02 August 2009

summer nights

It's a forgotten delight that I have been absorbing as best I can while here in Germany, after having not seen a properly dark night during all these summertime months in Iceland. The days here are warm and moist but the evenings, after darkness falls, are positively magical. The first evening here, S and I took the long way through the forest and alongside the fields to the small Franconian village nearby. We walked at dusk, interrupting few along the way- a rabbit or two, some kids hard at work on some mini-excavation project. Mostly it was just us and the scents and sounds of the dusk.

On our return route, we stopped by an inn with a friendly-looking terrace, and there we sat beneath a chestnut tree for a wheat beer. There was no music there, just the nearly whispered conversations from the three other tables, and some rattle from the neighboring cowshed. Above us, the stars filled in the sky, and we settled into vacation feeling as our glasses emptied. Finally, time to return, past the cow barn where a few curious ones snuffled at my hand and gazed at me with their liquidy eyes. We followed the path back, by the trout breeding ponds, along the fields now clattering with crickets and overstuffed with wildflowers, ending beside the cornfield, ripening silently in the dewy summer dark.

the national hobby

I'm in Germany now, for my third-ever visit, and I'm still getting used to the special ways they do things here. For example, I am still marveling over the wonders of the German roadside food-stop.

Less than two hours after stepping off the plane the first afternoon here, we stopped at a standard sort of rest area off the autobahn where I found myself confounded by the selection, and dazzled by the brilliant sparkle of the immaculate glass and countertops. Of course, when in Germany, it's simple for me to choose what my first meal should be. It must be sausages. But then, what does one have WITH it? There's dumplings and potatoes and fries and a salad bar with all sorts of pickled and brined bits to put on top, and then there's beers and beers and beers (just off the highway, no less).

A few meandering trips through the vast food service area and we settled outside on the patio next to the water feature. Ladies and gentlemen, I remind you that this was a highwayside food stop, and yet we were sitting on a terrace flanked on one side by rosebushes and on the other side by a pond decorated with water plants and complete with its own mini-waterfall. Beyond the pond was a charming little castle-jungle gym for the kids, and the whole area was perfectly well-tended. The rose bushes were clipped, the pond scum-free. The only thing that possibly disturbed the moment was the enthusiastic bees that found radler far too interesting and had crowded inside my empty bottle.

For dessert and coffee, we retreated inside, where we sat at tables decorated with fresh bamboo shoots in vases, and where the chairs at the empty tables had all been perfectly aligned at a welcoming diagonal. This appears to be just your average German approach to highway travel. No Sbarro's, no Panda Express, no sticky menus on the tables. Amazing.

Of course, this kind of tidy takes a lot of work, and I'm coming to realize that the national hobby of Germans is the keeping-tidy-of-things. There's the car washing and polishing, the hedge trimming, the house painting and fence re-aligning. One must make sure the driveway is free of weeds and the trees don't get too tall. All in all, a lot of work but the end result from the perspective of a relaxed summer traveler is quite delightful. I'm relishing it tremendously.