My husband travelled a lot, but there was always something to do. I remember one slushy, grubby day in particular. It was raining in Bonn, but snow on the hilltops across the river beckoned. The Siebengebirge, the Seven Mountains. Siegfried slew his dragon there; the vast golden treasure of the Nibelungen was lost into the Rhine there; Snow White fell asleep in those forested hills and the seven dwarves toiled in their mines. For tin.
I armed myself with mitts, hat and scarf, and Tiff and I set out. We took the Mehlem ferry across to Königswinter, all closed up and quiet on this winter Sunday, but you should see it in summer, better still during Octoberfest. A livelier town then you could never imagine. With stalls selling beer, stalls selling sausages and buns, and at least six or seven oompah-pah bands competing all at once, every group, composed of barely toddling infants to barely tottering grandparents, rivalling every other as to which of them was dressed in the most gorgeous and most be-sequined uniforms.
Through the town and up the mountain we climbed, finally getting into the snow, nevertheless I was shedding hat, mitts and scarf–this was not a gradual ascent. Tiff got more and more excited. Golden retrievers love snow. The way began to get icy and, after Tiff exuberantly rolled herself several metres down the cliff-side, I decided she’d better go back on the lead. For the sake of my nerves if nothing else. I had retrieved this retriever out of an icy lake not too long before, with nearly fatal results, and I was not going to imperil my own life again by scrambling down a frozen cliff after her.
The early-medieval ruins of the Burg Drachenfels, (Dragon’s Cliff Castle), are at the very top of this mountain. Siegfried threw his bothersome dragon off here, according to one of the many legends. There was a road on the other side that I was pretty sure led to a nice little winehouse nestled into the hills–most roads in these mountains do. Sure enough, there was a sign that led to it. A 15-minute walk, it said. Maybe in summer; in winter it took considerably longer. No matter. We were in snow here. Away from the cliffside, I threw snowballs, Tiff chased them. By the time we finally found the winehouse I was healthily hungry.
When we first went to Germany I dutifully left my dog either tied up or in the car outside restaurants. I soon became aware of noses under tables, however, and realized that dogs are just as welcome as two-legged people here, so Tiff went in with me. Never mind that she was wet up to the ears and a tad smelly.
The small, fachwerk winehouse was crowded to the scuppers, but the owner found a corner of a table for me. Tiff lay down obediently. Unfortunately, only her head was able to fit under the table, the other three-quarters of her stuck uncompromisingly out into the aisle. No problem. The owner not only cheerfully stepped over her as he bustled back and forth between the tables, he even brought her a dog biscuit.
I ordered a plate of the house-made sausage and brown bread, with a glass of white Rhine wine. It was a good thing I was hungry. Two slices of thick bread–I lie, they weren’t slices, they were slabs–one thickly covered in a coarse-ground homemade liverwurst, the other with spicy homemade sausage, sliced fresh onions over all, pickles, tomato, lettuce and mustard-to-bring-tears-to-your-eyes on the side.
I found myself sharing the table with two other couples, and a lively conversation ensued. Lively on their part, at least. My German was not quite lively yet, even after a glass of Rhine wine.
The little winehouse was not a quiet place. Tables along one wall were filled with three groups of happy wanderers, fully outfitted with knee breeches, muddy hiking boots and feathered alpine caps. Within half an hour a gentleman from one group had courteously presented a lady from one of the other groups with the bouquet of dried flowers from his table. Within another half an hour the three groups were fast friends, and singing.
Another hiking group walked in, complete with their dackel. A German short-haired pointer under one of the tables chose to raise an objection, but dackels are known to hold their own and not back down under any circumstances, in spite of their small size, and it rose to the challenge. The next few moments were even noisier, but dogs in German restaurants know they have to obey the rules, so order was quickly established, with dog biscuits all around.
Tiff got her fair share of my leftovers, and we made it back down the mountain only one village farther north than I should have been. We walked back to the ferry, across, and home to a good roaring fire and a cup of hot tea. With, bearing in mind Frau Piccu’s good advice, a smidgeon of brandy in it to ward off the damp.
(To be continued)