Traitor's Gate The Claws of Time


Traitor's Gate

The Claws of Time

The Rabbit's Laugh

Never say anything in Germany, especially not in German

Freiburg am Breisgau
January, 2002

"You're crazy!"

"I'm not crazy. I wear matching shoes, and can do long division. Besides, I only said 'Hello' to them."

"You're a crazy guy! Verruckt! Don't do it again, they'll think you're mad and call the police!"

There is one great crime in Germany, one terrible indescretion. It's almost indescribable in the German language, though they'll try, by God, how about ungeschicklichkeit - you know that's nothing good just by the amount of spit you'll need to say it at all. Even now, as people scurried away from me in alarm, I knew that I had done it. I had just committed the crime.

I had said 'Hello' to strangers while walking in the Black Forest. If I had grabbed a branch and bludgeoned them over the head they would have looked less shocked, though more dented. After all, what is a stranger if not suspicious? Why was I, a suspicious stranger, addressing them? I must be a lunatic, they decided, and hurried away before I started drooling on their spotless goretex jackets.

The correct way to greet strangers on the forest paths of Baden-Wurttenberg, I discovered, is to cease speaking immediately, and as you pass them in total silence, give them a long, hard stare. They'll do the same back. I guess it's a sign of mutual repect for each other's sanity. I wanted to give them a bit of a wink too, as if to say, by my cold looks you can tell I'm not mad, but watch out back there. There's a man in these woods running around saying 'Hello' to total strangers. What's worse, I think he may be foreign.

Du musst einen PLAN machen

It was a small miracle that we were walking there at all. Sabine had reacted with ill-concealed concern when I mentioned the idea. "Let's go up Schauinsland tomorrow " I said, "If it's nice." She ran into the living room and started shuffling pamplets, timetables and maps, looking from to the other and muttering curses on my head. "Was gibt?" I wondered.

"We NEED to make a PLAN!" Sabine had started to pack. We only had the rest of that evening, the night, and the morning to go. Shauinsland mountain was three miles away and well served by trams, busses, cycle tracks and paths. I chewed my lip. "So we can't just go?"

"We must MAKE A PLAN!" Julia, Sabine's flatmate, would not accept my nonsense either. There were bus times to find, paths to choose, raincoats to consider, sandwiches, waterbottles and cameras to line up, and only ten hours to go. And alternatives to consider just in case the first plan failed. For reason of meteor storms, for example.

For my part, I checked my shoes. They were still there. "Perhaps if we just go everything will be okay?" Crazy guy! Crazy foreigner! verruckt! "Du hast kein PLANNN!"

"Yes, I do. I'm going to follow you. We won't get lost, and if by chance Germany is sunk by an iceberg, at least I'll have someone to eat." She gave me a cold, hard stare. I think it was a friendly greeting.

Das ist so Cool

Sabine and Julia lived in the Freiburg suburb of Haslach ( tr. "Rabbit's Laugh". Note to Germany: never name a town during mushroom-picking season.) I was pleased to have a couple of days in Southern Germany to practise my German, and pick up a few words of Badisch dialect to impress my language class comrades in England (try Kansch dem Hase gebbe! - 'You can give that to the rabbits!', a sure argument winner, rabbits being everything around here.) I wanted to wander from the known paths of everyday English to the wilds of another language a little.

Unfortunately for me, the entire young population of Germany seemed to be stampeding the other way. It is not considered cool ('kuhl') or sexy ('erotische') to use ordinary German words for everyday items any more. Instead, you are supposed to figure out the approximate English equivalent and use that instead. So don't say Fahrkarte, say Tikkit. As you might expect, this bastard jobbing of English words out of context sounds ridiculous. The town was playing host to a roving music festival that month. It was called, to be cool, "The Monkey Jump". What had monkeys got to do with it, or anything? I mean monkeys, do they jump at all, don't they just swing? What, I mean, what the.... why...

Words failed me.

Deutschland libre

Linguistic inadequacy aside, Germany is a very liberal country. The towns are spacious and airy, and not too large, home to a friendly, eco-concious people who like nothing better than to be active and outdoors.

The Black Forest, with or without a plan, is a good place to be. A crisp autumn breeze whispering of pine needles and forest-coloured memory, gathered to play hide-and-seek between sunlight and shade. We could look down from Shauinsland to Freiburg and across the Rhine to the Vosges. The air was soft and the trees glowed. I was walking with a pretty girl who knew how to laugh, and everything was well. When, all sudden, something happened. Sabine and I drew close, looking back up the track, unable to comprehend. A shadow drew over the sun.

"Did you hear that?" An shiver ran up my spine.
"Yes...but how..I don't understand..."
"They must be crazy," I said with more firmness than I felt, and we hurried away.

Strangers, cheery faced and beaming on that perfect autumn day, had said Guten Tag to us.





Fasent father to son


Freiburg Münster



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The Facts

Where I stayed

How I got around:
Ryanair to Strasbourg, then train to Freiburg.