Boring Lakes, Dull Mountains

The summer holidays are in full flight and for the first time for what seems like ages the weather has stayed hot and dry for a few days. It really feels like summer holidays now. No traffic on the way to work, everything is a bit quieter and people pass you on their bikes wearing flip-flops and carrying those straw mats that everyone lays on in Europe when they go to the beach. Or in our case, the Freibad – open air pool. Work is a little quieter too and for once we seemed to have synchronised our employees’ leave with the workload quite well. So that is why I am sitting in my office writing this.

And although I am now sitting at my desk and actually got quite a bit done, my mind is still down in the Allgäu – on the sunny shore of the Alatsee to be precise. I knocked off early on Friday and loaded the family into the car for another little camping weekend. The weather forecast was so good that it seemed a shame to stay at home. It worked out very well. We got a good spot on the campsite, we befriended a neighbouring family and apart from a few insect stings and sunburn managed to survive the weekend unscathed.

I have written a few posts about how beautiful the countryside is down there, so I promise not to rattle on about it too much. It gets a bit boring to read “away for another weekend and it was wonderful”. But I must not forget to tell you about a phenomenon called “Alpenglühen” or alpine glowing. The Alps only encroach onto the southernmost few kilometres of Germany and to the north of them is more or less flat countrrolling hills. If you are on top of one of the mountains the sun rises and sets over the flatlands. You get the first sun in the morning and the last rays at night. From our camp site this means that our tent was in shadow at about 8pm but the sun was still shining on the mountains half an hour or more later. Sometimes when the weather has been a bit rainy but is improving, a layer of cloud will hang around over the mountains even though a few kilometres into the flatlands the sky has cleared. If during this time the sun is setting it shines a very red light onto the higher mountain cliffs – if they are wet the reflection is even more powerful and they appear to be glowing red. We had a bit of Alpenglühen on Friday evening. It wasn’t the best I’ve seen but still breathtakingly beautiful and had everyone running for their cameras and phones to record it. You’ll have to take my word for it because by the time I had put my reading specs on and got my phone working, the summit was in shadow. I took a picture of some wispy clouds instead.

The rest of the weekend was without incident. It was cool at night, hot during the day and we spent two days next to a lake. The girls were in and out of the water, more or less continously, until Ariane and I nagged them back to the car in the evening. The only thing that spoiled the weekend for me was the trains. As we sat in front of our tent having our takeaway meals (Pizza on Friday, Kebab on Saturday) the local train would blast its horn as its two carriages ambled back and forth. I have never seen anyone on that train, but one of my daughters claimed she did see a passenger once so maybe it’s not just for decoration.

Agreed, a small local train on a single-track line is not the most offensive thing in the world but I am currently at war with Deutsche Bahn. Anything which reminds me of trains, casts a shadow over my otherwise cheerful and carefree demenour. Let me explain. Three weeks ago I had an appointment in Cologne. I took the train up there and finished the meeting in good time to catch my train back. I was keen to get back on time because the school holidays had just started and I thought we could all watch a film together. Unfortunately I got on the wrong underground by accident and instead of having plenty of time things suddenly got tight. I asked the woman next to me what to do and she told me where to change in order to get back to the main station. I reckoned that I could just about still make it. I checked my phone to see if the train to Stuttgart was maybe delayed a little… no dice. Bang on time, which isn’t as common as they would have you believe.

I had a three minute journey ahead of me and in three minutes my train in the main station would depart. I still reckoned I’d be OK. Just as the underground was about to leave a bald man ran up to the doors and managed to open them. It took us another thirty seconds to get moving. I gave the bald man (who looked like me) an evil stare, and mumbled that I hope I haven’t missed my train because of you. He was unphased.

When we arrived at the main station I ran up the stairs and slalomed through the commuters up to platform six – just in time to hear the whistle and see all the doors closing. I was literally 5 seconds too late. Still, I hit the little button to open the door and to my surprise it opened. I made a move to get in but a very large grumpy looking Deutsche Bahn employee stood in my way and said “Nein”. I didn’t actually say anything but my expression and gestures obviously showed my incredulity and she said “Nein!” loudly again. The door shut in my face and I stood there like an idiot. An angry idiot. It still takes a moment for several thousand tonnes of ICE train to get moving so I tapped on the windown and gave the employee a friendly hand-sign to signal my understanding for her strict observance of the health and safety regulations.

Well, there was nothing I could do. I got the next train an hour later and wrote an angry mail to the “Customer Care” mailbox. I got a load of waffle back which has made me even more angry. I suppose I could try and register a formal complaint against the employee (spitting image of Mrs Trunchbowl in Matilda if you’ve seen the film) but a spot of googling made me think that might not be a good idea. You see, over here, the courts are pretty strict about offensive remarks and signals. Due to the language barrier and the strange light in the station, she may well have misinterpreted my friendly signal and I don’t want to get in any trouble. My only consolation was that the elderly couple who initially looked taken aback at my reaction, then quickly agreed that I was fully justified in being less than delighted with the service of Deutsche Bahn and that Mrs Trunchbowl should have let me on. Grrr.

Whenever I heard the train blast its horn at the weekend, I got up and submerged myself in the cool lake. Did a few strokes underwater and by the time I returned to my spot, the redness in my face was due only to the sun.

Bis morgen!

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