Colourful, ornate and exuberant are not words which used to spring to my mind when I was thinking of Germany.
Instead, I had always imagined the country of order and inner discipline to be this very organised place with lots of straight lines and right angles employed in a steely symmetry. Talk of expectations based on national stereotypes!
Yet, here we were, travelling through the Free State of Bavaria and I couldn’t get enough of the colourful houses with their painted facades, scalloped balconies and whimsical bas-reliefs. It was all so happy and inspiring to look at. For once, reality had exceeded any expectations I had had.
We had been on the road for five days already. Piled in our little red car, we had left England behind us, crossed the English Channel by ferry and drove through Belgium in a day. Lush hills under an overcast sky welcomed us into Germany and we all screamed with delight when the first thing we saw by the side of the road was a herd of deer quietly grazing the grass in a lush pasture at the bottom of a hill.
It was my first visit to Germany. Somehow I had never made it there before. So, I was excited and looking forward to exploring this country, the history of which had been so tightly connected with the history of Bulgaria – my homeland.
After ticking the region of the river Mosel, Baden-Baden and the Black Forest off our list, we crossed into Bavaria and I was instantly smitten.
Houses and farms, it seems like plucked from a fairy-tale, lined up the streets of the many villages and towns we drove through. Their facades were lavishly decorated with religious, heroic and pastoral scenes. Boxes with flowers in full bloom adorned every window and dainty balcony. Whimsical figurines had been attached to the walls.
At times, it was all too much to take in. So exuberant, so creative, each house being a unique work of art, yet the one right next to it being even better and even more one-of-a-kind. Had my husband listened to me, we would still be in Bavaria now slowly driving from painted village to painted village simply enjoying the beauty of it all.
As it happened, we were tied to a tight schedule, aiming to be back to the Northern Italian city of Vicenza, where we currently live, by the start of August.
So, we kept driving through lush pastures flanked by tall blue peaks.
Sometimes alpine lakes would reveal themselves to us.
Often we would glimpse large birds of prey either circling above or pecking on their catch half-hidden by the tall grass on both sides of the road.
Even more often we would see herds of grazing cows, their large bells jingle-jangling in the morning mist.
It was beautiful and several times I had the strong urge for us to simply stop by the side of the road and then hike through the deep forests singing alpine songs with a free heart.
Early one evening we went for a walk around Kaufbeuren – a city in Southern Bavaria we chose to spend two days in due to its proximity to Neuschwanstein Castle. The evening dusk emphasised the pastel colours which the big houses and public buildings on the main street had been painted in.
It was all very quiet, with only a handful of people sitting at the outside tables of the local cafes and restaurants. A large flock of birds was circling above the pink townhall. We walked the silent streets with their painted houses, passed by the large convent dedicated to St. Crescentia and then scaled the wide steep steps leading up to the preserved defensive wall.
Up there on the hill we stopped by the Five-Button Tower which was built back in 1420. For centuries the tower used to be the seat of the municipal fire watch which would alert the townsfolk as soon as a fire was spotted in the maze of streets and houses down below.
Looking up at the tall rectangular body in front of us, I was surprised to see the Bulgarian flag featured on it. Later on I read that in 1917 a landmark was added to the tower depicting the flags of the countries which fought on the side of Germany during the First World War.
The old town of Kaufbeuren was lying at our feet. Dusk was soon overpowered by darkness and the city lights glimmered in the quiet night.
The day after we visited Neuschwanstein Castle – this most exuberant landmark of Bavaria, a symbol of the lifelong dream of the fantastical mind of its creator King Ludwig II.
One more night in quiet Kaufbeuren and it was time to leave for our last German stop – the picturesque town of Garmisch-Partenkirchen, which is famous for its painted houses and as the place of the 1936 Winter Olympic Games.
We walked down cobbled streets admiring the most amazing examples of the art of ‘Luftmalerei’, namely the Bavarian house painting style. Derived from the Italian ‘trompe l’oeil’ its purpose is to achieve an illusion, to adorn a house with paints in such a way that it can appear to have architectural elements which in fact it lacks. For me, it is also a way to manifest a creative spirit and to fill with joy and colour the souls of the passers-by.
And then we passed by this hotel with a restaurant and a large garden. A band was playing Bavarian folk songs. The musicians were dressed in local costumes and were playing instruments typical for the area. Tall glasses of beer were stationed in front of each one of them. In between songs they would take a sip, then carefully cover their glass with a paper doily and continue yodeling their high-pitched songs of broken hearts and crisp alpine mornings (or so I imagined, seeing that I don’t speak German).
Attracted by the sheer exuberance of it all, we took the only free table, right in front of the band. And here the most inexplicable thing happened. Even though we caught the eye of the several waiters and waitresses many times, even though we smiled and asked for a menu a couple of times, after half an hour no-one had shown any willingness to take our order.
The tables around us were getting their food, we stood in the middle at our table feeling abandoned and misunderstood. In the end we declared defeat and left. So, if you happen to pass by, stop for the music. I can guarantee that it was good. I cannot vouch for the food as such.
Later that day we crossed into Austria, with my fingers crossed tight that we would be back to Bavaria one day soon.