In the first few years after my Camphill experience in Switzerland I undertook two return trips to Europe, late September–early October 1989 and November 1991.
Westdeutschland was the focus of my first return—relatives in Siegen, friend Almut and her sister Gudrun in Kassel from where my youngest sister Alison Oona and I rented a grey two-door Opel Kadett E sporting Hamburg plates. We drove to grandfather in Höhbeck-Brünkendorf, Landkreis Lüchow-Dannenberg, in Niedersachsen, then the freeway south, stopping in on Alison’s godmother in Reutlingen, Matzke’s in Stuttgart, then down to the Bodensee by way of Stockach and along the Überlinger See through Ludwigshafen, Überlingen, stopping in Meersburg for the noon meal—local cooking in a decent-priced establishment, then Immenstaad, Friedrichshafen, Kreßbronn, and Lindau where we stopped about an hour for a walk along some of its peninsular lakeshore.
From here it was inland but still eastward, along the Deutsche Alpenstraße, the 308, leisurely and scenically winding our way along past the villages of Lindenberg, Oberstaufen, Immenstadt, Wertach, and Nesselwang now on the 310, Pfronten, Füssen, and northeast on the 17 through Steingaden and Peiting, the road cutting across to Weilheim as the 472 through Hohenpeißenberg and Peißenberg. Now through the countryside between the Ammersee and Starnberger See for Starnberg at the latter’s northern end, the 2 feeding us to the city centre to drop the car off at Hertz in München with 30 minutes and a few kilometres to spare on our rental agreement and kilometres limit, before we were hit with extra costs and penalties. We then rode the S-Bahn out to Wessling, staying where Alison was living at the Kloyer’s grocery store, part of the Edeka chain.
I headed home two weeks before the Wall came down on November 9, 1989. Alison ended up being in Berlin the night East Germans started flooding into the West and the Wall started coming down—she and her then boyfriend Matthias helped chip away at a section with picks, she brought home ten apple-sized graffiti-marked pieces that ended up sitting on our parent’s fireplace mantel.
Deutschland achieved reunification on October 3, 1990. Just over a year later I returned for my second visit. Again, I flew into Frankfurt am Main. I took the train to Basel, transferring to a Regionalzug for Dornach-Arlesheim, climbing the hill for Gesa’s ground floor suite, also visiting at her workplace, the Sonnenhof.
A number of locals also alit here, distinct among them certain younger and older women in their long, flowing dresses and coats, long braided or loose hair, emitting the somewhat haughty air of serious Eurythmists and Anthroposophists. It brought to mind the little German joke of the SBB train conductor announcing the approaching stop with, “Alle für Dornach-Arlesheim, bitte abschweben!” instead of the standard “… alle bitte absteigen!” (Everyone for Dornach-Arlesheim could float from the train instead of stepping-off). This stereotype was somewhat confirmed by the reality of seeing these ladies flowing, as if levitating a foot or two above the ground, slightly excarnated, from the train.
Gesa was not well, soon bedridden. As a result, she could not see me more than for a day or two. I decided on hitchhiking down to Perceval for a four-day visit, then return to Arlesheim.
Walking through St-Prex, I came upon Draga slowly strolling along with her now-frail mother on her right arm. Draga appeared to be stressed and fatigued but greeted me with a warm smile and “Bonjour! Quelle surprise!” We exchanged the common French greeting of three light kisses cheek to cheek. I am reminded of a joke Isabelle once told me in the early days: two cheek kisses signified friends/acquaintances, three meant the two of you had slept together. But I am quite sure this is not the truth, although it is fun to believe.
It was my last glimpse of Perceval as I sloped down through the vineyards and under the rail line to the road for Morges, one last time hitching a ride in this area—after twenty minutes caught one with a young brunette in a black skirted business suit, driving a silver Alfa Romeo consistently over the speed limit, slamming her shifter through the gears, in a rush for Lausanne and a business meeting. She dumped me just before the Morges-Est freeway on-ramp, necessitating a short walk under the Autoroute, setting myself up for the next ride on the road for Romanel-sur-Morges and Cossonay. My idea paid off quickly—nabbing a ride with a Migros supermarket delivery van within minutes. A Lausanne station was blaring the latest pop hits. The young fellow was headed left, I wanted to the right, so I alit at the fork in the road a little past La Sarraz.
Now it took a while for my next kindly stranger—about 35 vehicles passed until a leather-faced old farmer rolled by on a red Massey Ferguson tractor towing a shallow trailer laden with beet root. He slowed but did not stop, waving at me to hop on. I threw my red backpack into the trailer—he looked twice over a shoulder, staring at the Canada flag prominently sewn on the flap—and I sat on the dented fender over the big, knobby right wheel. The dead stub of a cigarette stuck to a corner of his mouth. I accepted his offer of a fresh unfiltered Gauloise. We talked of my reasons travelling here, he asked one or two things about Canada, and wondered where I was headed. Just before Orbe he turned left, leaving the road for a muddy dirt track—his farmstead. With a “Merci bien!” I walked the last kilometre or so into Orbe, trying for my next ride in the midst of town.
I was surprised to have a ride minutes later with two distinctly older ladies, grey hair pinned up in buns, clothed in tweed, quite proper looking, in a grey-green Peugeot 504 stationwagon. They were rather chatty. They had lots of questions. I soon learned they were both long-ago retired local school teachers, the one in her early nineties! and the other in her late eighties—driving quite confidently—very much alert and up on many things. I wondered aloud that they would dare give a young man a ride. They responded almost in unison, “Mais vous avez l’air de quelqu’un honnête et sans malheur” (“but you have the air of someone honest and without malice”). It was one of the most pleasant rides ever in all my time hitchhiking through Europe. They went out of their way, a good six kilometres, delivering me to the Autoroute on-ramp at Yverdon-Ouest when their actual goal was the fair bit earlier Mathod.
Maybe twenty-five minutes later I lucked upon a businessman somewhere in his mid-fifties, headed for Biel/Bienne in his grey-blue BMW 535i—my longest ride this trip. We conversed in French, English, and German. He showed me the only way mobile phones can be legally and safely used in a moving vehicle in Switzerland, attached to the dash, a line running to a microphone on the sun visor, callers heard over the car stereo speakers—one of those big, cumbersome phones in the early days of this technology.
Biel was his end of the road. I walked northwest through town, stopping in at the McDonald’s for a couple of cheeseburgers and a Cardinal beer before sticking out my thumb again.
I set myself up at the start of the steadily-climbing E 27, eventually my next charitable driver a middle-aged blond woman transporting her two Afghan hounds in a dark blue Volvo stationwagon, up the Taube-mochschlucht, past Frinvillier and La Heutte, running more or less parallel with the local rail line and La Suze that feeds the Bieler See. In the cold heights of Sonceboz we encountered some of the first dustings of the season’s snow, winding our way up a couple of fairly mild hairpins bookending the Col de Pierre Pertuis at 827 metres. Next came her town of Tavannes—time for my next ride.
It was the same young rocker in his dirty white Citröen BX who had brought me from Delémont to Moutier five days earlier! This time back to Delémont! where some time passed for my next ride until a tall, skinny, chain-smoking woman stopped. She had a worn-out appearance, a shoe-in as a stereotypical biker chick from Surrey, B.C., sporting long unkempt hair, black t-shirt and jeans, and well-worn black leather jacket. She drove some nondescript dirty, white Opel Kadett. Upon hearing of Dornach as my goal for today, and my interest in Anthroposophy, she wavered between some admiration for Waldorf schools and criticisms of les fous là-haut (the crazies up on the hill) at the Goetheanum. She became a little tense at my defense of Anthroposophy and Anthroposophists but still dropped me off at the Autobahn exit for Arlesheim with a friendly “aurevoir”.
The last bit uphill on foot in the growing dark, it was now close to 17.45, the crisp chill nipping at my face and hands. Raymond happened to pass through Dornach and Arlesheim a couple of days later. He and I visited Ana Cecilia in the local hospital, recovering from some unspoken, unnamed illness—she was currently studying at the Goetheanum. Then we travelled by train to Luxembourg.
We walked down to the station for a Regionalzug into Basel, there boarding the Basel-Frankfurt train with stops in Freiburg and Offenburg where we transferred to a small two-car train crossing the Rhein and German-French border at Kehl. Here we realized we could have been more efficient in our travel plans, catching the Edelweiss in Basel—running Basel–Strasbourg–Metz–Luxembourg–Bruxelles/Maastricht–Amsterdam. Now we had to wait a few hours for the next train, so we walked the nearby streets of Strasbourg in the cold darkening evening, eventually settling on a glass each of Kronenbourg on tap, accompanied by some sort of sausage in a bun for Raymond and a croques monsieur for myself. Finally the train to Luxembourg with a stop in Metz, arriving late evening, a street bus to his parents on the rue des Pins in Strassen, about four or five kilometres west by northwest of the city of Luxembourg. Strassen is located along the N 6, the Route d’Arlon.
Late evenings I devoured Hiram A. Bingham’s The Dawnwatchers: A Novel of the Twenty-First Century.
We toured the many city sights and the airport.
The next big outing was a day trip to Trier, Raymond’s mentally challenged Down’s Syndrome sister accompanying us.
Another day we drove the E 27 northeast to Echternach, passing through Junglinster and the Suisse Luxembourgeoise region. En route we detoured slightly to visit an ancient oak tree standing alone in a field, halfway to the village of Hersberg, about 500 metres north of the main road there where the CR 137 is met in a t-bone by the side road from the village.
One whole day was spent in Esch-sur-Sûre and surrounding countryside. We drove in his father’s dark blue stationwagon north on the N 7 route through Mersch to Ettelbruck, then northwest along the N 15 through Feulen-Nieder, past Heiderscheid and descending four hairpin bends, left onto the N 27, parking moments later at the eastern edge of this medieval town. From here we were on foot, climbing a steep trail from the eastern end of the parking lot, a northerly ascent for the thin line of woods curving along the ridge overlooking the Sûre wrapping around the town almost directly below.
I felt like a knight in the early days of this town, having just alit from my steed, seeing for the first time again in some years my home after long journeys far and wide across Europe including a Crusade to the Middle East.
Our path opened out into green, gently undulating fields—somewhat surprising to me considering how late in the year we were—walking northwest until we came upon a tiny chapel at the bend of the CR 316 country road that led us a little westward to the village of Kaundorf and further fields, crossing the CR 318, into Mecher and a descent along another section of the CR 316 for the village of Bavigne at the northwestern finger of the dammed waters of the Sûre above the dam, resembling a thin lake. We had encountered a few spots of piled-up timber logged from the nearby slopes, and even two tree fallers.
Now southeasterly along the opposite shore of this finger we came upon the slightly smaller upper dam near the village of Liefrange, then following trails along the wooded slopes of the Sûre again, crossing the lower dam and descending the N 27 road to the castle ruins watching over Esch-sur-Sûre.
We also stopped in on his family’s old abandoned farmstead, a few kilometres north of their suburban home, that lately was receiving some preliminary repairs—the start of a long, extensive restoration Raymond planned on carrying out so as to one day live there permanently.
I took an early train into Trier, walking through town, taking my time to admire an open archeological dig newly discovered to reveal Roman ruins under a parking lot. Eventually I made my way to the traffic circle and Autobahn on-ramp. It started to drizzle, lightly getting me wet before a young women in a red Volkswagen Passat stationwagon, sporting two empty children car seats and a small hairy dog, took me along until her exit for her vineyard village about halfway down the Mosel valley. I waited over an hour wait until a middle-aged man in a bright red rental van brought me into the outskirts of Koblenz. From here I decided onward to Essen by train, trying to make an on-time arrival for a prearranged visit with Almut and her boyfriend. I stayed two nights and one full day. They drove me through the industrial areas of the Essen and Ruhrtal, and we toured the Villa Krupp.
Finally, one more time to grandfather for what turned out to be the last time I saw him. He lived to be 100 years old, passing away in his sleep a few weeks after his birthday on October 18, 1996.
The last few days I stopped in on Gesa one more time before heading home for the West Coast.