Published on September 13th, 2016 | by Boris
EUROPEAN VACATION – PART THE THIRD
In which I consider magical healing lakes, an explanation of Balkan history, how much fun hunting with Ludwig might have been, the German love of nudity, where the best hops on earth grow, the hospitality of outlaw clubs, and the beginning of my motorcycle journey east into the savage unknown.
When I awoke the next morning my right foot was swollen like a harvest pig. I had spent the night alternately applying ice and hot water to the throbbing purple bastard in a bizarre ritual of self-treatment I was making up as I went along.
At one stage, about three am in the morning, I even considered pulling the pin on the whole deal and getting a plane back to Australia.
Two things stopped me picking up the phone. One was the belief that a 26-hour plane journey would, with this injury, cause massive blood-clots to hurtle into my brain and heart. I had no desire to see my thrombosis-rich corpse being loaded onto a death-camel in Abu Dhabi.
The second was that capitulation due to crippling pain and the inability to walk is not really in my nature. Sure, I considered all the options as I lay prostrate on my bed keening in agony, but in the end, I decided I was going to ride the bits of Europe I wanted to ride and cross all the bridges that needed to be crossed when I came to them. Even if I had to hop across them.
Besides, it’s not like the foot was getting any worse. The pain had peaked as had the swelling. This was due to the endless supply of ice my new friend, Bojan, had been supplying me with.
I had met Bojan (pronounced ‘Boh-yan’) the night before as the Held distributors celebrated their get-together over dinner. I couldn’t chew my food and socialise because I was ferocious with pain. I told Ray I had to minister to my injury and hopped out of the dining room. I made it as far as the hotel bar, where I paused to refresh myself.
“What would you like to drink, sir?” said the smiling bar manager in perfect Austrian.
“Are you Serbian?” I asked in perfect Serbian, pointing to his name tag.
Bojan’s grin grew even wider.
“Yes,” he said, then he immediately poured me a beer and apologetically gave me a shot of scotch because the Austrians, in his view, were simply too soft a race to provide their guests rakija.
So I guess it’s time to talk a bit about blood, Serbs, Austrians, Turks, and that whole Balkan thing, so you’ll understand why the Austrians do not give visitors rakija.
Like Afghanistan, the Balkans is known as the Graveyard of Empires.
The Balkans, and specifically tiny little Serbia, was the beginning of the end for both the Ottoman Empire – which was founded in 1299 and reached its peak in the 16th century under Suleiman the Magnificent, before collapsing into a pile of dung after WW1 – and the Austro-Hungarian Empire – a bizarre union of the ancient and mighty Habsburg Dynasty and what the Magyars were pleased to imagine were the Lands of the Crown of Saint Stephan. It was a decidedly Catholic amalgamation of the House of Anjou and the House of Habsburg, incorporating the Holy Roman Empire, and a bunch of Hungarian kings individually referred to as “By the Grace of God, Apostolic King of Hungary, Dalmatia, Croatia, Slavonia, Rama, Serbia, Galicia, Lodomeria, Cumania and Bulgaria, Grand Prince of Transylvania, Count of the Székelys.”
All of which also became a pile of dung after WWI.
Unlike Afghanistan, which is “over there” and is really just a region over and through which great powers have fought, the Balkans is in the middle of Europe. And its problem (or attraction) is that it’s peopled by an intensely warlike, but otherwise (and paradoxically) immensely jolly and hospitable people known as the Serbs. And unlike Afghanistan, which is peopled by Pashtuns, Tajiks, Hazaras, Uzbeks, Aimaks, Turkmen, Balochs, Pashais, Nuristanis, Gujjars, Arabs, Brahuis, Pamiris and others – the Balkans with the Serbs sitting in the middle of them were one people – Slavs.
And they were an old people. Archaeological evidence points to them making their way from the Carpathian Mountains, the lower Danube and the Black Sea into this part of the world around 1500BC.
In the fourth century, Slavs were known by historians Justinian I and Procopius of Caesaria as Antes and Sclaveni, who came from an even older race known as the Sporoi.
In 545AD, Procopius described them thus:
“Barbarians, who lived under democracy, and believe in one god, ‘the maker of lightning’ (Perun) to whom they made sacrifice”.
They certainly made an impression on another historian, one Menander Protector, who mentions an incident when the Avar envoy of Bayan I, an Avar Khagan (leader), turned up and demanded the Slavs recognise the Avars as their rulers. The envoy was immediately slain, and the Slav leader, Daurentius, declared : “Others do not conquer our land. We conquer theirs – so it shall always be for us”.
It didn’t quite work out that way, but it certainly demonstrated an aversion to being conquered that persists to this day.
But things were relatively OK while the Serbs were worshiping a thunder god.
It all started to go a bit to shit when Catholicism, Islam and Orthodoxy got involved.
Now without going into how there used to be two great Christian centres, one in Rome and one in Constantinople (now Istanbul), and some stuff about the Byzantine Empire and the rise of Islam, I’m just gonna trim the fat off this bone and offer the following meat…
Over the centuries, and under the boot of various conquering empires, some of the Serbs were Catholicised and began calling themselves Croatians. Others were Islamicised and began building mosques. The remainder remained Orthodox Christians, and thus a thorn in the side of both the Muslims and the Catholics.
But, and this is important, genetically there is no difference between any of them. Thus are the endless Balkan wars so intensely bloody. These people have the same DNA and three irreconcilable faiths.
And you think the Jewish Arab thing has no solution? That’s an easy fix compared to the Gordian knot of the Balkans. There is no other place on this earth where faith both damns and exalts the people like it does it the Balkans. You will find no stauncher Catholics than the Croats. You will find no truer Orthodox Christians than the Serbs. And you will now, courtesy of the huge and relatively recent investments of Saudi Arabia, find no more fanatical Muslims than the ones in Bosnia.
My new best friend, Bojan, was a Bosnian Serb.
As opposed to being a Bosnian Croat, or a Bosnian Muslim (aka a Bosnjak).
And this too, has to be explained.
It means he was a Serb born in the region known as Bosnia-Herzegovina in the former Yugoslavia, and which is now, thanks to the nation-building efforts of NATO missiles and cluster-bombs, a completely dysfunctional pseudo-state known as the Republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina.
This angry goulash of real-estate consists of Bosnjaks (fundamentally Islamised Serbs who patched over to Islam during the 400-year rule of the Ottoman Empire which ended at the end of WWI), and heavily Catholicised Bosnian Croats from the region of Bosnia-Herzegovina known as Herceg-Bosna.
Of course, the Croats and the Bosnjaks do not get on, but they are united in their hatred of the Serbs, who form the third ingredient in this stew, and occupy a region called the Republika Srspka, which is not part of Serbia, but part of the newly-minted Bosnia-Herzegovina. It consists of some very war-like Serbs for whom sharing a state with the Muslims and Catholics who have been trying to kill them for centuries is simply not a long-term option.
In short, Bosnia-Herzegovina, was a region of Yugoslavia that had and has three genetically identical people living there, in roughly equal numbers, who have three opposing faiths and lots of guns.
You all might remember the disintegration of Yugoslavia in the 90s. It was on all the news.
What you were told was that the bad guys (the Serbs) were busy getting their genocide on, and happily murdering hapless and entirely innocent Croats and Bosnians – apparently apropos of nothing other than innate bloodlust.
You were told this because it was just not possible for the news services to explain in detail and in any kind of historical context what was taking place in a part of the world most people could not find on the map.
And it was a terrible lie.
The disintegration of Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia was not a good guys versus bad guys black-and-white thing. Awful crimes were committed by all sides as the artificial country fell apart. It was complicated and the mass media does not do complicated, as you know.
So you got told there were guys in white hats and guys in black hats, and beaut old NATO came to the rescue to fix it all up.
Look at it like this…
Imagine if a third of the population of Queensland had converted to Hansonism by mass brainwashing and financial incentives. Another third had been taken under the wing of the Greenies and became radical tree-huggers. And the final third of the population remained as it always was, some kind of mongrel Labor-Liberal blend of indifference and apathy.
This incarnation of Queensland kinda works for a while under say the strict populist despotism of the new Australian President Dutton, and the rest of Australia still went there on holidays and thought the three-way split in Queensland was cute.
The one day, Dutton dies, and the Hansonite part of Queensland decides it wishes Queensland to be its own Hansonite country because it’s been told this is a good idea by outside powers that have an interest in destabilising Australia. The Labor-Liberal faction disagrees, digs up its guns and knives and proceeds to defend itself from forced Hansonisation and radical Green lunatics, who want to kill everyone not worshipping trees.
The outside power, say China, then steps in on behalf of the Hansonite Queenslanders and proceeds to bomb the Labour-Liberal faction into coming to some non-killing arrangement that suits the Chinese agenda, but leaves all three sides still glaring hatred of each other across the negotiating table.
The rest of Australia protests, and sends troops to assist the Labor-Liberal faction in its fight for survival, and is likewise bombed by China into shutting up while a chunk of its country is taken from it and proclaimed a separate nation.
Yeah, that would never happen in Australia.
But in the Balkans, where people are not at all defined by their political beliefs, but instead by millennia of religious faith and national identity, this is precisely what happened.
The Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (SFRY), a communist-construct that came into being after WWII and disintegrated spectacularly in 1992, was always doomed to fail. It was a Frankenstein monster that was never going to live long. Based on a perverted form of Marxism and fuelled by the bizarre cult of personality in the form of Josip Broz Tito, it lurched along in the geographic centre of Europe tolerated by the great powers because it walked a strange third path during the Cold War. It had fallen out with the Soviet Union, and it didn’t quite roll with the Capitalist West. From the outside and to outsiders, it looked poor, benign and quaint, full of people called “Yugoslavs” or “Jugoslavs” (Jug – pronounced ‘Yoog’ means ‘South’ in Serbian, thus the Land of the Southern Slavs), who weren’t Greeks or Italians, but who ticked all the wog boxes that needed to be ticked.
What people who are not from there don’t know is that before that part of the world was called the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, it was known as the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. Well, that’s what it was named in 1918, when the Kingdom of Serbia became the first nation on earth to cede its national identity in an effort to assist its fellows Slavs (the Croats and the Slovenians) in the aftermath of WWI, to form a country from the remnants of the collapsed empires of the Austro-Hungarians and Ottomans.
They say that no good deed goes unpunished.
It just took almost 80 years for this one to be sent to the principal’s office for caning.
And now it’s 2016 and things have settled into a simmering pot that will one day boil over yet again, because nothing is ever simple or sorted in the Balkans.
Bojan and I both knew this, and we both smiled ruefully at each other as he poured me another Austrian beer.
I found if I propped my leg up on an adjoining bar-stool it throbbed less, and since there was beer and whisky being poured, there seemed little point in going to my room just yet.
Bojan was a bar manager par excellence. He had worked in the MyTirol hotel for the past few years, just as he had worked in various other flash hotels all over Europe. He spoke six languages, including English, mixed cocktails, poured beer (which he wouldn’t let me pay for), and provided an endless supply of ice for me over the next two days as I healed myself. He also arranged for my clothes to get washed, sent pizzas to my room, and told me that if I was up to it, I should come down to the bar and watch the Germans get hammered by the French in the European Cup semi-final the following night.
“Is it going to go off?” I asked, thinking it might be worth limping down to see the Germans setting fire to the foyer if their team lost.
Bojan laughed. “The Germans go off? Hah! Not a chance. Not that race of well-behaved bitches. If they win, they’ll have a beer and go quietly back to their rooms. If they lose they will have a beer and go quietly back to their rooms.”
“So what is there to see if they lose?” I asked him.
“Sad Germans,” he grinned.
I was a bit sad myself that night, sitting on the floor of my shower cubicle, alternately icing my foot and broiling it with scalding water. But I had decided I wasn’t going to fly home. I was, instead, going to attend the Held dealer conference the next day at a nearby castle.
The next morning, I limped out the front of the hotel to behold the Zugspitze in the glory of the dawn and maybe find a cup of coffee.
I was joined by Peter Meade from Aliso Viejo in California, the US Held distributor and fellow morning-coffee freak. Except Peter, as a late-middle-aged American, was on another level in terms of caffeine addiction. And you can’t make coffee in your room in the MyTirol hotel.
He was jonesing like a beast.
“There’s no damn coffee shop here, is there?”
“Not one I can find,” I said.
“What time do they start serving breakfast?”
“It’s six-thirty. How far’s the town?”
I pointed down into the valley.
“It’s not walkable, huh?”
“Not even if I was fit,” I said.
“You got enough cigarettes to last until eight?” he asked.
“I reckon so.”
So we smoked, looked at the mountains, and talked about how the Austrians were clearly shameless barbarians; base primitives without 24-hour coffee shops. We also talked about Trump, Clinton, motorcycles, cops, his misconceptions about Australian freedom, and my misconceptions about how ignorant I thought Americans were about the world. We became friends over no coffee, cigarettes and alpine majesty.
After breakfast I limped onto a bus, and was transported to Ehrenberg, or more accurately the 13th century Ehrenberg fortress ensemble. This consists of the ruins of Ehrenberg Castle, the Klause Fortress, the Schlosskopf Fortress, Fort Claudia, and Highline 179 (the longest suspension bridge in the world – 115m high, 406m long and 1.2m wide).
I managed to make it through to lunchtime. The international collective of Held distributors was busily viewing the 2017 range, having meetings with company executives and doing business.
I was just nursing my suffering. I had no meetings to attend. I couldn’t walk up the cliff to get to the suspension bridge, and I realised why cripples were quickly killed off in medieval times. It’s because they were surplus to needs and worthless. Cobblestones, which is what most of Europe is made from, are difficult enough to walk on when all your legs work. When one of them behaves like a swollen eggplant, cobblestones are just not possible.
I organised myself a lift back to the hotel as the meetings dragged on into the afternoon, and while I waited for the van, I reclined in one of the castle’s many quaint wooden shelters, stared up at the suspension bridge I would never walk on, and sipped beer.
I watched several Austrian and German families and their extremely well-behaved children eating lunch. No chips. No lollies. No soft-drinks. Dried meat. Salad. Fruit. Water. Now go play over there with your brother. No screaming. No yelling. Certainly laughing, but all set by the bounds of good manners. Heaven forfend should the behaviour of these children get on some other person’s tits. That is not the way these people roll.
Many of the kids had been bought wooden swords by their parents from the gift shop. They indulged in mock sword fights which did not end in blood and tears.
I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.
Wooden weapons sold to children, who are then encouraged to play with them, while their parents sip beer and nibble fine dried meats, then take all their rubbish with them, and don’t perform mad skids in the gravel car-park on their way out to the Autobahn to drive home at 230km/h.
I discussed this with Bojan, as I sat by the MyTirol’s pool drinking cold beer from a big glass made of glass rather than plastic.
“It’s just how they are,” he told me. “They live well-mannered, drama-free, enjoyable lives.”
This was obviously true.
“Where are you going after you leave here?” he asked.
“I’m going to pick up a bike in Munich, ride into and across Austria, then Hungary, then south to Serbia and see my family.”
He looked at me with genuine concern on his face.
I nodded again.
“Why do you want to go to Hungary?”
“To see Hungary,” I said.
“There is nothing to see in Hungary,” he said quietly. “There is just corn and Budapest.”
“I plan to go to Budapest.”
“Listen,” he said. “Be very careful. Do not stray off the main road. Do not ride around there at night, and do not, under any circumstances, stop if the police pull you over.”
I stared at him. “Are you serious?”
“Completely,” he nodded. “There are bandits pretending to be police everywhere. They will stop you, rob you and probably stab you if they think they can get away with it. Sometimes, even the real police will rob you.”
“Even in Budapest?”
“As long as you stay in the touristy bits, you should be OK. Just don’t decide you’re going to go adventuring in backstreets. The Magyars are not like the Germans. Would you like another beer?”
I pondered this new information.
Certainly, a few of the Germans I’d met had looked at me funny when I said I was riding into Hungary, and all of them had also told me to be careful because I was on my own. Since they didn’t go into specifics, I thought this was just the normal concern of non-riding people for a motorcyclist. None of them had mentioned highwaymen waving knives slick with the blood of tourists.
That night, I iced and scalded and iced and scalded my foot with renewed vigour. If I was going to engage in blade work with bloodthirsty brigands on the byways of Magyarország, I would need all my limbs to work.
The following morning, Peter and I were once again out the front of the MyTirol lusting for coffee and chain-smoking.
“What do you know about Hungary?” I asked him.
“It’s full of Hungarians,” he shrugged. “I’ve never been, but I hear Budapest is pretty.”
“I’ve heard they rob and gut tourists if they get the chance.”
Peter shrugged. “Yeah, I’ve heard that too. Nasty bastards. You’re not thinking of going, are you?”
“On your own, on a bike?”
“Yeah, good luck with that.”
I limped off to breakfast and then hobbled onto a bus to go and see one of Mad King Ludwig’s hunting lodges, the Linderhof Palace.
Ludwig II, or Ludwig Otto Friedrich Wilhelm (1845-1886) ruled Bavaria from 1864 until his corpse was found floating in Lake Starberg on the 13th of June, 1886.
He is called “mad”, but his insanity is actually doubtful and his death entirely suspicious, since Ludwig was a strong swimmer. What we do know is that Ludwig was a big fan of the French king Louis XIV, and the composer Wagner, and he liked to build castles – beautiful, ornate and very expensive castles. His most famous is probably Schloss Neuschwanstein, a fairytale fortress atop a big rock, on which the Disneyland castle was styled. But he also built a partial replica of Versailles, Herrenchiemsee, as a tribute to his hero, Louis XIV.
And then he went broke and was probably killed by fiscally-minded Germans. Ludwig did pay for his construction works out of his own funds, but by 1885, he was some 14,000,000 Marks (about a gajillion dollars in today’s money) in the hole and demanding loans from the state and from other European royal houses. So one day he went swimming and never came back.
Linderhof Palace was his tribute to the works of Wagner – specifically Die Walküre and Parsifal, and he had a watery grotto built on the grounds, where servants would row him about in a wooden shell, while other servants splashed around and generated waves. It was all lit by electricity, a novelty at the time, and surrounded by spectacular gardens.
“It’s obviously good to be king,” I muttered to myself as I gimped around the gardens and took pictures. If I was king, I would have servants carry me around on a throne and anoint my leg with leeches and exotic unguents. And I would beat them with knotted ropes because I was in pain.
After the castle, the bus transported me to a lake of unimaginable turquoise beauty – Heiterwangersee.
It had a glorious restaurant, green grass all the way to the water’s edge, stupendous mountains looking down on it, and leathery naked Germans swimming in it.
I sat on the edge of the lake, bathed my aubergine-like foot in its clear cold waters (anything this cartoonishly blue had to have curative powers I figured), and tried not to stare at the splashing volks-nudity.
Peter joined me and we talked about how if we took all our clothes off and jumped into an American lake or an Australian lake, the police would haul us off to jail in chains.
This whole German live-and-let-live thing is very confronting for Australians and Americans. Especially when the Germans are naked.
Peter and I were joined at the edge of the lake by Pia and Jesper, the Held distributors from Denmark. They had had seen me hobbling around Ludwig’s hunting lodge and came to see if the magic blue lake was curing my foot like I told them it would.
“Is there anything we can do to help?” Jesper asked.
“You could ask that big naked German over there to move into deeper water,” I told him.
Pia laughed. “Yes,” she said. “The Germans do like to get naked when they can.”
“Yeah, don’t pretend like you Danes don’t,” Peter grinned.
Pia laughed again. “We only do that in saunas. We keep our clothes on outside restaurants and in picnic areas.”
That evening, back at the hotel, I was once again icing and scalding for most of the night. Sidestand up and into the reach of Hungarian knives was a mere 24 hours away and I was still mostly crippled.
The next day Ray and I said goodbye to the Held family and the other distributors and drove back to the Sonnenbichel hotel.
There was more dangling of the foot in the frigid waters of the Rottfischbach, and I would bang the bring-me-beer cowbell with religious regularity. Beer and cold alpine water were working, albeit slowly, on my foot. It was not getting any worse.
I took a break from my therapy when Ray suggested we go look at the nearby Schattenberg Ski Jump, and get the cable car to the top of the 2224-high Nebelhorn.
Looking at death-sports arenas and not having to actually walk two-plus kilometres into the sky suited me just fine.
I needed the distraction.
After all, tomorrow, I would be saddling up to ride. And this was causing me some concern.
There was the whole being-a-cripple thing.
Then there was the stuff people had told me about riding alone in Hungary.
And then there was the business of riding even further on my own if I survived the Hungarian bit. Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia, then more Austria and back to Germany.
Thus far it had all been dreadfully civilised and actually the kind of place I could live in. And I had had company.
What was to follow was all unknown and I was all alone.
I had never been to Hungary and I was last in Serbia thirty years ago. I had certainly never ridden any of the roads I now planned to ride. I had no back-up. I had no Plan B. There was no-one I could call if things went south as I headed east. I would be lying if I told you the anxiety rats weren’t chewing at my guts.
The next day, when Ray dropped me off in the town of Pfaffenhoffen an der Ilm on the outskirts of Munich, and drove away, I was juggling two distinct emotions – stark terror and keen anticipation. What had seemed like a wondrous folksy adventure from the safety of my computer at home, now looked like some kind of life-threatening exercise fuelled by self-deluding madness.
I also felt old. This was not the first time I had felt old. Once you turn 50, you soon realise you’re not 25 anymore. What was different this time is that I felt it very keenly. My age felt more real and more of a liability, I suppose, while standing alone in a strange German town than it ever did standing anywhere in Australia.
“Shut up and just get on with it, old man,” I said to my reflection in a shop window. “Scared old people have no business riding motorcycles. De-old your shit and de-old your shit immediately.”
I called a cab, and presented myself at Iwan-Bikes, the German distributor for Victory and Indian. And Ural, hence the name “Iwan” or “Ivan”, which is what the Germans used to call the Russians during WWII.
I was greeted by a large, bald and very friendly German biker called Tom, who spoke passable English, and who told me that Bernard, the dealer principle would be here shortly.
Bernhard arrived, and proved to be a most welcoming and warm-hearted bloke. Totally consumed by motorcycling, he was also horrified that I was going to ride into Hungary on my own.
“That is a big adventure,” he said to me guardedly.
I nodded. “I’m starting to understand that.”
As we talked, a patched member of the Road Eagles walked in. He introduced himself as Martin and explained that he worked with Bernhard. He offered to make me a coffee as Bernhard prepared the paperwork that would hopefully ensure my easy transit across the many borders I would have to cross.
“Where’s the bike?” I asked Martin.
“It is at our clubhouse nearby,” he said. “We had a big bike show and party yesterday, and we had some bikes from the shop on display. We will go and get it when the other guys arrive. You should come and see our clubhouse.”
I had planned to get on the road as early as possible. I intended to get to Obertraun by mid-afternoon, and do some sight-seeing on the way. After all Salzburg needed to be looked at, along with Chiemsee, and the magically named St Wolfgang am Salzkammergut.
Google Maps told me it was about four-and-a-half hours via the backroads, so I figured on stopping somewhere for lunch, and then sometime in the early afternoon checking into the lakeside hotel I had booked on-line .
And now I was going to the Road Eagles clubhouse instead.
As three members of the Road Eagles, a member of Trust MC, Bernhard, Tom and I all piled into the shop truck and headed for the clubhouse, my mind was making calculations.
I was trying to work out how long it would take me to pack the bike. I had a suitcase and a carry-on bag. In the suitcase was a Kriega bag. The plan was to fill up the panniers, fix the Kriega bag to the bike’s pillion seat, fill that up, leave my two suitcases with Bernard, then go and get stabbed in Hungary. I had of course had a practice run with the Kriega bag on the Victory I had at home, so I knew how that worked. So maybe half-an hour taking the seat off, re-packing all my shit, etc.
Then there was the clubhouse etiquette thing. I had been invited to the clubhouse to take a drink with some of the members. I couldn’t just lob up, pack up and piss off. It would be disrespectful.
But how long all this would take was simply immeasurable.
Then there was the fact that I didn’t know where the clubhouse was in relation to where I need to go.
Oh well, I finally told myself. You’re on holidays. Roll with it. There’s all the time in the world to get stabbed.
After about half-an-hour of driving, Tom turned into a small laneway and stopped beside a big gate. The gate was opened and we drove into the Road Eagles compound.
It was most impressive and quite different to the often forbidding industrial-estate based clubhouses in Australia. The Road Eagles MC’s compound was no less fortified than some of our clubhouses, but inside it had green grass, and beautiful trees, as well as a beer garden, a big garage and large clubrooms.
One of the oldest and most respected clubs in Germany, the Road Eagles were founded in 1977 in Munich. There are now 14 chapters in Germany, three in Spain and one in Thailand. I was quite flattered that Martin, who was the Sgt-At-Arms, gave me the royal tour. There were things I could photograph and things I was understandably asked not to, but I saw it all – where the members slept, where they met, where they partied privately and where the public did its drinking. It was a very classy set-up.
I was also shown Martin’s special project out in the garage – a 1100cc Kawasaki-engined one-wheeled mono-cycle he uses to race other such monocycles through German meadows. Martin equated it to being shot out of a cannon. Germans are not prone to exaggeration. When he started it, I believed him.
From there my day could have evolved into a cheery, beery war-story-swap-fest with German outlaws. But I was eager to get going.
It was now near on one pm in the afternoon. I had noticed it didn’t get dark in this part of the world until almost 10pm, so I wasn’t concerned about daylight.
I just wanted to ride.
“Where are you going today?” Martin asked.
“Obertraun,” I said.
He nodded approvingly. “OK, go out of the clubhouse to the end of the street and turn right, then follow the signs to Salzburg. Easy.”
And it was.
But it was also Autobahn. And the German Autobahns in high summer are never easy – especially when you don’t really have any idea where you’re going, what the name of the next town should be, and can only manage 180km/h as your top speed.
“Jesusshitchrist!” I squealed as monstrous black German uber-sedans belted past me at well over 200km/h.
This was serious. This was also not where I wanted to be. It was 37 degrees, the roads were clogged with high-speed traffic, I had no idea if I had to head through Rosenheim, or through Traunstein, or Aschau im Bloody Chiemgau, and I could see no signs for Salzburg.
I could also not hear the Google lady whispering instructions to me through my ill-fitting earphones.
I couldn’t hear her at 180. I could not hear her at 160. I could hear her at 120, but I could not make out what she was saying, and if I slowed down any more, some blue-eyed Formula One-driving ubermensch would sieve me through the grill of his AMG.
Gee, you planned this ever so well, dickhead, I thought to myself. You’ll be killed very soon so it won’t matter to you, but you’re going to die a dickhead, and bring shame to your family forever.
Ausgang was the only option. So I ausganged at the next ausgang and suddenly everything changed…
THINGS I HAVE LEARNED THUS FAR
I am not the apex predator on the Autobahn. Men in hate-black German supercars are the top of that food chain.
Do not cut into petrol station cues. It makes sweaty Polack tourists crazy. They are already uncomfortable being in Germany.
Polack tourists are very surprised to hear you cussing them out in Russian after they’ve cussed you out in Polish. This makes them even more uncomfortable.
It’s almost impossible to pull up and stop on an Autobahn. You need to get off the Autobahn if you want to adjust your earphones or take a piss.
The Google Maps lady does not lie. Trust the Google Maps lady. Do not second-guess her instructions. Even if she cannot pronounce the names of the towns. But make sure you can hear what she’s saying.
Part One of this story is HERE.
Part Two of this story is HERE.
MY BIKE – A 2016 Victory Magnum in glorious white. It was absolutely the perfect bike for the trip, as you shall see. Rock-solid, reliable and just the kind of thing to distract the natives in Hungary while I made my getaway.
My thanks to the Victory people for making this possible, as well as to Bernard at Iwan-Bikes. The Victory website is HERE.