I didn’t intend to impose my holiday snaps on you. Indeed for the first day or two of my recent cycling trip to Germany, I didn’t even take a photo.
But when a bird of prey glided past with a rat the size of a small child in its talons, my shutter finger itched. And I was sure that you too would want to see a picture of a large, dead rodent.
Birds of prey, like this buzzard, were as common as gherkins in this part of Germany
and didn’t always flap off at the sight of a Nikon. We saw swift hawks, black kites and distant, spiralling eagles. Ospreys were zwei-a-pfennig too (not that I saw one) but whenever I did brake sharply and fish out my camera, it was nearly always a buzzard that had caught my eye – and disappointingly not an osprey nor a white-tailed eagle.
But there was one bird I had never seen before, let alone photographed.
We have red backed shrikes in the UK but you’ll be lucky to see one. According to the RSPB, their numbers have plummeted here in recent years and they are “effectively extinct as a breeding bird” in Britain – though still a passing migrant.
With her cute, good looks and pretty marbled chest this female shrike’s common name seems a misnomer – the butcher bird. Shrikes make larders, you see, by impaling small mammals, birds, lizards and frogs on thorns. Just for a laugh. Or until they are ready to feed.
As in Poland last year, swallows weren’t camera-shy either.
I stopped to watch a fledgling,
before realizing what he was waiting for.
By chance I was clicking as a parent zipped past. (I hadn’t appreciated just how very vestigial swallow’s legs are).
Quite an aeronautical feat. I wondered idly whether, if I stood with my mouth agape, the parents would do the same for me: with pieces of wurst perhaps.
Germany is increasingly popular with holidaying Brits – which is galling. I like it when friends raise an eyebrow when we say we’re off to Germany. I like that some people don’t ‘get’ why we like Germany. I like that it isn’t fashionable. I also like that some celebrities find Germany cool and confess to how much they love it (but not too loudly. They keep their love quiet – like a well-guarded, jealous affair). I like the food, I like the beer, I like the architecture. I like the landscapes, I like the people, I like the culture.
I like that houses are built to make access easier for Father Christmas. I like that in four days of cycling, we didn’t meet anyone from the UK or from anywhere else for that matter. We just met Germans; who were friendly, polite and a little surprised, bemused even at seeing two bicycling Englishmen. I liked that it didn’t rain. And I liked waiting-staff who delightedly produced little-used English menus and enthusiastically (if not always perfectly) switched to our tongue. And I liked the waiter who insisted on addressing me as, “The Gentleman.” “Would The Gentleman like a drink?” and “What would The Gentleman like to eat?” I kept looking over my shoulder to see which gentleman he was talking about and what “The Gentleman” was going to order; and whether I should have the same.
Jim and I cycled 160 miles along the River Spree – from Cottbus near the Polish border to Köpenick just outside Berlin. This is the Spreewald, an area of nature reserves, huge forests, lakes, rivers, pretty villages and medieval towns. We pedalled and free-wheeled almost entirely on cycle paths and occasionally along quiet country roads – where the courtesy, patience and foresight of motorists was astonishing (if you’ve ever cycled in Britain).
In places, the countryside was quite English in feel – with added beaver-gnawed, tree-trunks
and rather nice, random sculptures.
There were no hills nor mountains, hardly any slopes at all actually – just day after day of gentle pedalling, our luggage transferred from one hotel to the next, with frequent stops for ice-cold
and healthy snacks. (Despite an explicit instruction, Jim refused to leave his cake alone until post-photo shoot).
Each day smelt of pine resin, warm sun and cake.
Sometimes we forgot that our route followed the Spree,
until our path touched its banks
or we swept across a bridge.
You’ll be relieved to hear that we didn’t wear lycra – unlike some guests at breakfast. Incidentally, breakfasts were marvellous: bewilderingly diverse, savannah-sized buffets – stretching further than the eye could see or the stomach wish for. But most certainly the breakfast table is no place for figure-hugging, cycling lycra. And will always remain an absolute no-no for some of the people who insisted on wearing it nonetheless.
But it wasn’t all smiles and contented tummy rubbing; initially we both had alarming saddle soreness. (My John Wayne walk was a triumph). At one point I was so very sore, I had to be physically restrained from hauling this 50th anniversary-celebrating couple from their cart. A cart with soft cushions.
As you may have gathered, I love Germany. But please don’t tell anyone.
I’m keeping it a secret.