It is only a week since we were nearly freezing down in the Allgäu, but today the heat has well and truly arrived. The thermometer is nudging 30° C in Southern Germany – everyone is out in shorts and the unmistakeable whiff of barbecues fills the air. It’s also perfect “Freibad-Wetter”. (open-air-pool weather). As soon as the days get hot, thousands of Germans head off to the various pools in the area. Every town will have one – usually a couple of pools surrounded by a big grassy area. Some of them have long slides and all of them will have a kiosk serving sausages, chips and ice cream.
We even have a little pool in our village of Schönaich. It’s surrounded by forest and is fairly unspectacular but I like it for a couple of reasons. Firstly it’s within cycling distance and second it’s not too busy. The flashier pools (with giant slides) in the larger towns get absolutely packed on sunny weekends and apart from having to wait forever to get your chips, it’s just not very pleasant being so squeezed in. I am a real fan of our local pool and am now quite keen to get down there with the kids.
When they were really small it was a bit of a chore because, as a parent, you couldn’t relax at all. The kids wanted us to go in the pool with them and we were worried about them falling in anyway. But now they usually meet some of their friends as soon as we arrive, and disappear for several hours. Leaving me to lie in the sun, possibly have some beer and chips and probably fall asleep. I will briefly dive into the pool every couple of hours but it’s really just an open air version of slobbing around on the sofa as far as I am concerned. And all the better for it.
There are clearly some unwritten rules about where you can put your towel down at our local pool. The main pool is in the middle . On one side there is a beach volleyball court and a field – this is where the younger, cooler people strut their stuff. On the other side there is another field which contains the paddling pool and a playground. This is where the families all set up. Behind the pool there are steps which lead up a banked terrace which is slightly more private due to some hedges. This is where teenagers go to err… discover what life is about.
We always used to go to the family-field but the noise and the running around and the all too frequent beach-ball to the side of the head have driven us over to the cool side. We are a bit old for it really but we keep quiet and so far nobody has thrown us out. Last year I was so keen to get down to the pool that I dragged the family down before it was really summer. They didn’t really want to come and I tried to cheer things up by saying “look how empty it is – we can pick the best spot”. There was a reason for the best spots being vacant. The water was freezing, there was a biting wind, most of the place was in shade and it started raining shortly after we arrived. I wouldn’t go without my chips, but the day wasn’t a great success. The girls still remind me of it today.
Just next to the pool, between the two fields are a few tables and chairs where you can eat a snack or have a drink. Without fail there are always a few locals enjoying a beer there. Ruddy-faced and dug in for the day, you get the impression that this isn’t their first all-day drinking session. Still, it’s good for business. I am not sure they will be around for long this year, though, because we now have an Italian family running the cafe. I read in the local paper that they will be serving salads and pasta. This is a huge break with tradition as for years nothing resembling a vegetable has ever been served there (except potatoes in the form of frozen chips). I have a sneaking feeling that the all-day boozers won’t approve and may up sticks and set up a new base – perhaps on the forecourt of the local petrol station. The inimitable charm of the old cafe landlady will also be missed. On really busy days you ordered your food and they gave you a raffle ticket with a number on it. The numbers never seemed to be called in chronological order, so after half an hour you might go up and enquire politely as to where your chips were. You would then be rudely told that they’ll arrive when they arrive. Then she would get on the microphone (used for calling out the aforementioned numbers) and make an announcement to all the guests that “it was pointless asking where the food was, because they were just really busy”. She would then ask the rhetorical question “how are we supposed to cope when there are so many people here?”. Everyone went quiet for a while and then slowly things got back to normal. Very strange. Mind you, the chips did arrive… eventually.