Entschuldigen Sie !

According to Google, that’s “Excuse me!” in German.

I, who hinted about the danger of stereotypical media-influenced thinking in my last post, caught myself commiting the same “crime”. We had entered Germany on our bikes (the border between the two countries is arbitrarily marked by a few signs in the forest) and were just about to visit a village nearby when we were caught by rain on the unbelievably beautiful road. The wind poured into our eyes a cloud of water mixed with pollen. On our left side was a field and on the right – a lonely rock overgrown by painfully green vegetation.

“Oh, it’s so nice here!” Lukaš exclaimed and, although I agreed with him, I thought: “Oh, yes, it’s that Czech obsession with Germany again!” Really, their attitude towards their northwest-west-southwest neighbours is some mixture of admiration and disappointment with the fact they aren’t the same themselves. This attitude is not like the one Bulgarians have – we hate all our neighbours, right? “Who cares that they’re rich? They probably talk with each other even less than you do. They’re cold,” I told him, using the pedals and the worn out words of probably several southern peoples.

We saw a bus stop in front of us and decided to wait for the rain to stop there. A guy in sport leggings was already sitting on the bench under the roof; he greeted us with a smile. After a while the sky began to turn white on one side – a sign that pretty soon we were going to be able to hit the road again. “The next rain – two hours,” the man said with the typical German “ze”. Then he sat closer to me and showed me the app he was looking at on his phone. He explained that according to it, it was going to rain again in two hours. After that he rose, smiled at us again and started running up the hill.

We went down but instead of scolding me for unnecessarily pressing the brakes, as he usually does, Lukaš slowed down himself this time. He wanted to take a better look at the village. We were both translating the words we understood: Hauptstraße, Schule… We weren’t exactly sure which way to go but fortunately there were three people on the road so I decided to ask them for the direction. I was expecting a nervous “Nein” or “Ja” from a person who doesn’t really want to be talked to in English. Instead, what we got was not only a detailed answer in decent English but also a piece of advice: the man convinced us that the way going steeply down and crossing a dangerous bridge – “if your brakes don’t work, but otherwise it’s not really dangerous” – was much more beautiful. He bid us a nice journey with a wholehearted smile. “OK, I take back what I said about the Germans,” I told Lukaš, as if asking him for an excuse while actually asking myself.

The steep slope suddenly met Labe and from then on our road continued on the cycle path that follows the current of this mighty northbound river from Germany to Czech Republic or the other way round (depends on how you look at it). We had already done a good deal of riding up in the hills but despite that we decided that instead of going back to Czech Republic we could go on further north along with Labe and reach Bad Schandau. The reason was quite trivial – Club-Mate – Lukaš’s favourite German drink which we eventually didn’t find in the small city with a new and an old bridge and colourful houses. In spite of that, we decided to get something from the supermarket and, thirsty from the road, we combined the cheap with the familiar and chose a bottle of Sprite we began to drink from while still in the shop. Generally, that’s OK in many places (I haven’t done it in Bulgaria) but in that case it didn’t turn out to be a very good idea. At the cashdesk we found out the supermarket accepted neither Visa nor Mastercard and that the nearest ATM machine was a kilometre away. We weren’t really willing or in need of withdrawing euro, anyway. While we were wondering what to do, with the queue growing longer behind us, an elderly lady, two people behind us, just asked in German: “How much is that?”

We realised what was going on and tried to at least return the chocolate buns we had also bought and keep just the Sprite that was already opened anyway. The lady, however, didn’t allow us. She paid for both things and the cashier nudged them towards us half-politely and said something like “That’s yours.”

We went outside, not yet made sense of the unexpected act of kindness from a German, if you please… And it was raining cats and dogs. We sat down by the bike rack, thanked the lady again on her way to the car with the groceries in her hands, and then opened the buns. “He was right,” Lukaš said. “Who?” I asked because it was definitely not me. “That guy – it’s exactly two hours since the last rain.”

P.S. I’m not writing anything about the beauty but it was incredibly beautiful, nevertheless. Right now, everything in a nearly 100-kilometer diameter circle around Usti has literally grown wild. The young greenery is so bright it almost hurts you. The rocks, the hills, the sea of trees, Labe, the vapours after the rain, the colouful German houses on both shores… too bad I took no photographs. Next time I look through my film camera’s viewfinder and tell myself “Oh, that’s not really worth taking a photo.” I’ll have to do a short test: “Is it beautiful?” “Yes.” “So shoot it.”

Otherwise, I will have to only trust my memory.

Bad Schandau, Labe/Elbe and the hills (photo: Internet)
Bad Schandau, Labe/Elbe and the hills (photo: Internet)

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