising behind the church.
After about two hours of bad sleep and without any food since yesterday’s Hans-in-Luck chocolate, I shouldn’t really be able to walk at all, but from Schober onward, the view to the Alps opens up. The finish line is near!
It was the right decision to pause the walk for the rainy yesterday.
Below Unterreithen, the sun finally wins against the clouds. I lie down on a bench by the wayside to catch up on sleep. Passing dogs nudge me curiously. A group of cyclists stops to admire the view and to take pictures. When I sit up, their leader apologizes for having woken me up. Another one compassionately inquires if I don’t feel cold. But the sun is a warming relief.
And the cyclists are right to admire the view, especially here. For the first time, I catch sight of the final destination of the hike.
Can you see it?
I could hike another 20 km and tell you about meadows and cows and clouds and stuff, but I notice that the readers are drawn to the fairytale castle. Besides, the trail would lead through some swamps and bogs, and ever since chapter 6, I am terribly afraid of snakes. So, once I reach Trauchgau, I stick out my thumb next to the road leading directly to Füssen.
Instead of a car, bus no. 72 stops, which is not as free as my previous rides, but because it stopped just for me, I afford myself the luxury. It’s worth the trip, because the bus driver gives me a panoramic tour around Lake Forggen, with stunning views. He goes through small and picturesque villages where no one gets on the bus, because in this beautiful weather everyone is on the bike.
It is like landscape cinema. Idyllic!
Later, I will read in the local newspaper that yesterday, a man stabbed his ex-wife to death on one of these buses. They call it a “relationship drama” because the tabloids do not know how to spell femicide. Or because it is easier to focus on the perpetrator’s origin than to mention that men are by far the most dangerous group in our country. Almost half of all women murdered in Germany die at the hands of their partner or ex-partner.
The closer we get to Füssen, the more I see that inner-German tourism is booming. On the cycle paths, cyclists get in each other’s way. The campgrounds are fully occupied. Spontaneous travellers are driving around frustrated because they don’t find a place to recharge their vehicle.
Hence, I thought there would be very little going on in provincial Bavaria.
What an error. Füssen is full of people. The streets are full, the buses are full, the cafés are full, the ice cream parlors are full. This is bad news for me, because I didn’t book anything, neither accommodation nor castle. How could I? After all, I didn’t know how fast or slow I would progress. In Füssen, none of the Couchsurfing hosts whom I contacted did reply, strangely enough.
Therefore, I have to use the Alpine Lake for washing and shaving myself, probably violating some exaggerated laws.
Ahhh, after the bath I feel fresh and attractive again. Cold water in the morning is more important than a bed at night.
Looking handsome again, I dare to enter the tourist information office.
“Do you still have tickets for the castles?”
“We’re out of tickets, and everything is sold out online.”
“Oh no! I walked more than 100 km to get here.”
That softens the lady a bit: “If you get up early, you can try to get a ticket tomorrow. Take bus no. 73 or 78 to Hohenschwangau, and there you go to the ticket center.” She marks everything on a map while patiently explaining what she probably explains a hundred times a day in English, German, Spanish and French. “They open at 8 a.m., and if there are any tickets left, that’s where you get them. For Hohenschwangau Castle there are usually still some available.”
Poor Hohenschwangau Castle, always taking a back seat to Neuschwanstein Castle. At least you and me will get to know that one.
“And since you are a good hiker,” the Fräulein adds cheerfully, “you can also just walk around the castles if you won’t get any tickets. That’s much more beautiful anyway.”
She then arranges a room for me in a hostel for 40 € per night, plus 2.20 € tourism tax. For that small tax, one can use all busses and even the train for free, which is a pretty good deal. I think it’s also a good way to deal with illegal AirBnB apartments, at least if tourists know that they will be deprived of free bus rides there. If you think you are modern and use the internet instead of walking into the tourist office, you might miss out on that information.
If this hike was too short for you, you need not despair: The tourist information office has all kinds of suggestions for those who want to take advantage of the beautiful weather and walk a few hundred more kilometers.
Only 966 km to Mount Triglav in Slovenia, that sounds tempting. At my current pace, I would get there in two months.
In the very centrally located Bavaria City Hostel, I am trying to bridge the time I need to fill in the registration form by asking about the number of visitors this summer.
“It’s really bad. Everything is packed,” says the woman, as if she doesn’t make a living from it. “Only the chinks are staying away this year.”
If it wasn’t for my facemask, she would stare into my open mouth, breathless because of this racist choice of words. Why does someone like that work in tourism?
And it is not the only time I hear something like this. A teacher friend of mine was in Berlin a month ago and was happy that “this year, there were no Japs”.
Later, in August, on the anniversary of the nuclear bombs being dropped, a friend will say about Neuschwanstein: “Very pretty place indeed, apart from the vast number of Japanese.”
Is the open racism against Asians due in part to the Corona virus? Or do people look for another target because racism against blacks is no longer socially accepted?
When I confront them about it, they say that they don’t mean it that way and that there are really many tourists from Asia. So what? If a castle is overrun, it doesn’t matter whether the visitors come from Tokyo or from Toronto. Maybe the castles simply sell too many tickets? And why are foreign tourists in Germany a nuisance, but Germans can besiege the beaches around the Mediterranean? The complaints about “too many tourists” usually come from people who are touristing themselves at the same place.
In Füssen too, people make the mistake of their life and get married. As a metaphor for their future, this couple has chosen some ruins as the location for their farewell-to-freedom party.
The groom looks stealthily and enviously to me, lying in the meadow, my backpack as a pillow, my shoes removed, and a cigar in my mouth. And for a moment, he dreams of a life in which nobody tells him not to smoke. Of a life in which no one prohibits him from lying in the meadow because it allegedly gives you tuberculosis. Of a life in which no one bullies him because he does not want to work or buy a house. Of a life in which his phone won’t ring and he won’t be reproachfully asked why he hasn’t come home yet. Of a life in which surprises, imponderables and adventures are something positive. In short: of a real life.
Well, too late, young man. Soon you’ll be pushing the baby carriage through the small town, bent and broken.
The small town itself might get bouts of depression, too. Because although it is quite charming, visitors from Asia and all over the world only come here because of the two royal castles in the neighboring town of Schwangau. In fact, Füssen itself seems well worth a visit as well.
But first, I have to catch up on pizza and sleep.
Tomorrow we will finally get to the castles, I promise!
- Here you can find all articles about King Ludwig Trail. The report about the next stage will be published next week. Just check in regularly or get an e-mail subscription to make sure that you won’t miss anything.
- There are more reports about hikes from all around the world.
- Oh dear, now the journey is getting really expensive. 5 € for the bus from Trauchgau to Füssen and 84 € for two nights at the hostel. I really couldn’t have done that without the generous support from readers. Many thanks for that!