Tag Archives: rambling

What did I know about rambling?

A wise person once told me, “Do not write about things that you know nothing about”. Too bad – there are a lot of subjects that I know nothing about, much more than I know about. Seems to me, when I think of talk shows I have seen lately, that talking about things that you know nothing about can be quite lucrative. “Ignorance is bliss” takes on a new meaning. Ignorance is blissful and lucrative.


But not only is it unwise, I also dislike writing about things I know nothing about. The problem is today I wanted to write about walking but after reading the piece by Truegerman about rambling I realize that I know nothing about it. I mean, rambling for 20 km’s! With kids too! Uphill!  (A few more “!!!” just for good measure)


I could write about NOT rambling. I do the walking thing, the one after Sunday Lunch on the way to cake at a Gaststätte which offers “Kaffee und Kuchen”, which bridges that enormous gap between Lunch and Dinner (did I mention that I like food?). The saying goes “Nach dem Essen soll man ruhn oder 1000 Schritte tun” (After eating either rest or walk a 1000 steps).


It does not say anything about what you do after the 1000 steps but every German knows that there should be a self-respecting Gaststätte (rustic kind of restaurant) in  a wood or field, anyway in the middle of nowhere, that offers enormous lunches and between 3 an 5.30 o’clock those delicious desserts that erase any beneficial effect the 1000 steps had. Maybe it would be better to take a nap.


I could write about riding my bike. Riding a bike around here is not only easy because it is relatively flat, but also because wood paths are well taken care of and city streets offer cycle paths almost everywhere. The trend to take the car for every little errand happened here too, but generally it is something to be embarrassed about. With increasing fuel prices (we pay 1.2 Euros (1.5$) per litre today down from 1.6 Euros (2$)) that trip to the corner shop is becoming an increasingly bike fuelled activity again. Large baskets take care of most of the shopping, especially as Germans tend to go shopping several times per week. Patient Bicyclists wait for a spot at overcrowded cycle parking spaces. People with heart conditions are told to work out by walking or cycling every day.


Children are encouraged to conquer the “Großstadtdschungel” to alleviate congestion in front of schools, that do not provide car parking and would never be able to, due to lack of space downtown. I have not seen any walking busses yet (Children join a group of walkers as they are being implemented in Britain and Switzerland. They are picked up at a series of “bus” stops). Public Transport runs frequently and children either pay reduced or no charges. School Buses can only be found in rural areas.


I rode my bicycle to school, usually in company of classmates. It gave me a sense of independence. Even when I was strapped for cash I could swing on my “Stahlross” (steel horse) and ride off to see friends in the next town. It was also adventurous, as I would go with the vaguest idea of where they lived and got lost along the small alleys until I hit on the right route. The reward was having found my way by myself.


The world passed by slower and I could admire the gardens and houses, note the gnomes, murals or THE replica Frankenstein castle. Of course, once at the houses of my friends, they would feed me (Did I mention that I like food?) and we would go for a walk. A particularly memorable walk was being dragged behind a dog called Ursus (I believe Bear in Dutch, type Neufundländer) which belonged to my Dutch classmate. I should have tried riding him instead of holding on to his leash.


Now I accompany my youngest child to and from school on the bike every day. We chat or fight or ride silently. Sometimes he dashes ahead in some wild imaginary chase. Today the storm slowed our cycling to walking speed and threw dangerously painful branches at us. When we dashed into the house for safety we were laughing with delight at our achievement and were glad to be back in the warm, safe house.


This is something I know about. You slow down and live every moment. Everything you do is done by the effort of your own body. Everything there is to see can be seen by you. If you want to stop and smell the roses hanging over fences, you do. You can hear the birds that chatter in the trees above you. If you slow down, you see more and maybe you see for the first time, something that was right there waiting for you to see it. If you are afraid of missing something then slow down.


I still might hesitate to accept an invitation to ramble with Truegerman though (20 km’s????!!!! or “Ach Du grüne Neune”).



Filed under typical german

A Nation rambling

The Taunus near Frankfurt in November

The Taunus near Frankfurt in November

“I don´t walk, I ramble” I proudly told Francesca when she asked me if I like to walk. Walking for Germans means a Spaziergang on Sunday afternoon, after lunch and before “Kaffee und Kuchen”, when the stomach is full and the brain empty. It describes a mild way of slow movement in the neighborhood. While walking, adults talk, and children are bored.

Rambling (Wandern), on the contrary, means to get up early in the morning and do 20 to 30 km in the woods. As 30 percent of the German surface is covered by wood, places to ramble never are far away. Big cities even provide a Stadtwald, an area of wood planted and cared for by the city council. There are Volkswandertage, when rambling becomes a competion, and there is the First of May, our Labour day, when traditionally people first demonstrate and then ramble. For a few years now, it is very much en vogue to ramble along paths the pilgrims followed in the middle ages, like the Jacob´s way in Spain.

In a German wood, you won´t see any “no tresspassing signs”. By old law, the woods are open to everybody. And everybody uses them: national polls show that 61 percent of the Germans walk/ramble at least once a week. The most ambitious ramblers, some 780.000, organize themselves in the Deutsche Alpenverein. Its volunteers cater for 20.000 km of rambling paths all over Germany.  Wanderkarten, surveyor maps, show every detail of the terrain.  When trails cross, little signs fixed to the trees indicate where to go and how far it will be. Chances to get seriously lost are nil. Nevertheless, a growing number of people use GPS-tracking systems to find their way.

While in former days ramblers wore red-and-white checkered shirts, grey knickerbockers, green wool-knitted sock and a rambling stick, today you will see more sophisticated outdoor gear here than in Alaska. Germans love high tech, even if it is not in a car. Goretex, Polartec, Vibram–you name it, we have it.

When I was I a kid, my family went out to ramble every Sunday. As a child, I loved it. Each kid got a little daypack with salami rolls, apples and Sunkist, a childrens softdrink in a pack shaped like a pyramid. On our tours we could run, climb trees, balance on trunks, jump over creeks and sometimes, in rare moments of silence, we would see deer crossing our path. Then, after hours of steady climbing, the summit. What a grandiose view. For a few moments, we children, used to look up to everybody, could look down on everything. While in everyday life, the steep valley slopes stopped our view of the world, now we could see France, Switzerland and Austria just by turning around. On clear autumn days, our view touched the Alps, 200 miles away.

There are a lot of things that haven´t changed since. Still, it is good rambling etiquette to say “Guten Tag”  (Good Day) or “Grüß Gott” (Greetings God) to everybody you meet in the woods. Still, in a mixed group, the men unvariably walk in the front, talking, followed by the women, talking. Normally, you walk on a circle tour, with at least one “Gasthaus” to stop, where a “Brotzeit” is served, simple food like “Erbsensuppe mit Würstchen”-pea soup with sausages-or slices of bread with liverwurst and mustard.

Alas, one part of the tradition definitely is gone–the singing. The “Wanderlieder” were beautiful folksongs everybody could sing. The most popular was “Das Wandern ist des Müllers Lust, das Wandern ist des Müllers Lust, das Wa-an-dern,….“, probably because of the simple lyrics. The one I loved most went  “Wem Gott will rechte Gunst erweisen, den schickt er in die weite Welt ..”–Whom God wants to do a favour he sends out to see his world. This song alludes  to the deeper meaning of Wanderlust, the siren´s call of a new world many Germans follow still today.

For centuries, Germans left home to find a better life somewhere else. Often, they were forced to leave: sold as soldiers to fight for the British in the American War of Independence, expelled because of their religious believes, starved by famines, left jobless in times of recessions. Like my forefathers: on my fathers side, as early as the 16th century, they crossed the Alps from Italy to work in a mine in Southern Germany. On my mothers side, they left Austria in the 17th century for religious reasons and started to farm in East Prussia. My mother left home when the Russian army came after World War II, my uncle shipped to Australia in the 50ies to find work. Today, an average of 150 000 Germans emigrate each year. While the older ones head for Spain, Europe´s equivalent to Florida, the younger go to Switzerland, Austria and the United States.

Most probably, they will start to ramble in their new environment. So, if you see a rambler in a place nobody ever rambled before, just greet him with a hearty “Guten Tag”. If he answers with a “Gruezi”, he is Swiss.

But this is another story.


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