As we drove around the first week from Reilingen, Schwetzingen, Speyer, Heidelberg and along the Rhine Valley, it was hard to believe there are roughly 82 million people in Germany, a country slightly smaller than the state of Montana (with a population of about 990,000!). We’re not seeing evidence of this population in the southern part of the country either – the cities must be very densely populated.
Several people commented about how we “happened” to be here at a great time of year. Spring flowers are in bloom, temperatures are rising, the craziness of summer travelers hasn’t started yet. It was great, but not by accident. We specifically chose the shoulder season (the window just before or after a popular travel time) and strongly recommend this approach for any popular tourist destination.
From the cleanliness of the toilettes, the efficiency of the train system to the order in their food markets, the characteristics often attributed to Germans definitely ring true. It’s a “national sense of internalized social order” as Barry Tomalin put it in his book ‘ Germany – Culture Smart!: The Essential Guide to Customs & Culture. Along with the must-see travel books we read, this one was extremely helpful for learning things like Germans don’t jaywalk! While I’m on the subject of books, Germany for Dummies was another very helpful book.
Even though the German Rail is convenient and has a great reputation, we decided to rent a car from Munich for added flexibility and to be able to meander off the beaten path. Plus, the autobahn is something we had to experience. Roads signs are clear and plentiful, drivers are attentive and courteous and we didn’t have any problems getting around. An American driver’s license is all you need to drive a rental car.
Oberstaufen Situated in southern Germany about 5 miles from Austria and just a few more miles from the Swiss border, Oberstaufen is a charming town. If I had to describe it in one word, I would choose “peaceful”. It’s not just the natural surroundings, but also the people we found to be delightful – they were warm, friendly and helpful at every turn. Flowers are everywhere, pointedly growing in flowerboxes and gardens and randomly growing along pathways and in meadows. This is not city, museums, and nightlife. This is cowbells clanking and farmers selling fresh milk directly outside their barn.
Alpine hiking is a major summertime attraction and people come from all over the world to enjoy miles of trails between the Bavarian Alps and rolling green meadows accented with bright yellow flowers. Many times we received various greetings from fellow hikers: Gross gott. Guten morgen. Hallo. Bon jour (wait, how far have we walked!?). Several times we rode a chair lift up and hiked down the mountain with our picnic lunch. It’s another scene that words and pictures just can’t convey – I think Jim’s description one day was “Unfreakingbelievably beautiful. Yep, that covers it.