It’s now been 9 weeks since the lockdown started, but we are now slowly being given our freedom back. Shops have been open for 2 weeks and last week even restaurants and bars were allowed to open – albeit with various restrictions. The main difference is now we must wear face-masks when we are in shops or moving about in bars and restaurants. When we sit down, then we can take the masks off. The “Maskenpflicht” (obligation to wear a mask) briefly sent the prices for masks sky-rocketing, but they have since plummeted back to normal levels. I have lots of masks now – our neighbour Susie kindly sewed one each for all the family, I had bought some at the chemists, and we ordered several thousand at work.
I am not good at keeping track of my face-masks (they seem to disappear into the same black hole as my reading glasses) which has been causing some problems. Notably when I walk to the bakery in the morning and turn the final corner to see people lining up – and remember that I haven’t got a mask with me. Well at least I get some extra steps in before breakfast. I made no such mistake this morning and set off jauntily with my mask in my pocket and music in my ears. Another bakery pilgrim was a few yards in front of me. He suddenly pulled up and stopped and I immediately knew what was wrong – forgotten his mask! I smirked smugly as he turned around and passed me. Been there, done that.
The bakery was surprisingly quiet this morning and I didn’t have to queue. I donned my mask and made my order. As I headed back I saw the mask-forgetting-stranger in the distance. I was going to have to stifle a second smirk! As he approached I realized I still had my mask on and decided to remove it. I had to do this with one hand because I was carrying a bag full of rolls with the other. I whipped the mask off and somehow managed to send one of my airpods flying onto the pavement. The stranger stopped and there was an awkward moment as he bent to pick it up but then decided against it, presumably for Corona reasons. I bent down and collected the little white bud from just in front of his trainer. We then did a little dance as we silently negotiated which side of the pavement to pass on, and then we were both on our way again. No smirking this time around.
A couple of days earlier I had enjoyed a glorious day in the Alps with virtually no face-mask problems. Last Thursday was Father’s Day – which is also a bank holiday. Ariane and my daughters made breakfast and as the weather looked perfect, and we are allowed to travel again, I said I’d like to drive to the mountains to go paragliding. We knew that the weather would be good until late evening, so we were in no hurry and set off here at noon to arrive two hours later at the bottom of the Breitenberg – which used to be the “local hill” when I lived in Bavaria. I knew the cable cars weren’t working, so we were in for a long walk to the launch area. Ariane (she’s also a paraglider pilot) and I geared up, filled our water bottles and started the long climb.
It was a hard but pleasant walk up. We paced ourselves and were greeted by a surprising large number of people walking back down. Usually at this time of year, the mountain is packed with overweight tourists who get the cable-car up, walk a hundred yards to the restaurant and then take a late lift back down before telling their friends that they’ve been out hiking. We were quite impressed by the number of people descending as they must have walked up. But I expect they were just as happy as us to finally be allowed out in the mountains and were happy to put in a bit more effort. The path was too narrow to leave the recommended 1.5 m distance when passing, but nobody seemed to mind. Out there in the alpine sunshine, the virus seemed so distant that we somehow escaped mentally for a while.
When, after just under two hours, we reached the top I was surprised to find out that the restaurant was open. I wasn’t surprised to see it was empty – because I assume that like us everyone had carried their own food and water up. And they had done so because the restaurant owners hadn’t put a sign or any indication at the bottom of the mountain that they were open. If my business were at the top of a mountain with arguably the best view in Germany, I think I’d have probably put a sign at the bottom saying we were open. Anyway, it was hot and I’d finished my water, so I walked up to the restaurant and order 2 bottles of water. The young man serving me asked me if I had a mask. I said no, it was down in the car. He heaved a deep sigh and made quite an exhibition of walking all the way to the back of the restaurant, putting on his mask and coming back – empty-handed. I told him I would still like the two bottles of water. He went back in and sorted that out for me. I let him keep the change out of my 5 euro note as I didn’t want to make him do the journey again. On the whole, people have been more friendly during the Corona crisis, but this chap was determined to break the mould.
Not to worry, we set off up the final few metres to take off and half an hour later we were both flying above the mountain with the snow-capped Austrian Alps to our south and the rolling foothills of Bavaria stretching out to the north. As Ariane got ready to launch, it occurred to me that we were the last people on the mountain (apart from the grumpy waiter in his restaurant). I liked that feeling. The stationary chair-lift was just a reminder of how busy it would be next weekend when the lifts are allowed to open again. We flew around for a while before touching down about an hour later before packing up and heading home. It was a truly special day, and assuming that we don’t have another lockdown, we’ll probably not experience another like it.