Peeing on Switzerland

Rock border denoting Austria vs. Switzerland

Rock border denoting Austria vs. Switzerland (‘Österreich’)

Ralf pokes the scat with the tip of his trekking pole and says in English it’s fresh, from earlier today. And the wind changes direction, it’s coming from Switzerland now, and I don’t know if that’s good or bad but he’s moving quicker and I do my best to keep up, to breathe so I can get my heart to slow down.

Through some miscommunication in the Alps, Eberhard asked Ralf if he would be willing to take me further than the rest of the party on our first day out, because I acted disappointed we would just hike for an hour to a distant saddle where we’d stop, take a break, and turn back.

And so he sussed me and my gear out, and said his English isn’t so good in the mountains but he’s got three hours before he must return — and off we went, with the storm clouds gathering over the ridge, the divide between Austria and Switzerland.

The Swiss side of the Alps

The Swiss side of the Alps

Ralf said years ago a guy from Customs was there on the ridge and asked for his passport, said he had 24 hours to produce one, but Ralf negotiated his way out of it, says they used to have problems with Austrians smuggling coffee into Switzerland and trading it for wine and chocolates, some 500 years ago. Eberhard says this side of the Alps is cheaper, and that might be the Schwäbische in him that’s always looking for a deal.

I realize I’ve been selfish wanting to see everything, breaking off from my mom, Lily and Eberhard, Eberhard’s ex-girlfriend Regina — who Ralf’s known for 20 years or more, since they all started climbing and sometimes helped their friend Paul lead parties through the Alps.

We regroup back at the saddle after Ralf and I climb higher, a bit off-trail, and he says only 20 or 30 people come this far each year because they don’t know how to read maps (and probably better then, they turn back).

Lily figures out how she can pee on Switzerland and Austria at the same time with one leg in each country, the same as you can in the US over four states, in the southwest.

She’s skipping like a pixie with her Leki poles and having a great time of it, but gets tripped up on a steep grade right at the end of the trail by the restaurant where the cable cars come in and wipes out on the gravel, splits her palm open pretty good, both knees.

I know we need to clean it out but she begs me please don’t, and later Eberhard does it over the sink in the farmhouse with his toothbrush, and she’s watching herself cry while he does it, in the mirror.

We go back to the restaurant with the Moorish beer logo out front, the people Eberhard’s known since he started coming here, childhood friends with Paul — the wife brings a platter of Schnapps and says “on the house” to us in English, and does this both nights after dinner, the second night with a glass for Lily which I have to sniff because it’s the same color as ours, but it’s only a Fanta.

Willi and Elsbeth invite us into their flat on the walk home and produce more Schnapps, make some joke that two is better, then dab some on Lily’s palm and say that’s the way they all did it growing up, if you fell or cut yourself, you got Schnapps put on it — and Eberhard asks if I want to have a beer outside before going up to the room, so he can have a smoke and we can talk more about Paul, whose parents realized they could make a business for themselves when the village started seeing tourists for the first time in the 1950s — and they’d make Paul sleep out in the hay with the animals while they rented out his room. Hemingway started coming, and made a name for the town Schruns — and Eberhard points up the valley to where his friend’s mom got killed in an avalanche; the house remained standing but they all got sealed inside and died.

These structures built to impede avalanches, with varying success

These structures built to impede avalanches, with varying success

And Paul went on to open a ski school and lead climbs, and Eberhard and his then girlfriend Regina would help, and it was a good living — the tourists buying you drinks afterwards, until a larger guide service moved into town and took over.

We’re late getting up in the morning because Eberhard had the alarm on his phone set for the wrong day and he’s visibly rattled, and the guesthouse woman, Frau Schindler, has to put knitted chicks over our soft-boiled egg cups to keep them warm, and mom suggests maybe she and Lily can just take it easy and ‘chillax’ in the town, as Lily says — but Eberhard is having none of it and getting increasingly stressed, his breathing labored, wolfing down the bread rolls, the cold cuts, the coffee in the dainty cups, the Viennese lace in the hutch.

Chalk engraving from 3 Kings holiday in January, to bless the house

Chalk engraving from 3 Kings holiday in January, to bless the house

Riding the cable car up with Regina, Eberhard’s ex, she and my mom talk about him in German, mostly good, but with some eye-rolling about how he can get with regards to time, with punctuality, which I fully understand but still can’t condone.

We were all supposed to ride in the same car — Lily, my mom, Eberhard and Regina, Willi and Elsbeth, but the latter got stuck in the turnstiles coming in and we hopped on the car with much shouting in mixed English and Deutsch, and it all didn’t go exactly to plan as a result.

We’re the only ones in the farmhouse, with mountain views looking across the valley at the fog curling in, a tabby cat who looks bored and disappears through a hole in the barn — and still with the mountain air, the smell of the woodsmoke, Lily and I have bad dreams both nights: Lily, about the ‘holo-cast’ as she calls it over breakfast, me about getting in a car crash, either a flashback from the autobahn or some foreboding — and on our last day here Eberhard insists we drive to the top of the mountain, where each turn is numbered with a stone to identify the switchback (or a marker for where someone died), one through 30, I count each one, buy a couple mini bottles of Schnapps in the gift shop and drink one in the backseat, coming down.

Back home in Besigheim, we revisit the idea of staying in Germany through Christmas, and Eberhard thinks he can talk to the Bürgermeister to pull some strings.


Categories: travel

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26 replies

  1. You sound as if you’ve found your stride on the path. And good on Lily for peeing on 2 nations at once – shows a fine contempt of man-made geographical boundaries. Felt that grit in the hands and knees though. I always remember the moment when I suddenly realised I’d stopped doing that – falling over that is. Probably when I was around twenty five (!).

    Liked by 2 people

    • Yes on that contempt for man-made boundaries, that’s good. She’s a good one alright — and quite the little camper with her trekking poles and sunglasses. And the wound, of course — and putting up with me blogging about it, and not quite allowing her to read it yet. Though she’s probably figured that out and reading it right now, upstairs on her laptop.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. You’re actually doing all this, right? You’re not back in Washington making all this up, are you? Honing your literary improvisational skills? Because that’d be funny. Well, I, for one, wish I were on a hike with you instead of doing what I’m about to do.

    Wars have been fought for generations over the placement of that stupid rock. Boarders and land. People get pretty touchy about it.


    • Mark, it’s funny you say that because today I was thinking gosh, that would have been too bad if we didn’t go through with this after months of blabbering on about it, but no, it would be too hard to make it up, wouldn’t it? That’s funny, I thought that today. And you’re right about the boundaries and the rock. It’s cool, I looked on Google Earth and as with everything on the planet, you can see in vivid detail exactly where we were, the crooked line along the high mountain ridge that separates these two countries. And funny, how people were smuggling stuff back and forth, not much different than we are today. “That’s just the way it is – something’s never change.”


    • I’m just finishing A Soldier of the Great War, which is partly set in the Italian-Austrian Alps during the First World War. The Alpine battles were madness, but they did give us the excellent word “Alpini.”


      • Neat, that story premise. Had a splendid time there and think I’ll go back — we were socked in just about the entire time, so though we were on the Alps we didn’t really get to see them, which is why things were so green. Didn’t matter much, but I want to take Dawn and Charlotte back there too. Reminds me of that funny film clip your friend sent you about Newfoundland.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. when i read ‘burgermeister’ i think of the frosty the snowman movie.


  4. With one of my nationalities being Swiss, I feel I should be insulted by the title of this post. 🙂


  5. Peeing ON Switzerland may be somewhat easier than peeing IN Switzerland. I seem to remember an ordinance in Geneva stating that men living in apartments could not pee standing up after 10 p.m. You don’t want to disturb your neighbors, you see.


    • My lands, the propriety. You would know, I recall you lived there several years. I have nothing much to say about Switzerland apart from the noticeably higher quality food at the rest stops and the polite, impeccable service. The sort of acquiescence of the Swiss, once observed.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I actually read this in a book on how to live in Switzerland — we had a house, so all of us were able to pee from whatever angle we chose as long as we cleaned up the mess.

        Switzerland is incredibly polite and very clean. You can eat anything you drop!

        Liked by 1 person

  6. This photography is beautiful!.


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