Die Autobahnen sind Kaput

After our first day disrupted journey around Lille, our journey east through Germany to visit our friends near Altenburg was pretty much unhindered, save for an exit that Sally Satnav wanted us to take but which was inconsiderately gesperrt [closed]. Our journey back west, so far, couldn’t have been more of a contrast.

Our first major westward step a couple of days ago to get to Dinkelsbuhl should have been a doddle at a mere 130kms/85mls most of which was on autobahnen [motorways]. It was everything but. we slammed into two massive queues caused by two sets of roadworks which, in total, lost us 60 minutes. When attempting to plan journeys to take in the accursed mittagsruhe, a closure that generally runs from 13:00 to 15:00, the last thing one needs is a journey almost doubling in length. Sally Satnav knew about the first delay but seemed blissfully unaware of the second which is curious considering that it was quite clearly a long term engineering project: “delays until 2020” and it felt as if it would take us that long to get through it.

After Dinkelsbuhl we embarked upon our next westward step, a journey of about 210kms/130mls to get to Wachenheim in the Pfalz wine area. Our fortunes were no better than on our previous leg. This time Sally Satnav came up with stationary traffic and a 20 minute delay (diversion not recommended) caused by a multiple vehicle accident. Much of the autobahn system is 2-lane and, when a major incident occurs the road tends to be completely blocked. The delay went up to 60 minutes (diversion recommended).

Driving in France and avoiding the péage autoroutes is reasonably easy because there is usually an N-road, a route nationale, running in a similar direction. We have now realised that the same is not true in Germany where the autobahn system, being free, really is the equivalent of the N-roads; avoiding them can be very tricky in many places. In this case there was a side-road alternative but it took a long delay to make Sally Satnav think that the diversion might be a good idea.

The diversion, which we were happy to take, followed a road with three sharp hairpin bends down into a village in a valley. We were surrounded by a long stream of trucks which had similarly turned off the autobahn to avoid the stationary traffic. The line of trucks must have been in excess of a kilometre – we could see the solid line down the hill and up the road climbing back out of the valley. Each truck had to pause at each hairpin to allow traffic coming up the hill to round the bend. The line on the opposite side of the village was occasionally static, then moved before coming to a halt again. That road did not have hairpins. What it did have, we eventually found out, was a small traffic light controlled roadworks with alternating flow. Brilliant.

We eventually re-joined the autobahn beyond the accident and sailed into another mega-queue caused by yet another long term set of roadworks. The Germans really know how to cause maximum chaos. On both our recent journeys, the roadworks have been positioned at an autobahn kreuz, the coming together of two autobahns. I have never seen so manty static trucks in my life. Major disruption was caused in both directions. Some trucks, perhaps because of the tachograph, pull over onto the hard shoulder and just sit. The traffic doesn’t clear but maybe they stop breaking any driving limits. [Just a thought, maybe wrong.]

Once again, on what should have been a straight forward journey, we lost 65 minutes and just about arrived on the dot of 13:00 when mittagsruhe was about to start. Phew!

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Posted in 2019 Germany

51 Years Ago …

… I embarked upon a school cycling trip through Germany beginning at Dinkelsbühl. I can remember nothing about the town but its cute name and the fact that we were staying in Jugendherberge [youth hostels]. Our holiday turned out to be a stinky hot tour, with temperatures topping 100°F [it was 1968 so we didn’t do Centigrade] and, given my youthful propensity for bad sunburn and doing lobster impressions, I was forced to ride my curious Mouton Standard, complete with only 4-speed Sturmey-Archer gear box, in denim jeans and long-sleeved shirts. The Germans had never seen such a bicycle and their jaws dropped as they stared. It was one of the best holidays of my life.

Having mentioned my school trip on numerous occasions, Francine was fascinated to see Dinkelsbühl for herself. Since we’d be passing close by on out return drive, we made for it. After a nightmare of a journey along an autobahn containing two sets of highly disruptive roadworks that lost us an hour stuck in traffic, we finally arrived yesterday at a campsite within walking distance of the old town. Happily we arrived just before the accursed MIttagsruhe. We’d booked in for two nights to give us today to give me a blast from the distant past.

Dinkelsbuhl mediaevalDinkelsbühl old town is a charming mediaeval vision with cobbled streets adorned by several towers. Dinkelsbühl  lies on the so-called Romantische Straβe, which seems to be a bit of a touristic marketing ploy. The guide books suggest there is nothing to mar its mediaeval atmosphere – nothing, that is, save for a couple of modern construction cranes which can be avoided for holiday snaps. Oh, and cars are permitted to drive around the cobbled streets, of course, which looks a little less authentic than carts drawn by horses.  Sadly, none of this nudged any memories from the far flung recesses of a 15-year-old schoolboy’s memory.

Dinkelsbuhl YHAWe went in search of the youth hostel where I would have stayed. Luckily, it is marked as a building of interest on a tourist town map, so we had a fighting chance of finding it. Find it we did and my memory continued stubbornly to fail to recall any details of my original visit. We snapped the youth hostel anyway and went in search of more adult refreshment.

Much of the town seemed to contain hotels rather than beer gardens but we finally found a more relaxed looking hostelry which served us some Dinkelsbühler Weizen [wheat beer]. Wheat beers are light and quite refreshing in heat and I have to say that this example is about the best Weizen I’ve tasted to date.

Dinkelsbuhl SquareAfter another short wander, clearly Francine wasn’t quite refreshed enough and decided that an iced coffee would be in order. Lunch time was beginning to slip by, too, so, not doing well without a minor lunch, she accompanied this with a slice of cheesecake. Pop! I went for an apfelstrüdel and simple espresso, to keep the volume down. ‘T was OK but the strüdel had clearly been nuked in a microwave so the pastry was soft.

At last Francine had seen my old German cycle tour starting point. I can remember bits of the holiday, such as a 6th-former filling his water bottle with beer and not getting rid of the flavour from that point on, but I still recalled only the name of Dinkelsbühl.

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Posted in 2019 Germany

Private Meadow

We’re at a pleasantly quiet, rural site at Hohenstadt whose main purpose was to hide us from the swell of weekend campers. It’s just to the east of Nürnberg. We were a little concerned that the site was billed as one of those “unmarked pitches” jobs. Our concern was born of our recent experiences at Pahna where a complete lack of control had units pitching literally one metre away from another. This site, however, though unmarked, at least had madame showing us around and looking for potential pitching areas. She showed us one area with a tree for shade – madame was finding life too hot herself – which should also protect us from encroachment on that side. It was also on the extreme edge of the site facing a rough piece of ground loaded with weeds wild flowers which were attracting slightly more wildlife than we’d hitherto seen throughout our tour of Germany. As this site worked, we actually ended up with more space between adjacent units than we would normally get with marked pitches.

Private MeadowWe pitched Guillaume to face our meadow, away from others on the campsite. It nestled in a bend of the river flowing by the campsite. An old lamppost was leaning at a rakish angle which made me wonder if it had once been an active part of the campsite. Now, it offered us some privacy and entertainment.  Francine decided to list the plants that she was able to recognise here and came to 30, ignoring the grasses, of course.

Wildlife in Germany has been both interesting and, frankly, a bit of a surprise. At the various water bodies that we have happened across, I have, of course, been looking for dragonflies. I have found several species, some in good numbers, including a few that I have not frequently seen; nothing new, though. What we have been struck by is the lack of most other forms of wildlife that we tend to take for granted.

J19_0704 Comma posingWith the exception of our little “private meadow”, Francine has been struck by the paucity of wild flowers in general. There have been a few but nothing like the blooming flowering meadows dotted with different colours that we’d expect to see in rural France at this time of year. Where there have been a scattering of wild flower species, we have ridden, driven or walked by them and been staggered at the lack of insects that our passing disturbed, whereas normally one would expect to flush modest clouds of flying critters from cover. We cycled by a corn field verge of poppies mixed with other white flowers, perhaps field camomile, where we disturbed absolutely nothing. We have stared across larger rough meadows and seen a complete lack of butterflies. It has been quite stunning. The butterflies we have seen have been of few species – generally Whites, Painted Ladies, Meadow Browns – and in low numbers. Our meadow did produce the only Comma I’ve seen thus far. It posed, too.

Since leaving Belgium, we have been lucky enough to have experienced unbroken clear blue skies with not a cloud to blot the horizon. There have been almost no birds blotting the horizons either. We did see a few Red Kites with H&G and heard the occasional lonely Blackbird and a few Blackcaps but there’s been little else. On a 30kms drive around two valleys from our “private meadow”, I saw just one Magpie cross the road. England is inundated with Magpies and you rarely see just one. Cycling from our private meadow staring at crystal clear blue sky there was not a bird in sight. It really is quite staggering.

This pattern has been the norm throughout our German excursion. I can’t explain it but it is somewhat eerie.

J19_0742 Field Vole (we think)Our meadow has produced something of a wildlife highlight, though. As we sat watching the occasional butterfly and some of the hoverflies that were our almost constant companions, usually sitting on camera lens hoods, we spotted movement in the grass. Actually, at first we really just saw the taller plants moving. The culprit proved to be what we now suspect was a Field Vole, though we began by referring to it as “Mouse-ouse”. Because of the moving plant stems, we finally referred to them as Michael, in honour of the late Michael Bentine and his flea circus models. We’re not sure quite how many there were but we think at least four with neighbouring territories dotted along the meadow edge. We sat still and watched enchanted as they occasionally ventured nervously into the open. Trying to get a photo was a challenge because there was normally an obscuring piece of vegetation in the way. After two days and some luck, I did manage a decent picture, though.

We will miss our meadow and particularly our voles when we move on but after what will have been four days there is little more to hold our attention here.

Posted in 2019 Germany

Pitching Up

I really have no recollections of how camping in Germany was when we last tried it about 30 years ago.

Shanty TownOur first experience on this occasion with the genial Herr Wolf was a delight: hedged marked pitches of about 10m2, each with water, waste and electricity. Our next experience at Hohenfelden was of a large campsite which, at first sight, looked scuzzy, with vehicles crammed in beside a lake and many static units taking up much of the centre ground giving the appearance of a sort of shanty town. We did, though, find a marked pitch of adequate size, with pleasant neighbours, further from the lake (and shanty town).

Then we moved to Pahna, again beside a lake which used to be a surface coal mine. I had made a booking, which mentioned pitch A107, and we were directed to our area. A107 was misleading because there were no marked pitches; you positioned your van/tent where you wanted and a man came to hook up the electricity, which was metred. We found what looked like a very pleasant spot with natural shade from a tree and no nearby neighbours. Until the evening, that is. Another caravan arrived and, ignoring all the free space before us, proceeded to position itself aligned with us and only about 2m from us. It left masses of empty space on its other side. The reason became clear the next day when more family members turned up in other camping contraptions, one of which was a converted fire engine, and proceeded to circle the wagons. Help! Actually, they were quite friendly and reasonably considerate save for one evening when the noise went on to 23:30.

CrowdedIt was a holiday time and area A became very full. There was no attempt at any pitch control, nor concept of personal space. A campervan behind us positioned itself less than 1m from the draw bar of a Dutch caravan. Two tents pitched a similar distance from another German van. We began to hate the site but could not move on given our visiting agenda.

Almost BlissThen things began to change; units started leaving. The site was beginning to feel more comfortable again. Units continued to leave and no new arrivals came in. Bizarre. Eventually, we were left with just one other remaining unit far away. We were supposed to be here for one more night and I went to reception to check that this was OK. It was. Apparently the Fire Brigade had the entire area booked for a children’s outing from Wednesday, complete with a huge marquee. We were leaving on Tuesday so all should be well. We were, indeed, the last to leave when we had the entire area to ourselves. Bliss! Well, it would have been bliss had there been much grass. At least it was now very peaceful.

64 square metresWe have now moved about 180kms to a new campsite in the back of beyond, in the Franken Wald. Given our earlier experiences, we are now trying to avoiding camping sites beside lakes, which are magnets for Satan’s Little Disciples. Though this recent particular German holiday time is now over, it is still important for weekends. The heat is rising, with temperatures hitting 40°C being forecast. We wanted shade and found a pitch beside a tree. It gives us midday shade but the sun moves and in the evening we will need the shade cast by our caravan. The pitch is hedged on one side but very small, only about 8m x 8m, just 64m2 – there’s just about room for the van and car but forget about having an awning, too. Forget about swinging a cat, come to that. [We don’t have one with us, neither awning nor cat.] The caravan’s services are right on the edge of the pitch. We are used to a 100m2 minimum in France, the centre of the camping world. 😀 At least it is a marked pitch, even if small. Other pitches are certainly a little larger but we were attracted to the shade. Hopefully, no one will be attracted to the space beside us. Oh, and the electricity is 16amp – sheer luxury.

Posted in 2019 Germany

Bad Köstritz

Our fiends H&G were keen to know what we’d like to do during our visit. One thing that sprang to my mind, that I thought may feature j=high in the German psyche, was a visit to a Biergarten. I think that got a little misinterpreted and we ended up booked onto a tour of a Brauerei [brewery]. Noto so bad though, eh?

Hmm, well, we our tour would apparently not start until 17:00. H&G kindly collected us from our Pahna campsite and drove us the 45 minutes or so to Bad Köstritz, where the Köstritzer brewery was located. H parked in the visitors area just after 15:00 and we sauntered through the baking heat to register. We were somewhat flabbergasted to learn that the tour and tasting would last about 2½ hrs. Strewth! Somewhat daunted, we walked out of the beer factory – it didn’t really look like a brewery in the traditional sense – to the local park where, mercifully, there was some light relief. We came a cross a pond with some odonata life, one of which was our rarely seem Brilliant Emerald (Somatochlora metallica) again.

  • Calopeteryx splendens (Banded Demoiselle)
  • Ischnura elegans (Common Bluetail)
  • Coenagrion puella (Azure Bluet)
  • Platycnemis pennipes (Blue Featherleg)
  • Anax imperator (Blue Emperor)
  • Somatochlora metallica (Brilliant Emerald)
  • Orthetrum cancellatum (Black-tailed Skimmer)

We returned to the brewery to face our punishment. With about 8 others, we were treated to something like a 30+ minute introduction, including a video, all in rapid, complex German. Finally being asked to done a white coverall and, if footwear was deemed inappropriate [open-toed sandals], blue plastic shoe covers, we were ushered out into the baking sun to sweat for a little more historical introduction, staring at the old factory building. We looked more like a CSI team than visitors on a brewery tour.

The threat of a coverall and overshoes, together with the joy of being subjected to 2½ hrs of rapid German was enough to put Francine off; she opted out and stayed behind to have a natter with G, who kept her company. The organisers weren’t happy though, concerned apparently about health and safety. Nonetheless they got away with it.

The stalwart remainder moved on lamentably slowly, slowed even further by one over-interested body that kept asking questions. I was about to ask H to tell him to stop asking questions when H asked one of his own. We did find the master brewer, an array of computer terminals, mercifully not resembling Windows 10 [“please restart to install beer into bottles”; “the fermentation has failed, OK?” NO, not OK!]. There wasn’t a warm body in sight, other than our own overheated bodies.

Finally, oh please finally, we were into the bottling plant which is where the plastic CSI overshoes were required. This was actually quite interesting; we were shown the biggest dishwasher I’ve ever seen, all the time containing 40,000 bottles. Clean, sterilised bottles issued forth to begin their journey through an automated check for cracks, finally to be filled and labelled at breakneck speed.

At last we could return to the tasting room for a drink. My ears certainly needed a drink. 50% of this brewery’s production was a dark bear, essentially a dark mild. Other offerings included a pils, as might be expected and an “English style“ pale ale, which might not be expected but which certainly tasted the part. Actually, at 7% ABV it tasted more than the part since I don’t know of any English pale ale brews getting anywhere close to that.

We bought a sampler pack since tour attendees got a discount and retired hoping that our ears would recover during what was left of the evening.

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Posted in 2019 Germany

Schloss Colditz

… or Colditz castle, in the English-speaking world.

We are camped in our large, crowded, unappealing campsite about 30kms away from the notorious Colditz castle, which I’m sure was equally crowded and unappealing to its former inmates. It was used in WW II by the Nazis as a high security prison camp for Allied officers [officers only] who had escaped from other camps. In effect, the Nazis had put all their bad apples in one basket. As such it was the scene of many ingenious escape attempts, some of which were successful. Naturally, being so close, we were keen to see this iconic piece of history for ourselves.

Our German friends, H&G, raised their eyebrows a little, apparently not understanding our interest. It seems that they, I think in common with most Germans, know nothing of the castle’s story. Nonetheless, they offered to drive us to see it first hand.

J19_0491 Colditz CastleThe castle stands, as would be expected where castles are concerned, towering above the town of Colditz itself. There are understated road signs indicating the way to the castle, once you get within striking distance, but it is certainly downplayed; there are no advertising hoardings or any such promotional material on the outer roads. The approach to the castle itself is through a maze of residential streets and little is provided in the way of parking for visitors. H found a parking place by the roadside easily and we tipped out to walk the last hundred metres or so. This provided, I think, the most impressive view of the building.

There is little in the way of signage even in the entrance courtyard, save for a sign to a youth hostel which is now located in the buildings. [There’s an irony here: incarcerate the youths in a prisoner of war camp. Excellent – I could suggest a few inmates of my own.]

_19R7114Turning a corner and passing through a gateway, we learned of a piece of Colditz Castle’s history that was unknown to us as well as to H&G. Obsessed with human perfection, up to 1938, the Nazis had incarcerated some 84 “sub-standard” people and systematically sedated them and reduced their diet such that they eventually died either of starvation or of vitamin deficiencies. We came across a cellar set up as a memorial to those who died there. Two rooms artfully crafted mattresses cast out of cement. I didn’t count them all  but I’m guessing that there are 84 such rolls in total.

Back outside we found the entrance to museum to the prisoner of war history. For a modest 4€ each (3€ for H ‘cos he has a disability card), we gained access to a series of rooms detailing some of the more famous officer inmates and their escape attempts. In addition to the usual explanatory boards, cabinets showed items demonstrating the ingenuity and skills of the officers: handmade tools; a wooden sewing machine; buttons and insignia cast from compressed foil in plaster moulds; uniforms fashioned from bedding and dyed. There is also a reconstruction of the glider that the inmates were famously building in an attic but you only see this on one of the guided tours.

Our most famous Colditz inmate was probably Airey Neave who made the first successful British “ home run” in the company of a Dutch officer. It’s a sad irony that, having survived the Nazi regime, Airey Neave was eventually assassinated by the IRA. The French record at Colditz was particularly good with their 12 successful escape attempts (those which made it outside the castle) resulting in a 100% record of “home runs”. Bien fait!

Perhaps surprisingly, only one war prisoner was killed at Colditz, during an escape attempt; a much better record than those 84 poor souls who had been were completely unknow to us before our visit.

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It has been interesting listening to H talk about “in the DDR times”, when this eastern part of Germany was the GDR as we called it. We’d be driving with them along a road and he’d say, “in the DDR times there was accommodation for Russian soldiers here”. He seemed to remember his time working in the DDR fondly.

They were keen to show us around their main town of Altenburg, where they did used to live in a small flat overlooking the main square. We found a parking place and began a walk towards the town centre.

It seemed as though more than 50% of the shop units were empty. Some were still trading but many were not. There were some magnificent old pieces of architecture that were falling into disrepair, too. Altenburg was definitely a town in decline.

Altenburg dilapidatedH&G explained that since the reunification of Germany, many of the old former East German businesses had ceased trading mainly because they had been set up to supply Russian markets and those markets no longer existed, not to them, anyway. In essence, the financial rug had been yanked from beneath their feet. The population of Altenburg had been 60,000 but had now dropped to just 35,000. Most of those lost have been the younger people looking for work; the population is declining and aging, to boot. This is the no longer used and maybe no longer needed dancehall.

Altenburg SquareThe main square of Altenburg was charming, nonetheless, and we popped into a local watering hole for some local water. Fortunately the Altenburg brewery is still working well; so well that it produced the best lager I’d yet tasted in Germany. Our table right up against the bar was a interesting curiosity, too.

Another business that I was interested was just off the square in a side street. This was a senf [mustard] shop and I’m happy to report that this still seemed to be thriving, perhaps because the enterprising proprietor sold hot bratwurst which you could then slather in a huge array of different mustards varying to tame to fiery. Somehow I resisted  the temptation of a bratwurst and we restricted our purchases to a bottle of mustard with horseradish.

Altenburg hairdresserOne business that had failed had been an historic hairdressing salon. It had been closed down in the 60s. Heirs of the family, wanting to sell the building, had opened up the salon and discovered a treasure trove of historic hairdressing equipment, dating from early in the 20th century, much of which resembled instruments of torture. The machinery certainly didn’t seem as though it would pass any health and safety inspections today. It is now run as a fascinating museum … and it has the benefit of being a small museum.

ErfurtIn contrast to our walk around a rather saddened Altenburg, our personal guided tour around Erfurt had shown off a thriving town. It’s a university town with a large student population and, being the main town of the Thüringen region, receives a goodly amount of financial support. It was quite a stark contrast.

Not everything was great “in the DDR times”, though. Our friends had mentioned being unable to travel abroad, for example. Sounding extraordinary, they also said that folks could put their name down for a car and then might wait 10 or 15 years to get one … whichever colour and limited brand choice might eventually become available.

On balance, they thought reunification had been beneficial, just not all rosy.

Posted in 2019 Germany

Deutsche Küche

Visiting our friends H&G for almost a week just south of Leipzig, we have eaten out in a Biergarten or two which is rather more than we would normally have done. That’s because our friends’ habit is to eat more at lunchtime with a cold, lighter set of fare in the evening. Our habit is to cook in the evening as a form of entertainment.

Our first lunch out was in Erfurt, which is the main town of Thuringen, one of the regions of the former GDR, East Germany. I’m always interested to try local specialities and so was immediately attracted to Klöβe which, it was explained, was a form of dumpling. Normally they are not stuffed but this particular restaurant’s little twist was to serve them stuffed. I chose a stuffing composed of a mixture of two sausage types. Having placed my order, I was surprised to see a plate laden with not one but two huge Klöβe being delivered to another lady’s table. Yikes, look at all that food! They were pallid-looking with no hint of colour whatsoever. Frankly, they resembled a couple of breasts.

KlosseMy groaning plateful duly arrived and I had to find out exactly what they are. Potato is the answer. It seems that you boil some potatoes, presumably mash/rice them, then you mix in some more raw potato. Que? Yes, add raw potato to the already cooked potato and form the mixture into a ball which is them gently simmered for a second time. Thus it is no surprise to find that the dumplings taste of potato. It was pleasant enough though a helping of two was way too much for lunch – I left some and could still hardly move. What is less clear to me is why one would go to so much intricacy to complicate something that is still simply boiled potato. It was good to try, though, and the accompanying sauerkraut was excellent.

dunkel weizenMy next culinary experiment was on a cycle ride with H&G after a dragonfly hunt. We stopped at an intriguing little Biergarten in the village of Regis-Breitingen. Sipping a dark Weizen bier whilst reading the menu, I was now attracted to Tiegelwurst. We all know how popular wurst [sausage] is in Germany and this one, according to G’s explanation, sounded like a blood sausage so I was expecting something like a black pudding or a Spanish morcilla. Wrong. What I got was a wet mound that looked the right colour for blood sausage but that was nothing like any sausage in consistency. Using the fork like a spoon was necessary. It tasted fine but was not the most attractive meal on the planet. The sauerkraut was excellent, again.

A Tiegel is some kind of pan which this curious mixture is made in. G seemed a little embarrassed to tell us that its nickname translates as “dead grandmother”. Fair enough. Enjoy your meal. 😀 I did like it but then, with the exception of tofu, I enjoy most things.

Posted in 2019 Germany

Auf Wiedersehen Herr Wolf

This morning we bad farewell to Herr Wolf, the wonderfully genial host at our campingplatz near Montabaur for the last two nights. Heading to Erfurt, we had a 300kms drive ahead of us at the  good ol’ German towing speed limit of 80kph/50mph. You can get a certificate to do 100kph/60mph but that’s a bit difficult for an occasional foreign tourist. So, our journey would be something over 4 hours and, avoiding the accursed mittagsruhe, we decided to leave at approaching 11:00. That meant we could go shopping first.

We hit a local Aldi supermarkt in Montabaur, just 6kms away. This was a new experience, a German supermarket in Germany. It proved no better than the selection provided by Aldi stores in the UK. Well, no reason it should, I suppose. Stretching our imagination, we managed to buy two days worth of food not including sausages. We may be arrested. Oh, no we won’t, we did buy some bratwurst, too, just in case – emergency rations, don’t ya know? Next stop was a fuel station so we could start our journey with a full tank.

Finally we returned to store our purchases, hitch up and say goodbye, handing back the excellently produced (in English) information booklet. Herr Wolf has done so much with his campingplatz in the country. He has littered the site with literally hundreds of nesting boxes and created a walk around a couple of Biotopes, which is where we found our dragonflies on the day we arrived. He takes children out on guided tours, we were told. I think we’ll have trouble topping this site in Germany, though we can but hope.

Eventually we set off to head into former East Germany and the drive went smoothly. 50mph/80kph feels quite pedestrian but in reality I would only normally do 10kph/6mph more anyway – truck speed. Now I could sit back and relax and let the trucks all worry about overtaking me.

We stopped for a coffee break to burn some time. Then the satnav’s pathetically estimated arrival time worked its way beyond the magic 15:00. We actually found our prearranged campsite at about 15:20. It is prearranged not by a booking but by meeting our friends, H&G, tomorrow. We checked in.

It’s another somewhat large camping village. It is not, mercifully, as bad as the one we endured in Belgium. It does, though have a lot of static permanent caravans; caravans which couldn’t move if they wanted to because of the fixed extension structures built over and around them. It manages to avoid looking too much like a shanty town. Just.

We were directed to two touring pitch areas. The first was supposedly the “deluxe” serviced pitch area but it looked like Jaywick Sands – completely crummy. There was no grass to speak of and there were motorvans and caravans shoe-horned in to an area beside the lake. This latter was why it was supposedly the prime site. We didn’t want to be there.

We drove away from the lake to the second touring area which happily looked somewhat better, complete with grass and some trees. One pitch looked quite reasonable so we nabbed it and got pitched up. One German neighbour in a 30-year-old Eriba was friendly and chatted to Francine. The other neighbour was absent but was clearly Dutch. They returned, poured a beer and the gentleman began playing a classical guitar. I kid you not. We’d said it in the 60s and 70s – in every campsite there was always one that thinks they can play a guitar. We’ve pitched right next to the one on this site. Memories of Monty Python’s cheese shop sketch spring to mind. “Oh, no matter, I delight in all manifestations of the Terpsichorean muse.” Actually, to be fair, he’s playing classical music quite well and quite softly so maybe I can cope.

We’re beside big water so went for a look. It was nothing exciting but just for the record, this is what we found at Campingplatz Hohenfelden:

  • Ischnura elegans (Common Bluetail)
  • Platycnemis pennipes (Blue Featherleg)
  • Anax imperator (Blue Emperor)
  • Orthetrum cancellatum (Black-tailed Skimmer)

“Will you please stop that bloody bazuki player!” 😀

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Posted in 2019 Germany


We’re staying two nights in our delightful little rural campsite near Montabaur. Early morning brought a small sigh of relief when we saw father Sparrow back once again feeding his youngsters.

Francine wanted to see a town so we zoomed off 15 clicks or so to Limburg. There was a handy-dandy free parkplatz just outside the markt. We abandoned ship and took to Shanks’s pony to investigate. At the first main junction the altstadt [old town] was signed straight ahead so we kept on.

German architecture is very, well, gothic, I suppose. Here there were many half-timbered buildings with the wooden frames being painted in strong colours; dark red seemed popular. It’s a bit like Tudor architecture but different. We ended up at the Catholic cathedral at the high point of the town, overlooking the Lahn river, where the dark red theme was continued. Being Sunday, a service was in progress so I managed to avoid having to go inside.

We wandered further and came across a coffee roaster advertising eiscaffee. Nobody but nobody makes iced coffee like the Germans; all other efforts pale into insignificance. Well, it would have been rude not to give it a go so I popped in and ordered “zweimahl eiscaffe” in my best school German. The nice lady understood perfectly. Regrettably my rusty German did not understand perfectly her follow-up question. I think she wondered if I wanted anything else. All was well; eventually zweimahl eiscaffee were delivered to our table outside in the street and very good they were, too.

_19R6989Wandering yet further we inevitably ended up at the old bridge over the river. Whilst the views of the cathedral from the bridge were better – never get too close to impressive buildings – there were no views of any wildlife save for a few ducks. We knew Demoiselles were about, though, ‘cos we’d seen one fluttering around a street.

J19_0369 Anax imperatorLimburg – tick. We headed back to the car and out of town. We got close to the entrances of two lakes but in both cases an entrance fee induced a U-turn. Further down the road, though, we struck what I considered to be gold. There was a series, a sort of staircase, of ponds working their way down immediately beside the descending road. There were lily pads and reeds so these were worth investigating for an odo-nutter. A  handy pull in soon had us both, cameras in hand, finding damselflies. There was an Emperor Dragonfly/Blue Emperor (Anax imperator) cruising about, too. We notched up six damselfly species including Large Redeyes (Erythromma najas) doing what they do best, sitting on lily pads.

J19_0413 Somatochlora metallicaFrancine went to the next pond up while I stayed at the first. She yelled, though her yell was drowned by traffic noise. I eventually joined her to learn that she’d discovered an Emerald Dragonfly of some description zooming about. Patience eventually paid off and we got a decent in-flight shot. Our beauty was a Brilliant Emerald (Somatochlora metallica) and this was only the second time we’d seen one, the first being in the Auvergne last year.  I was also surprised to see Blue Chasers/Scarce Chasers (Libellula fulva), being known mostly as a river species in the UK.  A teneral [freshly emerged] Western Clubtail (Gomphus pulchellus) even popped up and landed nearby, though a bit obscured. It looks as though we are on the extreme eastern edge of its range.

What a splendid little site with 10 species in all that we could find:

  • Calopteryx splendens (Banded Demoiselle)
  • Pyrrhosoma nymphula (Large Red Damsel)
  • Coenagrion puella (Azure Bluet)
  • Ischnura elegans (Common Bluetail)
  • Erythromma najas (Large Redeye)
  • Platycnemis pennipes (Blue Featherleg)
  • Anax imperator (Blue Emperor)
  • Libellula fulva (Blue Chaser)
  • Gomphus pulchellus (Western Clubtail)
  • Somatochlora metallica (Brilliant Emerald)

We returned for a late lunch and beer after a very successful long morning. It was relaxing watching the young Sparrows being fed.

Posted in 2019 Germany