Adventures from the Blau Haus
Langenaltheim. The name was unfamiliar as was the pronunciation. We found that we needed to break the place down to the syllabi to remember the sequence of sounds that made the name of the place we were to call home during our stay in Bavarian Germany. I focused on the “genal” part, because it sounded like genial and that’s what I hoped for. I was a tad bit apprehensive of Germany as a destination - it has none of the glamour associated with all the typical European destinations. If one were to go with stereotypes, you just expected a gruff, no-nonsense, hardworking, business and brusque country - with plenty of beer. I couldn’t have been more wrong. What I found in Germany challenged my ardent and unquestioned love for Paris.
We were driving down from Paris and we took a little longer to get to Germany than we’d anticipated. Into this remote, person-less but well-paved village Google maps confidently led us on till…….. the Airbnb directions stopped abruptly at a fork in the road. In a quiet, little village. That was lit mostly by stars. Without a soul up and about and nary a light at a window. In the middle of literally nowhere, Miss Google Maps chirpily announced “You have arrived”! Our host didn’t speak much English. And none of us spoke German and we had no point of reference to tell her where we were. She’d given us directions (which were very accurate) but we couldn’t make head or tail of it.
As we would find out later, the Airbnb directions were a good five kilometres off. A few unsuccessful attempts at scouting the neighbourhood and locations and photos of “we are here” landmarks, she sent a message that Google Translate announced as “I know where you are, I’ll come get you!” Hal-finally-lelujah! We were highly inconveniencing her - this was well after 11 in the night - so we expected a grumpy German to show us our way. Instead we met a cheery ginger elf with a generous laugh and friendly face. Melanie was straight out of an Enid Blyton book. She led the way to a house that was at least a good twisty, turn-y five kilometres from the spot Google Maps Lady cheerily did her “You have arrived” announcement. We’d have never found our way in the dark.
The place was gorgeous. Melanie communicated and gesticulated and google translated all the workings of the place. And we communicated and gesticulated and Google Translated that we understood. We finally laughed our Good Nights to each other, like friends do. Germany opened on a good note. And it only got better from there.
Morning began with the repetitive tapping of a chisel on stone. Not loud enough to be intrusive but rather charming. I stumbled down the wooden stairs that thudded pleasantly under my feet. Give me a thudding staircase over a creaking one any day. A quick look outside the window showed a garden with apple trees and dew-heavy grass. Our neighbouring garden was busy with people making sculptures. I made myself some coffee and went to what would become my “sun-spot” over the next five days. An “outside sitting area” a glass-walled portico of sorts. The sun approached the space like a shy child. In small steps and then slowly getting comfortable and then next thing you know, all the dolls are out in a game. Another thing about the Blau Haus that really drew me to is that it reminded me of my grandparent’s place where most of my cousins and I grew up. The blue colour, the single roof gable and just the way the house sat sunning itself like a great big blue cat - it was like meeting a friend in this completely unexpected way.
One by one, all seven of us were up and quite hungry. The house was so large that the seven of us found our very own nook. We were crazy hungry after that long, dinner-deprived drive. Shiva immediately looked up a breakfast place that was highly rated. Alright Germany, impress us! Lehner-Back appeared to be about a few kilometres away - a little longish to go for breakfast, but what the hell, we were all for adventure. If we thought it was long, Google Maps chose to make it longer by taking us through the scenic route. We drove through pine forests and past deep quarries, making us wonder how much a person needed to travel to get a bite.
But Lehner-Back was worth all the roundabout and more. The pine trees cleared into fields and soon we were in a picture book. Pastel houses with deep gables and flower boxes that played neat games in green, red and pink. Everything looked like they were painted with the assistance of a dessert inspired shade card. The church of St. Willibald peeked from behind some of these cute buildings, waving like an acquaintance. I’d have liked to get to know it better, but I didn’t want to intrude. We stopped outside a cute pastry pink building that gave no particular indication of being filled to the gills with delicious food. We weren’t even sure if they were open or not. German restraint? Perhaps.
They were open and how. A warm albeit startled Bavarian “Hello” issued from behind the counter. I don’t know if that’s a standard German “hullo” or a Bavarian one - but this greeting that comes from the very heart and puts all its effort into becoming the warmest, butter-filled sound a human is capable of making, deserves its own blogpost. The entire face is invested in making that “hullo”. The bakery box was filled with so many nice things, we went a little mad ordering things. You know what they say about shopping on an empty stomach. So we braced ourselves for a bill that would make a dent in our daily budget. And we got one under 20 euros. WHAT! We were loving Germany already. The breads gave the much-revered French bread a lot of competition. Am I the last one on the planet to get the “German bread is divine” memo?
Langenaltheim is a small limestone quarry Bavarian village, pretty close to the town Solnhofen which has some tourist value for its natural museum and impressive fossil collection. The Solnhofen Limestone has preserved clues and detailed fossils from the Jurassic era when most of Germany was covered in a shallow sea. It is known as the home of the Archaeopteryx - the transitional genus connecting “non-avian feathered dinosaurs” and birds as we know them. Lithography began with Solnhofen Limestone as well, with Johann Alois Senefelder inventing and developing the printing method in the 1790s upon being in debt and unable to publish his newest play. The things writers had to do back in the day! You can find more about it at the Bürgermeister Müller Museum. The Sola Basilica is an 11th century church On the site of the Sola Basilica, a Mesolithic open-air station and a smelting site of the Late Hallstatt and Early La Tène periods as well as the Early Middle Ages were discovered. These traces of settlement date back to about 8000 BC.
While Solnhofen has all this illustrious past to indulge in, Langenaltheim seems to have more exciting things on its agenda. The former quarries offer some interesting off-roading opportunities. And every time we drove by, we saw powerful vehicles have a go. It appears to be a great place for long hikes and treks. The nearby forests have resident deer and foxes like one of our night drives revealed. A couple of times we drove past a pen with horses as black as the night - I honestly believe that’s where night is contained during the day. About the time when magic hour is its brightest, slicing your eyes so hard that you have to pull down the visors while you drive, a big huge man opens the gate and lets loose the horses. They gallop is a frenzy and that becomes night. All kinds of hocus pocus called that forest home - of that I’m sure. It was magic. At the end of our five days in Langenaltheim we found out the obvious - five was just too little to explore Bavaria.
Weirdly a lot of people don’t associate Germany with great tourism destination. There’s the Romantic Road circuit to begin with. All those castles, a good many of them, the legacy of the Mad King or the Moon King or the swan king - King Ludwig II, the brooding enigma of Bavarian aristocracy. Then there is Black Forest. The incredible beauty of the German wilderness is just magic. I can’t wait to go back to this surprisingly warm and gregarious country with it’s apfel orchards and its massive beersteins and barley gold sunlight and fairytale turrets. We’d expected to be given the “brown skin” treatment and instead got chatty grandmothers with a mop of silver for hair, talking to us endlessly in German and us nodding helplessly, smiling away at how adorable she is. A bakery lady who wished us heartily “Guten Morgen” and patiently waited till we were done manically pointing to everything in the box and then gave us a bottle of (delicious) chocolate milk on the house. And Melanie - dear moon bear of a Melanie with her “Perfaaqt” and our bumpy but very friendly google-translate aided correspondence. Germany was and is, indeed, a really good friend.