A half-hour bus journey took us to Neckargemünd where P’s car was parked in order to escape Heidelberg’s exorbitant parking rates.
A quick drive around the region brought us to the hilltop town of Dilsberg, where unfairly spectacular views of the hills could be found in one’s backyard. Originally a roman settlement, and now a village with regularly held medieval festivals and plays in the ruins of the citadel, we walked its undulating perimeter in a half-hour in the scorching heat.
P took us through winding roads at a rather alarming speed mostly on 4th gear without gearing down on her 8-year old VW golf, whizzing past warning signs drawn with a variety of animals on them.
An unexpected turn of the weather yanked the temperature down a blessed 10 degrees, and brought a hailing thunderstorm down nipping at our heels – at the very time we were supposed to visit her family for dinner.
Ursula and Heinz Baberowsky looked like any typical Pensioners who liked sitting in their garden in summer and taking about anything that can interest them. The only problem was that only Ursula spoke slowly, and clearly and Heinz said everything with an unclear, difficult Swabian accent, even though he vehemently denied any association with Swabia.
“We just bought a Medi-Gym bicycle trainer,” Ursula proudly announced, asking if I would like to try it, to which I tried to decline politely.
“I will try it,” Heinz strode forward and got onto the bike, and spent no effort cycling on the machine that did all its rotations for him. “You know the Bundestrainer of Bayern München? What’s his name?”
“Klinsmann,” I said, thinking of new appointment from this coming season onwards.
“No, no…the physiotherapist…his name! His name?”
“What’s he got to do with this?” asked his wife rather irritably.
“Ja…what has he got to do with this anyway?” P asked.
“Uses it for training,” said Heinz proudly.
I found myself rather amused and comforted by the odd familiarity they had with each other as they launched into topic after topic with the rapid-fire German that I am still unused to, as Heinz and Ursula took verbal charge. As a retired engineer, Heinz’s questions betrayed him, as he perked up only when it came to topics that were related to technology, aeroplanes, football, and electricity.
“Why are you saying ‘ok, ok’ to everything?” Heinz suddenly demanded of P.
“This is called ‘active hearing’,“ P retorted.
Dinner with them was at an Italian restaurant down the road, and as we sat in some darker, romantic corner of the place, I was asked all sorts of questions about the country I come from as the Italian waiter bustled about.
“Italian waiter who went straight from speaking Italian to Swabian without learning standard German,” Heinz observed. At the corner of the restaurant stood a stack of postcards with that very same Italian waiter singing into a microphone, and offering his services for parties.
We passed this same restaurant the next day during the actual road trip down the meandering Neckar, that took us in between the border of Hessen and Baden-Württemberg, driving through both valleys and peaks that is the Odenwald forest, down to Mosbach and back.
P navigates with an expert hand (even though she denies any expertise with a car), and her certainty with the roads prompts me to ask her about growing up in a small village like Wiesenbach, 4 km off Neckargemünd, and her social work done in the surrounding region.
“Do you prefer living life in a small village or in a large city?” I asked after going through a particularly small village that stood sleepily along the road.
“The people who grow up in large cities want the quiet life of the country, and those who grow up in a village want the more exciting life.” P answered matter-of-factly. “I need the entertainment – the theatre, the cinema, or a place to meet with friends. Look,” she pointed to the elderly people taking care of their gardens in front of their homes, “there are hardly any young people here left anymore.”
“Don’t you miss the familiarity and the camaraderie that the neighbours provide?” I persisted in asking.
But to P, the anonymity of the city is clearly the more attractive option. The alleged frank abandon that comes with living in an isolated locale might just prove to be short-lived when the intruding nosiness of the neighbours robs this freedom and quiet – and turns content quickly into discontent.
There I sat in this green paradise, suddenly so keenly aware of this peace that comes with a price.