Saturday, 25 August 2007

Pink Sky at Night (Chapter 3 - Into Yugoslavia)

Despite the ruggedness of the Austrian Tyrol, there are a num­ber of superbly engineered passes - twisted as corkscrews, but easily graded and well surfaced. One of them, of course, is the famous Gross Glockner: the one we should have taken but didn't. Nita, as navigator, swore she had read the map correctly. I had my doubts, but whatever the error we took a wrong fork somewhere, and instead of ascending a beautifully made alpine road we found ourselves toiling up a dirt track with gradients that could only be described-like those on the last lap to the Kelsteinhaus-as terri­fying.

In first gear we plugged along at a rapidly diminishing pace, climbing (at a rough guess) a gradient of nearly a foot per foot. The revs. sank lower and lower, and our hearts with them. She wasn't going to make it. Not surprising I suppose, but despite the small power output of the 150 c.c. we had felt, until then, that the scooter was almost invincible. It was hard to accept that it just would not climb the mountain. But this was no ordinary mountain. Indeed, it resembled a brick wall. The little machine finally succumbed to the punishment and three times in a hundred yards it stalled, rolled over backwards, and spilt us, our luggage, and itself all over the road.

I had to admit, reluctantly, that the engine would not master the climb unaided. We started to push as well as we could, gain­ing a little assistance by leaving the engine running, first gear engaged and slipping the clutch. After the first mile of agony our leg muscles ached abominably; and it started to rain. The only sign of life during the dismal interlude was an ancient saloon car which overtook us, steaming heartily and whining up the moun­tainside in the lowest gear the driver could select: namely reverse. With a two-thousand-foot drop on the offside the motorist, with head craned over shoulder, could do no more than hoot us frantically out of the way. The shower developed into a ferocious thunderstorm which promptly turned the track into a quagmire. We finally reached the summit soaked to the skin, caked with mud, and with unprintable adjectives emerging through my chat­tering teeth. Wearily, and in a morose silence, we limped past a large sign at the top with a black skull-and-crossbones rampant. In a country of precipitous passes, that was an indication indeed of what we had just accomplished. I was now sick of mountains and looked at the rain-swathed peaks about us with distaste. I reserved (somewhat unfairly perhaps) the same expression for our transport. If this was the reaction to an Austrian Alp, how were we going to negotiate some of the wild mountain tracks ahead?

In Villach, last stop in Austria, we decided to review our equip­ment again, as we were still carrying too much. We became ruthless this time, weeding out everything considered surplus, which really meant most of our spare clothing. We retained only absolute necessities, even sacrificing our gauntlet gloves-hoping they would shortly be unnecessary-and my shooter's telescope. Our list was now depleted almost alarmingly. One two-man tent, two sleeping-bags, cine-camera and film, a couple of writing pads; a very small first-aid kit, an equally minute ditty bag for Nita's odds and ends, a couple of macintoshes and two pullovers; one set of spare underclothing each, one 35 mm. still-camera, a set of tools and spare parts for our steed; and apart from our dixie and Primus and a few little extras this was virtually the lot.

VilIach housed the last of the European NSU agents, one Fritz Mayerhoffer, who got his mechanics to go over the Prima for a final check and had us installed in one of the town's inns. I told him about the ghastly scramble over what should have been the Gross Glockner. He laughed - a bit heartily I thought - at my description of our plight on the heights, but eased my mind some­what by saying that he doubted if we would ever find its equal for steepness. We had stumbled on one of the stiffest climbs in all Europe apparently, and perhaps the world. In countries with ample space, he went on to explain, they could build roads around the mountains, but in Austria there was no room to do this, so one had to go over the tops. Relieved by this explanation, but allowing for national pride regarding the bit about 'the stiffest in the world', some of my worries evaporated and we plodded off to enjoy a good night's sleep at the inn. This was a rather odd estab­lishment, with house-martins nesting on the first-floor landing and, in our room, an enormous, hideously painted stove which took up a quarter of the room and reached from floor to ceiling. Anyone wintering there would assuredly be roasted alive. But we couldn't complain at forty schillings (about eleven shillings) a night. We sank gratefully into a huge feather bed and, apart from a dream I had in which Herr Mayerhoffer - who had a long thin body, unruly hair, and an elongated nose - was rolling a hideously painted stove down on to Nita and me as we tried to ride up an endless mountain, I knew no more until morning.

Heavy rain and severe thunderstorms heralded our entry into Yugoslavia two days later. Another night in the mountains, this time under canvas, had left us cold, wet, and disagreeable. The tent, saturated, had doubled its normal weight and was awk­ward to pack. At seven a.m. as we approached the frontier post, murky skies and a low temperature reminded us more of November than July. I was certain they would keep us for hours at the barrier.

But no, we were lucky. Formalities completed, schillings turned into dinars and we were away in ten minutes. A good road, the ­ skies clearing (one is acutely weather-conscious on two wheels), and Ljubljana our lunch-time objective, we had the highway to ourselves. Nothing passed us in either direction for over an hour. Delightful. On either side stretched farming country backed with cloud-veiled mountains. Our route lay in a valley between two ranges, and was flat and level at long last, for which we were thankful. We passed a number of small, fenced-off memorials at the side of the road. On the stone faces of the crosses were inserted photographs of the dead, with their names and villages inscribed beneath. Some of the photographs dated back to 191 I, yet the images were quite clear. This form of remembrance seemed rather a nice custom.

Ljubljana is a garrison town, and as we invariably arrived at all major towns and cities at week-ends, or public holidays, it was not surprising to find all the shops shut and the streets empty. It was, in fact, Saturday afternoon. The town was a fair size and widespread; as we approached the centre there were a few groups of men strolling about, most of them in uniform reminiscent in style of the British Army, vintage 1914. They were friendly, and we found ourselves waving frequently. For the first time we had real language difficulty. We drove round and round until one old fellow from his scat on a front porch-after seeing us pass for the third time - pointed up a side road. We found the garage and refuelled. There were no food shops open, and we were hungry, so Nita approached the back door of an hotel. After ten minutes she reappeared with some cold meats (assorted), a kind of Russian salad in a cardboard box, and half a loaf of wholemeal bread. The proprietors had been very obliging and their charges were nominal for this favour.

There was little in the way of motor traffic in the city, and bicycles seemed to be the most popular form of transport. They looked happy Communists, the people we saw. Not colourful in their dress but quite adequately attired; certainly no sort of rich living was evident but everything looked comfortably solid. There were one or two pleasant squares of grass in the city and houses were clean and neat, though small. One could neither boast nor complain of Ljubljana. Not, at least, until the outskirts were reached and with them the Zagreb road.

This road soon deteriorated into a narrow, chalky track. I thought at first that it was a detour (despite the A.A. warnings), and expected any moment to get back on to tarmac. The hope was short-lived, however, and we resigned ourselves to the cart track which was to take us 130 kilometres towards Zagreb. We bumped and skidded onwards, being engulfed in choking dust every time the odd truck or car passed. After an hour of this tor­ture, we cried quits and sat down, well away from the road, to eat our food from the hotel. The white shimmering road looked ghostly and uninviting, stretching away between the green hills, with its lime-coated trees lining either side. Yugoslav roads in the summer are inclined to be very dusty, said the A.A. How right they were. I suggested our usual antidote to tough stretches and Nita was in full agreement. We would make a night drive. So at four o'clock, we arranged the sleeping-bags and after a mug each of hot strong tea, we lay down to sleep for a few hours. My last view of the road in daylight was a depressing one: a truck bump­ing and crashing its way over the corrugations and pot-holes, leaving a huge dust-pall hanging motionless in the air as evidence of its passing.

Well, there it lay before us: the first really arduous part. So far it had been easy - save for the one short hazard in the Austrian Alps - but by the next morning, when we hoped to be in Zagreb, we should know whether we had been over-optimistic in our choice of transport. The first trial was imminent, and as the rugged Bal­kans loomed ahead, the holiday atmosphere began at last to recede.

Monday, 20 August 2007

Pink Sky at Night (Chapter 3 - Salzburg, Austria)

Nita liked Austria a great deal and Salzburg in particular. The City of Music was gay and the shops full of things to delight a woman's heart. And the policemen, she thought, were as polite and courteous as our own. To me there seemed to be a rather dated gaiety about this historic city, an air of 'let the rest of the world go by, we only cater for the aesthetic and the genteel'. I liked it, too, in an indulgent sort of way, but after rumbustious Germany I felt it was the Herrenvolk watered down-bed tea versus a good roast joint. Also it rained a lot. For three days the streets glistened and the water ran in torrents along the gutters. Camping was out of the question, so we stayed, at about ten shillings a night, at a little en pension hotel which we were assured would command treble that amount during the Festival.

For people who like quaint architecture there are some interesting little corners to be found in Salzburg; and, if one can negotiate the welter of one-way streets, some lovely squares in which to idle and watch a large slice of Austrian life passing by. Nita chided me for being indifferent and unappreciative, but I was scooterless and anyway I am not too fond of walking, unless it be with a gun. Our Prima was lodged inside the hotel lobby, and as it was the devil's own job to get in and out, the machine languished for three days and nights of pouring rain, jammed between the umbrella stand and a potted plant.

On the fourth morning, with a pale sun contesting heavy clouds, we decided to move off, paid the hotel bill, managed to extricate the scooter from the lobby-nearly decapitating the precious potted plant in the process-and made our way to the shopping centre for a few food stores.

Browsing hungrily around a 'help-yourself' delicatessen, we heard a voice behind us saying in English: 'No, dear, take this one, it's two schillings cheaper.'

We turned to see a smartly dressed middle-aged woman gently admonishing her spendthrift companion, a sprightly old lady with sparkling eyes and a large cherry-dotted hat. They smiled, we introduced ourselves, and it wasn't long before we were all drinking large beers (at the old lady's suggestion) in one of the nearby cafes, and listening to the story of two intrepid adventuresses.

They were Australians, mother and daughter. In between globe-trots they ran a hat shop in Melbourne, but it appeared to be only a front for a far more exciting existence. The daughter, with a sharp, unconscious sense of humour, told us how they came to be wandering around Salzburg.

'We left the salon - not "shop", dear, salon, it's so much more exclusive-for a six months' visit to Paris. We wanted to absorb some of the very latest ideas for our, er, salon, you understand. Of course, all this impressed our clients enormously-I mean being able to toddle off to the fashion hub of the world, simply shutting the doors in their faces. But it will pay dividends when we get back home. Since the last trip we've been in a very strong position, actually refusing the odd customer here and there. "Can't suit your face at all, madam. So sorry." That sort of thing. Surprising how soon the news gets around to good effect. I know my women, dear.'

Her mother grinned and nodded delightedly like a wicked old conspirator.

'Then, of course, mother, who makes all our creations, had a French grandfather and we cling frantically to that.' She pushed back a recalcitrant curl beneath a cheeky little red-and-white beret affair, sniffed comfortably and downed the contents of her glass in one good Australian swig.

'Well, we left home fifteen months ago and we haven't set foot in France yet.'

'Where have you been in the meantime?' I asked, signalling the waitress to bring more beers.

'Turkey, dear; and Greece. This is our second trip in five years and the wander-bug has really bitten us badly. We adored Turkey, didn't we, mother?'

'Rather,' said the old lady, 'and Greece too. I'm only sorry I waited until my seventieth birthday before we started travelling.'

The daughter told us that both she and her mother were widows and that they had tired, temporarily, of fitting hats on socialite Melbourne heads, and on the first trip had gone to France to seek new inspiration for headgear. 'But not this time.' Setting off with one suitcase apiece (and one hat-box) they had delved into some of the less tourist-ridden corners of Europe. The old lady, who was then seventy-five, told how they had bumped and bounced their way in dusty, decrepit old buses along the shores of the Black Sea, wandered around Turkish graveyards admiring (naturally) the behatted tombstones, and keeping their expenses down to a minimum by using their little meth. stove in hotel bed­rooms.

'You have to be careful-they don't like to smell meth. fumes wafting under the door when they have an empty restaurant downstairs, you know: we always cook with the windows wide open.' 'So do we,' said Nita. 'Ah, yes; well, one has to be resource­ful. And my daughter carries the food in her hat-box and I'm in charge of the knives, forks, plates and things. It works very well really .'

Her daughter took her up on the theme of managing.

'Last time we were away a year and we spent nearly two thou­sand pounds-Australian of course-but this time, travelling with just the one case each and watching our food bill, we've spent only six hundred pounds in fifteen months. With luck we'll com­plete the round trip on about a thousand pounds between us, which is, I think, most reasonable.'

I agreed with her that it was a masterpiece of financial manage­ment. I hadn't the courage to mention that we had left England with exactly two hundred pounds in travellers' cheques-sterling of course-but then we did not use hotels, except on isolated occasions, and our transport was infinitely cheaper than theirs. Still, sitting there in the middle of Salzburg, I had serious doubts about that two hundred pounds (which was then one hundred and eighty) taking us all the way to Australia. All four of us, how­ever, were unanimous in agreeing that it was a lot more fun trying to squeeze a pint from a half-pint pot, and far more stimulating than sitting back in comfort to pay instead of plan.

I asked them if they had ever been to the north of their own country. The daughter dismissed that. 'Oh, no. There's nothing north of the Blue Mountains to interest us. It's harsh, hot and barren; nothing but scrub and aborigines. We prefer to do our roaming in Europe. Besides, have you ever been to John Q'Groats?' I had, but I knew what she meant. Nita told them that our objective was in fact the Northern Territory, and the aborigines in particular.

'Not on that little machine outside?' , Yes.'

'Good Lord, how exciting.'

They looked with renewed respect at Nita who, I think, was then silently forgiven for being bare-headed.

'But is that all the luggage you're carrying?'

Assured that it was, we all had to troop outside, where we pointed to the word' Australia' to convince them that we weren't joking: that we weren't just on a Continental tour.

'Well,' said our new friends, 'this calls for a little celebration.' So back we went for another sample of the Austrian version of the Australian national drink.

'You must call on us when you reach Melbourne, you know. It will be a marvellous achievement.' Nita suggested they had better save their congratulations until it was a fait accompli. 'Ah, yes,' they replied. 'But you deserve a big pat on the back for making the attempt.'
We basked in modest silence until the waitress had refilled the glasses. Then talked some more, drank some more, and the out­come was that at four o'clock that afternoon, three of the party were hoarse with talking, a little light-headed from the beer, and with smarting eyes from peering through tobacco smoke. The fourth member-the eldest-was as sprightly as ever, clear­eyed, completely unaffected by the potent lager beer and with cherry-speckled hat unmoved from its original position, reluctant to call it a day. Our stamina was sadly unequal to hers. We waved shaky goodbyes and rode back to the hotel, to book in once more with a resigned clerk for another night in Salzburg.

Saturday, 11 August 2007

Deutschland über Alles (Chapter 2 - Eagles Nest, Germany)

It was a warm, summer day-the first we had really experienced since starting-and we were in fine fettle. A friendly, cloudless sky above and ahead, just ahead, snuggled between enormous limestone mountains, the village of Berchtesgaden.

The previous night we had spent five hours weathering a ferocious thunderstorm that had all but brought our tent down about our ears. So on that sunny morning we were grateful for the drying warmth that seeped into our steaming baggage and excited at the prospect of seeing the historic Kelsteinhaus, or Eagle's Nest, Hitler's eyrie, which even then seemed to dominate the entire country around us.

There it was, just a small stone house, nothing startling in itself, but perched upon the highest mountain in sight. We felt it was watching every little movement of the toy world below.

So how to reach the Kelsteinhaus? Certainly from the centre of Berchtesgaden-full of Tyrolean atmosphere and Nordic types resplendent in Lederhosen-it looked impossible to reach by road. It seemed to be at an altitude far above the tree line, a man-made dot on the majestic peak of white limestone. It looked unassailable by anything less than an expert team of mountaineers; this was obviously one of the original attractions of the site. But (as the jovial fellow in leather shorts, ornamental braces, and footless socks, told us) there was a way up the road, but it was a long climb and we couldn't hope to go all the way by 'autoroller'. However, there was 'some arrangement' farther up to make the final, virtually perpendicular approach. We took his word for it, fortified ourselves with a couple of enormous frothing beers, and started for the summit and the house on the roof-top of Europe.

Up and up, higher and higher, we wound our way through forested mountains, along a narrow road where water seeped from sheer rock walls on our left. While down towards the right, the village of Berchtesgaden-when we glimpsed it occasionally through the trees-became an increasingly diminishing picture as the minutes passed. Higher still, and the Prima purred with relief as I dropped down to second gear. Fifteen miles an hour and climbing steadily.

It must have been something like half-way to the top when we stopped to eat. The Kelsteinhaus would have to wait. It was much further than we had anticipated. The mountain air and those icy potent beers (wonderful appetizers) had made us desperately hungry. We stopped on the brink of a sheer drop into infinity and feverishly dug into our knapsack for Camembert cheese and one of the lead-heavy, nutrition-packed loaves of treacle brown, butter and tomatoes and the thermos of coffee.

We sat in blissful silence, gazing out over a vast horizon, wolfing every morsel with delight. I shall always remember that simple meal under the shadow of the Eagle's Nest with more clarity, perhaps, than the nest itself, for it was satisfying to a degree; which the Kelsteinhaus was not.

But first to reach it. More spiralling to the sky, with our little engine screaming valiantly in first gear and the trees around us rapidly thinning. How much farther? A long way. Up and up again, with the engine, incredibly, still keeping us in motion. Another walled sweep to the left then, suddenly, level ground again and we had arrived. Crowds of people, car-park attendants in local costume, side-stalls, and a row of Mercedes coaches parked in the middle. Had we arrived? No. Before us were some of the 'arrangements' for making the final step. Through a crowd of print frocks and racing children, we saw a large pair of canopied gates, the entrance to the private, one-way road that led up to the house. A road which could only be assailed via one of the coaches: price-eleven marks (or thereabouts) each person.

Evading the candy-floss vendors, postcard kiosks, and soft-drink stalls, we parked the scooter among the mass of other vehicles and, rather bewildered by everything, took our two seats in the rapidly filling Mercedes.

Presently the coach moved off smoothly beneath the massive gates, which at an earlier time must have been crested with a spread eagle and surrounded by officers of the elite Personal Guard. But on that day it was attended by a white-coated guide who waved our coach impatiently through. After a short time I began to see why the coaches were Mercedes and why they were all virtually brand new.

We ploughed on, one hairpin-bend after another, and all the time in first gear. I could only liken it to that first, almost vertical bend, of Porlock HilI in Somerset-save that this gradient went on and on and on. The ascent was frightening. Having at various times driven across the Pyrenees, the Atlas mountains, and part of the Himalaya range, I can claim some experience of alpine motoring, but never have I sat so tautly on the edge of my seat as I did on that horrific ride up to the Eagle's Nest.

It was not the climb itself-though that was nerve-tingling enough-but the wretched driver would insist on keeping up an endless patter and looking over his shoulder more than at the road ahead; or rather the road at the side, above, or below us. After the first ten minutes, with our ears crackling ceaselessly, and all the flippant chatter long since silenced, even Nita voiced her alarm, which was unusual for her. 'Mike, I shall have to get out and walk if this goes on much longer.'

'Nonsense,' I replied, in a voice that sounded strangely unlike my own. 'They do this every day of the week.' Nevertheless, we held hands all the way up and I'm not sure who was the more comforted.

I tried to see the majesty of the view from the window, but all that impressed itself on me was the height of the viewpoint, an elevation which was rapidly becoming positively stratospheric. The faces around us (save for the ruddy-visaged driver) were blanched and uneasy. Someone was sick. I saw Berchtesgaden below and the nearby lake that shimmered like a silver three-penny-piece-and about as big--so many thousands of feet below. A voice in English was saying that this road had taken four years to complete, from the entrance gates to the house. I hoped, fervently, that the project had been attacked with typical German thoroughness, and I comforted myself (and my wife) with this thought.

The driver, without pausing in his commentary, swung hard on the wheel and the front of the coach (which one felt was too long, under such confined conditions, to be manoeuvred safely) lurched out literally into space, hung there for what seemed an age, then swung back again on an incredible lock round a ghastly hairpin-bend and for the umpteenth time swept immediately into the next one. Someone else was sick-or it may have been the same person-as I watched in horrified fascination our progress round each dizzy spiral upwards, and Nita clung more fiercely to my hand. Always reluctant to tackle heights, this was almost more than she could take, and she was very brave in conquering such fear. It was parallel to my being asked to make a journey on a crowded tube train in total darkness, which is something my claustrophobic mind would find difficult to endure.

The coach burst through a layer of cloud, levelled out, and the straining engine died away to a burble and stopped.

Shakily, but with rapidly gaining confidence, we all alighted and the chatter was soon at a higher and faster pitch than ever. We were standing on the semicircular parapet, fenced with a low, stone wall. The parapet struck a chord in our memories. Yes, the old newsreel pictures of Hitler and Mussolini clinching some pact or other, sitting back, smiling and chatting amicably. Right here, just where Nita and I were standing at that moment. Could it really be fifteen years or more since those dim, half-remembered scenes had been news?

Now we understood why this place was called the Eagle's Nest. Standing on one of the highest peaks in Europe, we could look out towards a breath-taking expanse of Germany on the one side and Austria on the other. Flecks of cloud scudded past below and the air was chilled and thin. It was not difficult to forget the tourists around us and visualize the :Man, perhaps elated, perhaps morose, leaning hands on wall to gaze out across his two countries, with the wild mountain winds howling across the limestone summits. No one in the whole of Germany greater or mightier than he! At such times, amidst those surroundings he must have felt that all his dreams would surely be fulfilled.

But the parapet was, so to speak, merely the front garden. To reach the house itself there was one more climb to be made. A journey by lift up through four hundred feet of solid rock. The lift was a superb piece of workmanship, beautifully panelled and completely silent in operation. Entry on this last phase was by way of an electrically lit tunnel, which started from the parapet and reached deep into the centre of the mountain-top. Nita had experienced enough altitude for one day and would elevate herself not another foot; she 'Waited on the balcony while I went up with the camera. And there, on emerging from the lift in the entrance hall, was where the climax of my disappointment (first experienced at the commercialized bus terminus) was reached.

The place was spacious, but not pretentious, with walls, doors, and fittings finished in elegant natural woods and with undoubtedly the most inspiring view in Europe from any window, yet this tiny nucleus of modern history-infamous or otherwise- had been utterly spoilt. Today it is nothing more than a cafe, its original interior entirely altered. Not one picture on the wall, not one piece of personal furniture, no desk, no ornaments; nothing remains. True, the walls are adorned, but by written slogans -in English-advising all and sundry to 'Get your postcards here', and' Ladies this way'; one even advertising that' Parties are catered for'.

I walked through what must once have been the main room of this surprisingly modest dwelling, threading my way between tables crowded with diners and out between wall-wide french windows on to the sunlit terrace. More customers. The place was overrun with them. One could gain no conception of the original eyrie. Which was a pity. After a whole morning of exhausting climbing (not to mention the high entrance charge) the Kelstein-haus had revealed itself as an empty shell. There was but one tiny pointer and even that was oblique: the significant date plaque, 1938, over the entrance tunnel.

Greatly disappointed, I took the lift down again to the balcony, where Nita, standing well away from the edge, was gazing across a swiftly clouding sky to the immense distant slopes. I spent twenty minutes convincing her that there was no point in walking down-which would take at least three hours-and, firmly guiding my reluctant wife, climbed once again aboard the coach.

By the time we started it was raining steadily, and I began to reflect on the folly of authorities who could be so short-sighted as to turn what could have been an extremely interesting little museum into a tourists' cafe. However, people could, as we did, still stand on the mountain-top and contemplate if they wished to do so, and they could still nostalgically relive the past, as no doubt many Germans did. I had talked to the man at the entrance turnstile, and during a brief lapse in the constant clicking of the gate he had told me that the Eagle's Nest, by order, was to exhibit no reminder whatsoever of the past. Alles Kaputt.

Our ride down the mountainside was uneventful compared with the upward journey. Thick clouds obscured the heights and everyone felt, ostrich-like, safer with the drizzle turning the windows opaque. Down at the bus terminus, we collected the Prima and spent the next half-hour enjoying a long free-wheel run down to Berchtesgaden.

The whole episode had been interesting but disillusioning-as though we had just left behind a Tower of London stripped bare and operating as a canteen. And with that-our final glimpse of Germany-we ran on through a steady wet mist, to have our carnet stamped for the third time, and the gateway to Austria courteously opened for our pleasure.

Friday, 3 August 2007

Deutschland über Alles (Chapter 2 - Past Munich, Germany)

We were sorry to forsake the luxury of the Hotel Post as guests of NSU and to relinquish the rich living and return to our spartan road once again, a very bad second-class road which took us south to Munich. The highways in Germany-apart from the Autobahnen-suffer badly during the winters, which are severe, and each spring and summer are spent on frantic road mending to prepare these routes for another winter onslaught. Hence we found the going very rough in patches, and somewhere along the way we lost our camera tripod and two water bottles, which must have bounced unseen from the pile of luggage behind us. This stretch was a good test and it was obvious-despite our whittling down-that we should have to arrange our packing more securely before long.

In Munich we called at the transport agency to pick up our first batch of cine-film from RedifIusion in London. I still had a few hundred feet left in the valise, which was fortunate because there was no stock for us to collect. Something (inevitably) had gone wrong with the system, and we had arrived too early for the dispatch department of ITV. There was nothing we could do and our exasperation was futile.

It was Saturday morning, and our tight budget would not stand a week-end in Munich. Belgrade was the next pick-up point for film, so we would just have to be economical with our existing stock. Five hundred feet of material went back to London; mostly departure sequences taken at Dover, and establishing shots of France being assailed by two Britons on a German scooter bound for Australia-which given the right scriptwriter could have been made amusing. Anyway, we should have to be very selective in photographic subjects until we reached the Yugoslav capital.

So on a sunny Saturday morning, after gazing at the ornate Hofbrauhaus (where the Big Plot was alleged to have been hatched) and the site of the infamous Beer Hall (where it all started), we let our imagination run riot for a while and saw the throngs of leisurely shoppers, strolling around their virtually rebuilt city, as jack-booted conquerors marching to war. For some reason, however, the centre of Munich reminded me a little of Bath, so we turned our Fatherland product (1956 vintage) in an easterly direction to continue with our Wanderjahr.

We were now, of course, in the American zone of Germany, so I suppose we could not consider it surprising when a couple of mornings later we overtook an empty helicopter parked in the middle of the road: a military hover-plane with large white letters proclaiming that this apparently discarded property had belonged at one time to the USAAF. We had the road to ourselves, and as we moved carefully past this strange metal beast I felt that there must be an explanation for it. I had heard that our transatlantic allies were prosperous, but surely not so much so that they could afford to simply leave the odd helicopter strewn along the highway, not in peace-time, anyway. And it appeared they could not, for, as we stopped to admire this unique road-block, two burly, khaki-clad figures clambered from a nearby ditch, wearing Hollywood expressions-complete with gum-of cynical toughness, accompanying stubble haircuts, calf-length assault boots, and neat little white labels sewn over breast pockets: labels that announced for all to see that here before us were Lieut. S. Antonio and Sgt. Kirschner of the U.S. Army Air Force.

Sergeant Kirschner turned his back modestly to finish his adjustments when he saw Nita. He need not have worried, however, for we were both absorbed in trying to read every one of the literary appendages on the lieutenant's uniform. We dragged our eyes away reluctantly from the captions and looked him straight in the face.

They both nodded grimly at us, replaced their steel helmets, hitched their revolvers, picked up two rifles from the ground and set off to push the helicopter on to the gravel verge. They were evidently on a very important mission. We waited unashamedly to see how it would all end, half-expecting them to make a spinechilling take-off, with ethereal strains of 'Into the Wide Blue Yonder' welling stereophonically from the surrounding hills. We waited, almost at attention, with bated breath.

But we waited in vain. Instead of the soul-stirring musical crescendo there was a dirty little noise from the hooter of an impatient Volkswagen at our rear. We moved hastily from our viewpoint on the crown of the road. Our two heroes, far from leaping athletically into their sky chariot, sat down heavily on a nearby hump of ground and lit cigarettes in stony silence.

Me. 'What's the trouble? Has it broken down?'

Lieut. S. Antonio. 'Outa gas.'

Sgt. Kirschner (glancing at enormous chronometric wristwatch). 'Boy'll bealawng frawm the Deepoh bah thirdee-afIder wi' mower gass.'


Lieut. A. to Nita. 'Yeah, we gotta be back in Munich by sundown. Say, you two hikin' that heap to Australia?'

Me. ' Yeah. Er, yes.'

Lieut. A. 'Howja go for visas through all these countries?'

Nita. 'Just collect them from the various embassies in London.' Sgt. K. (idly surveying Union Jacks on scooter). 'You English?' Me. 'Yes. You American?' (Exchange of meaning glances, pregnant pause.)

Them. 'Ha, ha.'

Us. 'Ha, ha, ha.'

Me. 'How do you like Germany?'

Lieut. A. 'Not much. I just come from Japan. The people here are sullen and unfriendly. In Japan everything was great, just great.' We all stared at the fuelless helicopter, conjuring up a Japan that was Great. An elderly, bespectacled man with a little boy holding his hand had sprung from somewhere and were peering into the cockpit.

'Kirsch,' said the Lieutenant. 'Better fetch those carbines over here. You know how these Krauts'll go nuts over weapons.'

'Sure,' said the Sergeant, walking over and retrieving the lethal weapons from the reaches of a tempted grandfather. The Lieutenant suddenly became quite garrulous.
'You English are really gone on crazy stunts, ain't you? We had that guy in the States for a while who thrashed across the Atlantic in a waterproof jeep. Benny Carlin or sump'n his name was; and a girl who came across in a rowin' boat.'

Nita said, 'Ben Carlin is an Australian. But then, the love of a challenge is really Commonwealth-wide. Ann Davison is English, though.'

'Yeah, that was the one, Ann Davison.'

'Did you ever read their books?'

'Naw; too busy policin' Nips.' (Our vision of a Japan that was Great wilted a little.)

'Here'za gasswaggon now, Lootenant.'

A large khaki tanker drew up with a flourish and three G.I.s in fatigue uniforms, sans name-tags, jumped down and with perfunctory salutes started to drag the fuel line up to the helicopter.

'Jeez, Lootenant,' said one of the newcomers, 'the Cap'n's wild as a hornet. He's sure gonna chew yore-' Nita coughed diplomatically right on cue, 'an ef'n you ain't back at base in one hour dead, he's markin' you and the Sergeant there down Awol.'

Our Lieutenant received this verbal message from his superior with an inscrutable expression. 'O.K., you guys. Let's have the gas an' you can keep the bull to yourselves.'

The operation was quickly completed. The tanker, with feedpipe recoiled and stowed, backed around and shot off at high speed back towards Munich, and the two aviators climbed into the cockpit and started up.

As the rotor began to whirr round at increasing speed, a steelhelmeted head appeared at the open side window.

'Don't try breaking any speed records on that thing, will you?'

'No fear,' I shouted above the roar. 'We can't afford to run out of petrol!'

They both grinned and rose vertically above our heads. A hand waved and soon the 'copter was just a speck in the distance.

'I've got a feeling,' said my wife, 'that in the not too distant future we'll be wishing we could do that.'