I think now is an apt time to explain the ´suiting up´ process as I´ll call it for getting ready to go on a motorbike trip.
First I put the over trousers on, tightening the strap at the waist and making sure the knee and hip protectors are in place. I then slip on my riding boots and laces. Then I put a thermal or jacket on, pulling on a balaclava type scarf over the top to stop the wind coming under the helmet, and of course to stop the helmet strap chaffing my designer stubble. Next comes the jacket, which is no small feat depending on how much clothing is underneath. It also has a zip and dome clips.
Keys, wallet, phone, insurance papers, ownership papers, compulsory EU crash form, check. MP3 player, or ear plugs in, helmet on, bike security chain off, gloves on, ignition, heated handlebars on, and then you´re ready to go. And that’s if you have no luggage!
For that I have to cram everything into three bags, strap one on the back, two on the front making sure the map is readable in the plastic sleeve. You may think I´m whining, I´m not really because once you grip the throttle tighter, ease it back to 100 km an hour, feeling the curves in the road as you lean into the corners, forested mountains ahead, meandering river by your side it really, really is worth it.
But I must admit jumping into a car in Gomaringen in the south of Germany really did seem simple. Wallet, camera, and you´re gone. Cars can be exciting too, especially if you´re heading for the German autobahn. 205 kmh later and 100 kmh seems like walking pace.
Did you know that most autobahn crashes occur when people exit? They slow down to 120 which seems so slow, take the off ramp too fast and end up going off the side. Everything is relative I guess.
I must say, being with David, Ben, and Elja was really fun. After a couple of weeks hopping from place to place, meeting some great people on the way, it was really good to settle down somewhere for a week.
I read somewhere that Germany has the most castles for its size. I have to admit, I do love castles, and I saw four quite thoroughly. Schloss (which means castle) Hohenzollern, Lichtenstein, Ludwigsburg, and Heidelberg. All very different and all very cool. What is it with royalty though? There was so much inbreeding and opulence that I think their brains just fried.
King Ludwig (guess which castle he built) got so power crazy he called himself the sun king, as in he provides life to his subjects. If it wasn´t for him they wouldn’t exist. Now his castle is a tourist attraction with a beautiful park and some crazy fairy tale buildings. Well I think I can safely say if it wasn´t for him, the life size tower and Rapunzel’s hair wouldn´t exist. The schloss was amazing though, every room was decorated by a famous artist of the time and walking through it makes you think you´re in another world.
My favourite place in southern Germany was Heidelberg, without a question. I can´t really explain why but I guess you just have to go there. It´s a student town built on a river with a huge half ruined castle overlooking it, and winding cobbled streets in the old town. That sets the scene but the atmosphere was something else.
David and I drove there and we were staying with his girlfriend Evi and her flatmate, who are excellent cooks by the way, also why I liked the place. Eggs, croissants, bread, spreads (including a new ovaltine spread, hmm mmm), many different meats, cheese, and that’s just for breakfast.
University fraternities are huge in Germany, mainly because they´re very well established. They own a lot of the biggest houses in university cities and some of them are pretty crazy. I finally learnt why some high class German men have duelling scars. Some of the more far out fraternities do duelling and each new member has to fight the champion. The champion will cut the cheek of the new member sometime during the fight and then they´re initiated. But sometimes they´re slightly off target and they get the nose or lip. Gutted for them. I don´t know, I think I´d rather just pay for my studies.
I actually went to a fraternity party, a not so crazy one and rest assured my nose and lip are still intact. We got in because a friend of a friend of Davids girlfriend knew someone in the fraternity… Part way through the party I stopped and thought “Here I am, in one of the best houses in one of the most beautiful cities in the world surrounded by Germans in a sort of secret society“. Wow, I never would have expected that.
The next couple of days were spent at Eljas flat in Tubingen, another university city. That makes three in a week including Weingarten with David. Not bad.
Sometime during this week I found myself hanging by a rope from the top of a 45 metre tower with Ben controlling my abseiling descent. Another stop, think moment. We had taken a nice ride over the Swabian Alps, he has a BMW as well, to this huge tower he had found. It was fenced off so we climbed over it. Well I should say I climbed over it, he could have almost stepped over it he´s over two meters tall.
Anyway the first descent I controlled which was rosy. The second descent he said he´d control it from the bottom and I could take photos or something. Why not? So here I was videoing myself and then he dropped me. I still laugh at the video, you can really see the fear on my face, I thought he was going to kill me.
Some other information I managed to pick up in Germany: Everything is so controlled, including hunting. Get this, if a car hits a deer, pig, or fox, the universal hunting insurance has to pay for the damages because the hunters shouldn’t have allowed them to cross the road without shooting them. And did you know that the term ´Follow your nose´ comes from when castles emptied waste into their moats so you could smell them for miles. In Germany most old trees and buildings are protected so you can’t change them. But in Gomaringen there´s an old tree growing into an old church and no one knows what to do. A bit of a catch 22 situation. But what a country.