Made it to Munich, the capital of Bavaria, the heatwave now over, the sun roasted land cooled by blasts of revitalising rain.
These last weeks have included the wondrous Black Forest, the hills of Stuttgart, the River Danube, ostriches, sunflowers (and a bit if sun burn), wise truckers and Mr Bean’s Mini.
Ok, so, here we go again…
Day 300 to 304
My hiking trailer, Koko, dwarfed by the wondrous Black Forest.
Some trails were smooth and breezy, others steep and rugged, flanked by ranks of lanky pines or else oak and chestnut.
At Bad Liebenzell (bad means bath!) the campsite was so full, it couldn’t even fit my little tent. That was a first! I was about to camp in the park when an elderly dog walker, Girde, said I could stay at her place.
A joke says that the German sense of humour is no laughing matter. Not the case with Girde, who was funny, kind and a complete hoot.
Lately I’ve been shown much kindness including some teens celebrating a birthday in the woods, checking I was ok. To be fair, I was half beat and gasping like a pug at the time.
Then a lovely Italian family gave me an ice cream when I walked by their cafe, La Venezia. Delizioso!
I reached Stuttgart Youth Hostel at midnight – Koko’s lights mean I can walk till late – dead on my feet, showered and crashed on my bunk in exhausted bliss.
Over 70 years ago my brave, gentle grandfather fought the Nazis, not so very far from here. So proud of him and so lucky that I can now walk through this fine landscape and be shown such kindness. Two generations and another world away.
I sense the Germans have really faced up to the horrors of the Hitler years and learnt from them head on, never wanting a repeat.
So unlike China, where I taught at a uni before the walk. Here, the Tiananmen Square massacre of 1989 is still erased from history. Even now the Chinese leader, Xi Jinping, has shut down satire. After a cartoon compared him to Winnie the Pooh – they both have chubby cheeks! – he banned the books of AA Milne. Let’s all pray Hong Kong stays safe.
How blessed to live in a place where we can freely lampoon our leaders – whether Bojo or Comrade Corbyn.
Germany still joyfully celebrates the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1991 and rightly so. But with all the great German composers it seems crazy that dear old David ‘Hoff’
Hasselhoff was first to play a gig on the fallen masonry. Poor Beethoven would be spinning so fast in his grave, he’d be practically fracking…
(Warning, embarrassing dad moment, but hugely proud of my daughter, Eliza, who has recently completed hiking the entire Camino in northern Spain).
Day 305 to 307
Spot the genius! Now reached Ulm, the birthplace of Albert Einstein, hence the great scientist’s wild statue.
Einstein famously said: ‘The difference between genius and stupidity is that genius has its limits.’ Looking at the strange chap on the right he’s probably right!
Einstein was flawed, his love life chaos, but he was not only a genius, thrashing out the world’s best known equation, but a deeply principled man, one of only four German scientists who openly, and at great risk, spoke out against World War One.
He was an inspired teacher, a loyal friend and a pacifist, who was horrified that his scientific theories, in the long run, might have helped create the atomic bomb. He appeared on the cover of Time Magazine in 1946 with a nuclear mushroom cloud behind him but was later, in 1999, chosen as Time’s Person of the Century.
He renounced his German citizenship in his twenties and spent the later part of his life in America, happily lecturing at Princeton, and, with his mad scientist look, becoming a cartoonist’s dream.
Reaching Ulm has been eventful, walking over hills lined with wheat, sunflowers and apple orchards.
At Plochingen I stayed at a hostel filled mostly with Eastern Europeans working in the local chocolate factory. Two dorm mates, Irakli and Gege, from Georgia (pic), kindly helped me lug Koko up the stairs, which, after a roasting day’s walk, was a struggle. Cheers fellas.
They said I must visit their homeland. ‘Georgia is best known as Stalin’s birthplace,’ joked Gege. ‘But we have mountains, lakes, friendly locals and the best wine in the world!’
The following day I reached Geislingen Campsite long after dark. Thomas and Sophia who run it, kindly stayed up and poured me a shandy made with local Golden Ochsen beer. Wunderbar! Prost!
After a 22 miler, I reached Ulm yesterday, and collapsed in tiny The Brick House Hostel, a stone’s throw from the River Danube and the highest church spire in the world, with thunder rumbling and the most welcome, ravishing rain pounding the roof.
Day 308 to 312
An amazing camping spot, although ‘amaizing’ would be more apt, or even ‘corny’ (ouch) as this region is blanketed with tall, ripe maize, high as football posts.
Talking of tall, only miles from here I walked past an ostrich farm, several of the rangy, feather bombs yomping over to inspect my hiking cart, Koko.
After an extra day in Ulm due to torrential rain and lightning on Sunday, the heatwave has now broken.
Walking this week has been much cooler. Today, hiking 20 miles to the City Hostel at Augsburg I was drizzled on for hours – and loved it!
This part of Bavaria is beautifully lush with wild flowers galore, the River Danube, swathes of ancient forest and friendly locals like Simon – and his hound, Gese – who gave me a free packed lunch. Danke!
More worryingly, saw the first bullet splattered signpost since Alabama.
During a coffee stop near Leipheim I met Bernard, a trucker, who is now busy ferrying wheat but in late August will start hauling hops in the famously beery region north of Munich.
‘America grows the most hops, then Germany,’ said Bernard. ‘But the area around Munich is famous for the best ones.’
‘Germans are the third biggest beer drinkers per head in the world’ added Bernard, his moustache bristling with pride. ‘Only the Czeck Republic and the Seychelles drink more!’ The Seychelles, really!? I checked, he’s right! The UK now only has about 50 small hop farms left in Kent and Sussex. That said, you can’t beat a pint of Hooky!
Another happy surprise this week, a $250 donation to the brilliant Alzheimer’s Society. At a campsite check-in in Nancy, I chatted briefly to a lovely American couple, over in France for the Women’s World Cup Footy.
Now, weeks later, out of the blue, they have made a donation to the AS. They don’t want me to give their names, which I will respect, but, you two big souls, you know who you are, and THANK YOU!
Tomorrow I will hike on towards Munich where an old school friend, Mike (who I’ve not seen since school – mid 1980s!) is kindly putting me up. He’s threatening to dust off some old school photos…
Many thanks this last fortnight or so to Heike Fuhr and Andreas at Zweirad Fuhr, to Girde at Bad Liebenzell, Simon at Leipheim, to Jurgen at Fidelio, Mike, Agnieszka, Leah, Emma and Dylan in Munich and to the generous American couple at Nancy campsite for their donation to Alzheimer’s Society and to old friend Seb Piech for his kind donation to the Puzzle Centre.
To finish, hearts out to all the victims and the families of these recent shootings in Ohio and El Paso, Texas, so near to Juarez, Mexico, my old home. Sending love to all my friends on this troubled, beautiful border, a place with some of the kindest, loveliest people on earth. This hateful act was so sad, so pointless, so undeserved. Amor por El Paso. Amor por Juarez. Amor por la Frontera.
Thanks for reading, until next time, another timely qoute from Einstein: ‘Kindness is the golden chain by which society is bound together.’ Amen to that Albert. Bon courage all.