Up for breakfast at 7 and then on the road, the first of two days riding to the Alps in Austria. My GPS didn’t take a great liking to the route I wanted to give it this morning, persisting in doing something different no matter how many via points I put into it. Eventually it led us into the small harbor town and onto a short ferry. (It was of the type that is always free no matter where you find them in Finland and Sweden, but here in Germany we were made to pay.) Then we got onto some small roads winding through farmland that were quite pleasant.
The landscape was full of windmills, and, later on, fields of solar cells as well. Germany seemed to be moving into the future regardless of whether other countries were coming along or not.
I wonder whether the situation had been similar leading up to World Wars I and II. Had Germany also been so far ahead of everyone else back then that they eventually lost patience waiting for them to catch up? Certainly something had gotten Nietzsche and others alternately praising and damning German culture but always focusing on it as if there were few other developments worth noting in their contemporary world.
All of this was rather ironic considering how things stood 1500 years before that, when the Roman Empire represented everything civilized, while the Vandals, Goths, and other rough-living German tribes were like packs of wild wolves tearing away at its flanks. An East German colleague of mine in the research community had once laughingly remarked that “The wrong side sure won that war!” But in the story of human history, victory goes always to the strong. The Roman Empire was decaying from within, and there was some vitality in the Germanic culture that led them to defeat it despite vastly inferior technology and military discipline.
We finished up with the small roads in the morning and got onto the big A roads — the autobahns. My GPS had the speed limits stored for all roads, but once we hit the on ramp the display just disappeared. Indeed, cars were just flying by in the left lane. We stayed to the right, Päivi’s 500cc machine not being up for the exalted speeds that were possible here. But surprisingly we ran into problems when cars came in from the on ramps in front of us, because, however fast they liked to drive, the Germans did not particularly enjoy accelerating and would take their sweet time to come up to speed.
But in general things ran pretty smoothly and the drivers seemed pretty good, handling the large disparities in speed that tended to crop up with aplomb. Unfortunately, all of this smooth flowing meant that when things broke down, they broke down badly. Somewhere along the A9 southwest of Berlin there was a major accident in the morning, leaving at least one car in flames, which in turn lit a brushfire and caused the road to become blocked off. Traffic built up behind while the police inexplicably didn’t close off the entrances further up. Passage was only prevented for an hour or two, but the resulting jam-up lasted for the rest of the day. It was so bad when we hit it in the afternoon that traffic would literally halt for several minutes at a time, then advance one or two hundred meters, then halt again. We did this for almost four hours. It was hard to believe that there was absolutely nothing blocking the highway, but that was indeed how it was when we finally crawled up to the trouble spot at the end of the afternoon.
We hit a few more jams after that, totalling up to maybe an hour all told. The late summer sun slowly set on what had mercifully been a beautiful day, and the land rose up as we coursed into the northern foothills of the Bavarian Alps. Soon we found ourselves speeding through black night on the German autobahn!
Finally we rolled in to Bayreuth at 10:30, a total of 14-1/2 hours one road, of which 9-1/2 were actually traveling. We were bushed.
Our arrival was a study in contrasts. Bayreuth was a German town about halfway along our journey to the Alps, suitable for breaking our journey, but we’d chosen it because we’d been toying on and off with the idea for a while of attending the Wagner festival held here each year. A week of Wagner performances at the opera house that the great composer himself had had built during his lifetime. They were presented without any sort of subtitles as far as I knew, and there was a ten-year wait to get tickets. You had to be pretty hard-core, and I was still in the process of figuring out whether I was that hard-core. But anyway the hotel we were at was within walking distance of the hallowed Festspielhaus, and opera lovers from the world over would be coming to stay here within the month.
Indeed, it seemed like they were already here, judging by the number of tuxedoed individuals walking in and out of the lobby when we arrived. Meanwhile we climbed off our bikes and tramped up to the desk wearing our sweaty leathers. To the staff’s credit they didn’t bat an eye, but courteously went about efficiently checking us in. The man at the bar even fixed us up some sandwiches after the kitchen had closed, and brought them with two steins of Bayreuth’s finest local brews. Our coasters proudly proclaimed in enthusiastic letters, “Das ist bierkultur!” I guess that doesn’t need any translation.