Fell Life:
Amused, Confused and Abused in Deutschland
    More Tales by Paul

by: Paul Buttle who is the author of several Walking Guides to the Lake District. Cumbria, with its fells (mountains), and the Lake District are near England's West Coast, across from Ireland.

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Compared to England, Germany is a cyclists' paradise. In England cyclists are barely tolerated as road users. In Germany they are more than tolerated, they are given their own roads - or at least cycle ways: Radwegs.

On most Radwegs motorists are verboten (my favourite German word). Radwegs are a permutation of byways; they might be paths bordering a river or railway line, a forest trackway or a narrow tarmacadamed road running parallel to a main road. On many country lanes, cars seemed prohibited, except for local use, which meant I actually only saw other cyclists on them. On busier roads, at the very least, a lane was marked for cyclists, or more usually a lane was marked out on the adjacent pavement. Routes through towns were minor adventures - they might go through parks, round the backs of allotments and along pavements but rarely on a road itself. Ah yes, cycling in Germany was a pleasure.

How ironic it is for me then to report that the very first crash I was ever involved in should occur on a Radweg. Not 12 hours on the continent and I crashed due to being on the left-hand side rather than the right - a classic mistake. It was ironic too that I had only just gone on to this cycle way thinking it would be safer than using the road. Moving from the road on to the Radweg though, had caused me to employ a fairly sloppy manoeuvre which left me on the left-hand side of the cycle-way. Whether this would have been only momentary or whether I had forgotten I should be on the right, I can't say, for this happened on a corner and before I could even think of moving to the right side, assuming I was going to, I was aware someone was heading straight towards me. And in that instant, it is amazing how swiftly the mind works, I just hoped the consequence wouldn't be too bad for him, him, not me, for I knew instantly I was in the wrong. We collided, but neither of us were thrown to the ground. It was then I realised the other chap was riding not a push-bike but a moped, and I rather suspect das ist verboten on a Radweg. He certainly was most apologetic anyway even though I had been on the wrong side. But I told him it was my fault and he eagerly sped off.

The incident left me with a buckled wheel, though I was still able to cycle. I knew though, if I couldn't get it fixed, I would have to get it replaced - and replaced it was. I was sorry to have to change it because it was the bike's one original wheel - the back wheel having been changed at least twice since I bought it.

The chap I smashed into was unusual in that he had a fair degree of English and I found this not always to be so in Germany. In the part of Germany I visited the average German was as fluent in English as the average Englishman is in German: that is to say not at all. This meant I was dependent on using my own German which was slightly problematical as I don't have any - not even schoolboy German. However, some long ago visits to Switzerland had left me we with an odd few words, to which I added a few more from someone I met on the bus going out there, leaving me with such vital phrases as: "I would like...." and "Where is the toilet?". Armed with this essential vocabulary, amazingly enough, I managed to get by.

There was one occasion, however, when this ignorance of English could have been to my advantage, that is to say I could have given vent to my true feelings without the recipient of my invective being aware of it, but I let the chance slip by. It happened thuswise. I had cycled to a small village on the shores of the Lake Constance and was looking for a place to stay when I saw a farm with a sign announcing: Zimmer Frei - Room Free - the German equivalent to a B and B, so I rang the front door bell. A sour looking woman glided round the side of the house and asked what I wanted - or I presume that's what she asked. So in my faltering German I said I would like a room for one night - was it possible? "NEIN!" she spat out, and then jabbed her thumb towards my chest saying something which sounded like: "Du ist nur EIN PERSON. Es ist fur ZWEI PERSONEN meine Zimmer, ZWEI! NICHT EIN! Ich kann nicht maken Geld mit nur du! Was gut ist du für mehr? Ich wollen zwei Personen, ZWEI! RAUS!."

I got her drift, she wanted two people to stay in the room, not just one. A circumstance which has happened to me oft times in England. But it was the venom with which she addressed me that shocked me, as though I'd just short changed her out of thruppence or something. Unfortunately I was too polite, I murmured: "Ich kann verstehen, danke," and left. But what I should have done, of course, was smile serenely and then in my own tongue said: "I quite understand, you're a tight fisted old bag that wouldn't give away the drippings from your nose. Bad cess to ye woman, whatever that means, may ye fall down with out getting up, may the cat eat you and then the dog eat the cat, and may your Zimmer simmer with flies and remain empty for a month of Sundays. Danke!"

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