Autumn must be one of the best times to travel through this beautiful part of rural Germany. We are leaving Proitze just in time – large groups of cranes fly overhead, tempting us to move southwards with them – we hear their eerie cries and then we see them in big V-formation, 50-200 birds at a time. It’s beautiful to watch them as they circle on a thermal wind to get higher up, then forming their long lines to set off South.
The migration of cranes usually means cold weather within a week or two, so it’s high time that we get going too…
If you want to see a typical part of Germany where at least, at first glance, one can think that man and landscape are living in pretty good harmony with each other, then start from the Wendland and drive South and slightly east from there, travelling through Thueringen and the Harz. The woodlands are stunning right now, the sunlight on the leaves of all colours creates a feast for the eyes. Last night, a big full moon rose out of the forest above the misty meadows, just like it should do in Germany, according to one of its most famous lullabies:
Der Mond ist aufgegangen
Die goldnen Sternlein prangen
Am Himmel hell und klar,
Der Wald steht Schwarz und schweiget
Und aus den Wiesen steiget
Der weisse Nebel wunderbar.
A frosty night with not a breath of wind, so all the beautiful leaves are still on the trees for us to enjoy as we travel from Helmstedt further South.
The next morning, the world is shrouded in a misty silence and remains so for most of the next two days as we cross first Sachsen-Anhalt and then Thueringen. Some of the trees are now bare, with a golden carpet beneath them. Forests appear out of the mist with the colours gradually materialising as we drive towards them. We stop overnight in Nordhausen where we spend some time in the beautiful new Library, catching up on news on the internet and sending long overdue emails.
We drive on, and as darkness settles in (shockingly early since the change from Summertime to Wintertime!) our conversation turns introspective. I’ve been wondering why here in Germany I don’t have the same drive to meet new people and make interesting connections, to stop and chat in the way that we’ve done in Spain or Portugal. Maybe it’s because they are my people? That I somehow feel there’s not much novelty in it for me, not so much to learn or discover? But talking to Frank I find out it’s the same for him. So maybe the people are not curious about us, so don’t seek a deeper contact with us. People are not unfriendly though….In the end, we realise that we are not yet going slowly enough to create the situations where we can truly meet people and be open for that special conversation. Last year it took us 6 weeks to slow down. This year, we haven’t had a chance yet to slow down, as October in Germany was interspersed with 3 weekend workshops and one whole week of Tango, necessitating criss-cross travel to get to the right place at the right time.
After this conversation, I meet a woman behind the till at a fuel station with another smile, another mind-set, and time to linger… with instant results
Refuelled and with lots of info on local attractions, we travel on and plunge into another conversation of reflection, this time about relationships in the past and our fears and hopes when we were both younger. Frank is in the middle of talking about the year he took his one-man show on tour, when it happens. We are on a fairly straight stretch of road and someone comes towards us on our side of the road, at high speed. Frank and I see it at the same time. In this moment, time slows down. I take a deep in-breath and feel the full impact of the helpless inevitablility of the situation. Frank flashes the lights at the oncoming car. In the last moment, the car rights its path and swerves back to the other side of the road. We both breathe out. Another life has been granted to us, and to the person(s) in the other car. A reason to celebrate, and a sharp reminder never to take any moment for granted.
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