Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Roadtrip to Sweden: German fairy-tales and fantasy

South of Hanover, and about an hour’s drive east of our Bielefeld overnighter lies a small pocket of German fairy tales and fantasy. In lieu of a full day’s break from driving I’ve chosen a morning of sight-seeing in Lower Saxony, and a shorter drive thereafter, leaving us in Denmark rather than ending in Sweden.

Our breakfast stop is Hameln, or Hamelin as it is famously known in English through the enduring tale of the Pied Piper.  This mysterious figure began by solving the town’s medieval rat problem and then lured away all the town’s children as punishment for non-payment. Re-interpreted again and again as historical analogy and literary wellspring since the original events of 1284, the most recent I’ve encountered is China Miéville’s debut novel King Rat (1998).

An attractive town with many half-timbered buildings, Hamelin seems to be quite prosperous although I didn’t see many, – strike that  - any young people or children on the streets in the hour or so we walked around. Perhaps the Piper has been busy again!
2012-05-16 GERMANY Hamelin
Every shop window seems to feature some rat motif, stuffed rats swarming over pharmacy and book-store windows, bread rats and pastry rodents pouring off bakery shelves as if they were helping themselves to all the grain.

One of the few places to offer a refuge from the voluminous vermin was a coffee shop on an upper level of a central shopping mall. The barista’s eyes lit up when Munson appeared in the doorway of her small cafe, and when she had finished readying my order came over to inspect him more closely. Munson stood up and swung his rear end around to her knees for a back scratch, and she obligingly sunk her nails into his fur, purring schöne, schöne over and over.
Hamelin half-timbered buildings
A little distance away from Hameln lies Bodenwerder, home of the real life Baron Münchhausen who told many fantastical tales of his adventures, many recounted in Terry Gilliam’s 1988 film. Our schedule didn’t allow for a stop there, where a museum celebrates these exploits; instead we continued eastwards for about twenty minutes to Schloss Marienburg.
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This neo-Gothic castle with fairy-tale turrets and a fresh silhouette for every viewing angle is open to the public for tours, but we were a bit early for any of that, and mostly just wanted to walk around the exterior grounds to stretch our legs. As usual in Germany, no one blinks an eye to a dog in tow wherever you are ( a few gardens excepted ) and we may have stayed for morning cheesecake if the illuminated display beyond the locked doors of the courtyard cafe had been available.
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