REIT IM WINKL, GERMANY – OCTOBER 2016
‘Seasons of mists and mellow fruitfulness’*1.
Whoever decided that we should honour German re-unification with a public holiday made a good decision. Whoever decided that teachers from a certain International School in the North of Munich should have a 5 day break to punctuate the longest term, made an even better one. Thanks to these decisions, on a Thursday (for heaven’s sake), Teddy and I found ourselves speeding out of Lohhof for a long weekend, destination mountains…….
We made our base in Reit im Winkl a ridiculously pretty little town snuggly nestled in between the gentle, undulating, welcoming curves of our Bavarian slopes and the big ‘f*@k off’ mountains of Austria – jagged, hard and at times inhospitable, they command respect with their very own brand of brutality. In fact, the B305 road from the A8 to Reit passes through several ridiculously pretty little towns and past some familiar mountains – the town of Marquatstein is gateway to Hochgern, a great hike I did earlier in the year. Reit im Winkl used to be an immigration and customs control point (back in the day
before the Schengen Zone was created*2.) It is known locally as the ‘snow-magnet’ because there’s always a lot of it! (even when surrounding areas don’t have any). This makes it popular with winter sports enthusiasts and hikers alike. Ours was going to be a budget weekend as neither of us had much cash to splash. We were just looking forward to a bit of down time.
We arrived slightly early for check in so we found ourselves a coffee in the centre of town. We sat in full sunshine. I began to relax. Just a bit. Then we went looking for our apartment. This took a bit of time as it was part of a big Bavarian Farmhouse in a tiny hamlet just outside the main town. There are quite a lot of big Bavarian farmhouses in tiny hamlets outside the main town and, once you’ve driven passed them a few times, one box of geraniums tends to look much like another! However, eventually we rocked up to Beim Hanslbauer in Birnbach. Here, there were no sounds except the cows lowing, the tractors tractoring and the crickets singing. We approached the house and rang the bell. No one came. We walked around the outside of the building. Nothing. No one. Again we tried the door and this time, Grandma let us in. Now. Anyone who has visited this part of the world will know that family, and looking after your elderly relatives in their golden years is at the heart of Bavarian life. It is one of the many attractive features about living here. However. This is all very well but you don’t leave Grandma in charge of the family silver. Bless her, this beautiful, petite old lady with her pink apron, furry slippers and grey hair swept off her face, did not know who we were and was a little bit alarmed at the arrival of the “Englische Damen”. She led us down a long dark passage then down a few steps into another long dark passage.
Teddy, empathetically, was attempting conversation but the old lady’s Bayerische dialect was difficult to understand. I meekly trotted behind assuming Teddy was asking about when we could get into our apartment but they could have been exchanging family recipes for scones for all the Bayerisches dialect I know! Eventually it transpired that the old lady was looking for her daughter and, sensing that she was becoming a little confused we made our farewells and went back to sit in the car.
A few phone calls later, we established that Mum had gone shopping and to collect her daughter and would be there any minute!!
Eventually, we were shown to our apartment, and it did not disappoint. Decorated circa 1985 you could not call it fancy, but it had everything we needed and more. In particular, the bathroom was top notch and there was a lovely balcony which faced the evening sun. Marvellous.
Within minutes of unpacking and with no planning, we were out in the full sunshine, map in hand, heading uphill towards Hutzenalm. The path was just outside our front door.
Our first route, took us up and around the back of the town to the North. Having gained some height, we stopped at Hutzenalm to take in the widening views. From this point, it was just possible to see past the nearby ‘baby’ mountains (eg Fellhorn and Unterberghorn) to the peaks of the big buggers of the Kaisergebirge range behind, now visible with snow on them. With bright Bavarian blue sky as a backdrop the outlook was stupendous. Walking in the heat was just becoming something of a challenge when we were welcomed into the shade of the woods. Here we were met with the un-mistakeable smell of Autumn – you know the one? a sun-shiney, damp, muskiness that tickles your nostrils even as you snap dry twigs and rustle crisp beech leaves under your feet…..
As we walked, I confided more and more in Teddy. I told her about my Mother’s stroke in January and about how this had opened up some old wounds. I talked to her about some of the financial pressures I had experienced in February and March when, after a lot of hassle, I finally sold the house in the UK (at a loss). I confessed about the sense of failure I felt at losing the home I had rebuilt for my children and Grandson which was also my base in the UK. I angrily shared the sense of complete betrayal and rejection I felt, from my own country – now even more an exile since the vote of June 23rd . I tried to explain to Teddy the devastating sense of loss I experienced (and was experiencing still) when my ex-husband died in April (more old wounds opening – did I ever get over him leaving me?) Then that God awful funeral….. Then, in May and June all the hassle at work. The argument with my daughter in July was still hanging over me and the silence from my son who hadn’t communicated, since the funeral was also praying on my mind. As we walked, a whole pile of loss and grief began to fall out of my back pack. 9 months worth of pent up unhappiness. 9 months!! The time it takes to grow a whole human life. And as I emptied my baggage, the load I was carrying got a little lighter.
Teddy was a good listener. And it was so good to talk to her.We reached Eckkapelle, and popped in for a quick pray.
It is one of the features of the Bavarian Alps to have these little chapels and, indeed many types of shrine dotted all over the mountains. Over the years I have come to really appreciate these reminders of spirituality and mortality subtly dotted around the landscape. The silence and stillness in your head that walking offers also presents a great opportunity to think and reflect. I find these little places deeply comforting, not least for the fact that they appear when you least expect them. This tiny church was completely open to the elements (and anything or anyone else who might want to damage it) yet it was beautifully intact and preserved. Just there, in the woods!
Dropping back into town, we passed cows, tractors and some beautiful houses and gardens.
We bought postcards and a ‘serious loaf’ of bread – the kind that weighs about a 10kg and is packed so tightly with seeds, grains and all manner of good things you can feel your arteries unclogging just by looking at it. Of course, you could also use it as a weapon if you threw it at someone’s head……
But I digress……
We headed home for our first of three fabulously simple meals on the balcony watching a glorious sunset. Teddy consulted her exercise app (which we christened ‘The Friendly Pedo’) and we were able
to work out that we had done 12km in total and approx. 600m up and down. Not bad for a first day warm up.
With a spongey mattress, gooey pillow and a duvet so soft and creamy you melted into it, you could say that going to bed was like falling into a trifle. Certainly getting out of it in the mornings with just the merest hint of muscle ache and slight suggestion of ‘Prosecco head’ felt like trying to climb out of a bowl of custard. We were in no hurry to start our days, knowing that we were 1-2 hours ahead of schedule compared to catching the train/bus from Munich. This logic failed to work however as we continued to dawdle, drink tea, read books, have another cup of tea…..
Thus day 2 – our big adventure up Felhorn (1764m) started somewhat later than planned. We set a good pace up the first section to Hindenburghütte (1260m) because we wanted to, not because we had too. I was last here in March when it was snowy, very foggy and not a little inhospitable. The views then, were non-existent. So it was a real joy to arrive at the hut and see Chiemsee shining out below.
As with Day 1, we had the path completely to ourselves.
At the hut, there were a few people, including a group of middle aged men discussing ‘shed things’ presumably while their wives went shopping! You will often find such groups in the mountains and it seems to me this is an extension of the Stammtisch (3*) concept – another typical feature of Bavarian life and, in my view, very healthy it is too. It is the idea that groups of like minded people (frequently single sex groups) meet together on a regular basis to chew the cud. It does not replace the idea of friends but somehow it formalizes what I feel is a basic human need – the need to share and support each other. Usually these gatherings involve alcohol but they take place sat down around a table, mostly with food – thus avoiding the binge drinking mentality of another country I could name.
After a quick bevvy and a loo stop we began stage 2, particularly exciting for me as this was further than I had reached last time. The woodland path changed to gravel track and the deciduous trees of the lower slopes became conifers. It got colder. In places much steeper. We stopped for a picnic (‘Serious Loaf’ continuing to satisfy). It started to get a bit harder and we were keen to reach Straubingerhaus (1558m).
As we crossed the Austrian border, the landscape changed again:
fewer trees, more rocks and more firs with ‘dreadlocks’. Stunning rowan trees, their branches sagging under the weight of berries were pregnant with expectation, ready to be plucked. Autumn was in full swing, even at this altitude.
The non appearance of the hut was just becoming something of a joke when quite suddenly, there it was just beneath the crown of Eggenalmkogel. Although tired, we both picked up pace to get there. Once at the hut we discovered we were only 45 minutes from Felhorn (sound like a song title?). So near and yet just that little bit too far for us on that day. One of the things I am learning, the more I do this hiking malarkey stuff, is the importance of reading your hiking partner or team mates and judging what they are honestly capable of and, more importantly, what it takes to make them happy. Teddy and I had not hiked together before and on this trip, I was responsible for any decisions made. Whilst I was more than happy to press on to the summit at the risk of returning to the lower slopes in the dark (having done this on several occasions) Teddy was not so, choosing caution over risk we headed back down.
We boshed it down the mountain, passing whispering grasses wafting in the late afternoon breeze and silver birches glimmering in the fading sun.
Teddy suddenly disappeared off piste at one point and randomly started climbing a deer hide! This was surprising for a number of reasons, not least that Teddy gets vertigo! A bit later, we both climbed another hideout, spending some precious moments up in the trees with nothing but bird song and the eerie sound of dry, brittle leaves falling to the ground to keep us company. Peace, stillness, calm…..
Back at base, The Friendly Pedo told us we had done 20km and approx. 1000m up and down. I cooked a proper meal that night (Spag Bol. Serious Loaf was not involved), we watched another stunning sunset then chatted about husbands, sons and lovers (the real things, not the DH Lawrence version) and other great works of fiction, fantasy and reality into the wee small hours…….
We had a number of options planned for day 3 and the night before we agreed to finalise plans in the morning – the main choices being between a ‘guaranteed safety hike’ to Taubensee and a ‘take a bit of a risk’ hike to Lochner Wasserfalle.
Risk won. We headed for the football field in Walchsee, destination route 55B to Wanderburg. This began well enough. Another gentle incline, this time next to a stream, with ripe and juicy apples in orchards and bright dahlias shouting from every other garden we passed.
(The dahlias reminded me of my Grandma’s garden. She grew hundreds, every year, lifting them after flowering and storing the tubers in the cellar, a job I helped her with. She’d have loved these gardens.)
The stream became more rocky and the water deeper and faster. The path changed, quite suddenly becoming almost vertical with big steps carved out of the muddy bank. This required quite a lot of effort to step up, almost like climbing a ladder and I soon realized I was quite tired with just a tiny bit of cramp emerging in my calf muscles.
Teddy meanwhile, a little further ahead appeared to be clinging to roots of trees on the path as though her life depended on it, neither looking to the right or to the left. I felt the pang of responsibility kick in again. We carried on a bit further willing each other on but eventually with an attack of the vertigos Teddy admitted defeat saying she could not go any further. I really wanted to see that waterfall so I carried on a bit, fairly sure it would be just round the next bed. After all, I could hear it – and it was loud. But, despite getting higher and now having to jump over wet stones, the waterfall proved evasive. After about 10 minutes, guilt got the better of me and I headed back to Teddy who was waiting like a little pixie on a mound of beech leaves.
Another good decision.
Back in Walchsee we indulged in one of our few extravagances of the trip and bought an iced coffee over-looking the lake. This cost the same amount as Serious Loaf (7 euros) and we both felt a little cheated that one of our few purchases of the weekend left us feeling ripped off! Plus, the lake, although pretty, reminded me of Helston lake(4*), what with the pedalloes et al. That’s probably unfair. I guess I’m becoming just a tad spoilt when it comes to mountain lakes with phenomenal mountain ranges in the background ! This one just didn’t quite come up to muster!! (although the Wilder Kaiser range behind it was breath taking….)
Having cut our day a bit short we headed back to town and did our own thing for a while. I read Julian Barnes ‘Sense of an Ending’ which I have to get finished by Thursday for book club and Teddy went swimming – the only person in the pool, apparently.
That evening, Teddy cooked omelettes (surely this simple dish is the food of the gods?) and our final cosy evening in went on for a long time. With no internet, no Radio 4 and no other distractions, conversation has never felt so good. And neither has rest and relaxation.
Embracing the sense of seasons passing has been good for me. Time does pass. Life does move forward and change and new beginnings are an inevitable part of it. We grow, we produce fruit then fade and die, leaving our seeds behind. This is part of nature’s cycle – “ and thus the whirligig of time brings in his revenges” *5. I have already embraced more change than I could possibly have imagined 8 years ago. Change for the good.Now? well, it’s been a difficult couple of years but I know I can embrace change again. My roots, after all, are strong even if the top dressing gets bashed and blown about from time to time.
And I think I am learning something really quite important about myself. Two of our 3 hikes did not reach our objective but were no less rewarding because of that. In fact, I was surprisingly relaxed that I did not ‘conquer all’. It sounds a bit of a cliché but it was the journey, the path to get there and the person I was sharing it with that made it special, not the objective itself. I have always pushed myself too hard. Tried to do too much. Please too many people. Maybe I’m beginning to learn…….
We left this lovely part of the world on Sunday morning, just as the weather turned, but I’ll be back. Our hastily arranged, last minute budget weekend, proved that this Autumn, Reit was Right.
(by John Keats)
Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness!
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eaves run;
to bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease
For Summer has o’er-brimm’d their clammy cells.
Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
Or on a half reap’d furrow sound asleep,
Drowsed with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
Spares the next swath and all its twinèd flowers;
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
Steady thy laden head across a brook;
Or by a cider-press, with patient look,
Thou watches the last oozing hours by hours.
Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,
While barrèd clouds bloom the soft-dying day,
And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;
then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
Among the river sallows, borne aloft
Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
The redbreast whistles from a garden-croft;
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.
*1. from a poem by John Keats
* 2. The Schengen Zone is an area of (currently) 26 european states that have abolished passport and any other type of border control from their borders. The original Schengen Agreement was signed in 1985
*3. A Stammtisch (German for “regulars’ table”, is an informal group meeting held on a regular basis, and also the usually large, often round table around which the group meets. A Stammtisch is not a structured meeting, but rather a friendly get-together.
*4. Helston Lake is a lovely little boating lake in the market town of Helston, Cornwall
*5. From Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. Act V scene I: Why, “some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrown upon them.” …….and thus the whirligig of time brings in his revenges.(Fool)