The early morning light promised a sunny day, and the first castle popped up on the horizon.
The last weeks have been so gray, cold and rainy that you can’t let such a day go by unused. So I ignored my endless to-do list, packed cigars, candy and a newspaper instead, put on hiking bookts and was out of the house as quick as a rabbit.
In the area around the Löwenstein mountains, which are really more hills than mountains, you can hike wonderfully from castle to castle. Once you have ascended to one of them, you can already see the next towers, fortresses or ruins from the hill. If anyone is allergic to castles (due to an inherited crusader trauma, for example), you really shouldn’t go hiking around here.
And thus my spontaneous path led me via Lichtenberg, Beilstein, Helfenberg, Wildeck castles all the way to Stettenfels Castle.
Stettenfels Castle, perched monumentally on the vineyard, was unfortunately closed and guarded by an oddball owl. This castle was once destined to become a Nazi “Ordensburg”, which never happened, because World War II got in the way.
I personally wouldn’t know what to do with such a pompous castle, to be honest. For my purposes, one of the small cottages on the slopes or just a bench with enough sunlight would suffice.
In the village of Untergruppenbach, below the haunted castle, I detect some mysterious markings and, strung up on a pole in the middle of the village, an explicit warning.
Because the sky is turning black, dark and menacing, too, I take the warning seriously and make my way back. As I stand by the road, trying to hitchhike to Oberstenfeld, an older gentleman approaches and informs me: “It’s very dangerous what you are doing there.”
“No, not at all,” I attempt to play down the subject, thinking that for the hundredth time, I’ll have to refute the prejudices about hitchhiking.
“I had a relative who was murdered while hitchhiking,” he says. Now, that comes as a shock, and let my outstretched arm drop. “He was 22 years old. Happened near Tübingen. Forty years ago, though.”
It doesn’t really scare me, but I don’t want to hurt the feelings of the bereaved gentleman. Fortunately, he knows that a bus will be leaving in five minutes. To make sure that nothing happens to me on the way, he gets on as well. And then he knows a horror story about each place we are going through: “At this intersection, many motorists have had fatal accidents.” “In Abstatt, there was a couple, they died in a plane crash. Left four children behind.” “In Beilstein, you have to be careful about the Latter Rain Mission.”
Hm, and everything seemed so peaceful on the morning hike.
Later, I tried to learn something about the murder of the young hitchhiker. But all I found was a report about Richard Schuh, a hitchhiker, murderer and the last person to be executed in West Germany.
Someone really needs to take it upon himself to improve the image of hitchhiking. And I guess I know a guy who might be the perfect person for that job.
- This hike was one of my weekly secular shabbats.
- If you are interested in those Nazi castles, I recommend my article about Vogelsang.
- If I hadn’t learned it in Bolivia, I really wouldn’t have known what to make of those life-size puppets in the middle of town.
- And seriously: My hitchhiking experience has been 99% positive so far. And with the one per cent, I simply asked to get out of the car earlier. No problem at all.