Wednesday, December 20, 2006

High Times

Once more, a retrospective post, but this time, something in the nature of a prequel, as will be revealed in the coming weeks...

Some years ago, business took me to a small town in the Schwarzwald - a place with a real fairy-tale feel. I still remember coming over a rise and seeing the extent of the forest of the first time - dark pine to the horizon. Within the forest itself, I saw picture-perfect wooden farmhouses and churches; and late one afternoon, I watched from beside the world's largest cuckoo clock (!) as a doe and her fawn stepped cautiously in to a meadow at the edge of the trees; the fawn was a ringer for Bambia.

Meetings over, I drove south from the forest; I still remember the perfection of that late-spring afternoon, driving a very new BMW past vineyard after vineyard. Then, Lake Constance came in view, and the beauty was too much: time to pull over. In front of me lay the vast blueness that the Germans call the Bodensee; beyond that, the air was clean and clear enough to reveal the great jagged snowy mass of the Alps - 50 kilometres away, in Switzerland.

The fairytale theme was continued at the lake shore, in the ancient island-town of Lindau. I reached the lake, and the old town of Lindau. The town is full of beautiful old German buildings, many of which have beautiful murals on their exterior walls. The most thematically relevant of these was a tower from which a painted Rapunzel had let down her long blonde locks, about 10 metres of them, to assist her waiting rescuer.

Unlike Rapunzel, I was not long delayed by the tower; reluctantly abandoning that beautiful BMW, I took a ferry from Friedrichshafen south across the lake, to Romanshorn in Switzerland (possibly the last country I had expected to reach by boat!). From there, a succession of trains brought me further south, first over gently rolling farmland; then gliding along the shores of the improbable, surreal powder-blue of Lake Thun; and finally, from Interlaken into the truly magical, numinous valley of Lauterbrunnen - better known to Tolkien fans as Rivendell. At this point, our fairy-tale theme is becoming an epic one: the valley sits below the trio of Jungfrau, Monch and the infamous Eiger.

The next day, I rode a cog-train up above Grindelwald. Abandoning rails for boots, a short hike up a ridge to the east of the infamous Eiger nordwand took me - standing in the very heart of Europe - beyond any sight or sign of man. Above me, cloud obscured the highest peaks; below, another layer filled the valley floors, and I stood alone in a world of naked rock and vast snowfields. Above me, glaciers sloped at improbably steep angles from unseen peaks; just beyond the relative safety of my ridge lay the scene pictured here - the debris from a vast avalanche.

Now, several years later and working in a very different role, I am expected at another meeting in the south of Germany - but first, I think I'll make a little detour...

No comments: