Sunday, 19 May 2013
Black Sea or Bust - Day 3 Munderkingen to Gunzburg (84.5 Km)
An early start on a grey morning, early enough that when I get to the market place in Ehingen the shops are just opening, there is a bustle of shutters rattling and morning shoppers. The rain starts and I am in for a wet run and more flat Norfolk scenery. The Danube Path is erratic. Sometimes it will take you right through the centre of a town and at the next take you on a zig-zag path through the outskirts past tennis courts and across industrial estates. On this particular section there is an alternative scenic route through the Blautal (the Blue Valley) but it is 10km longer and with the rain now setting in I decide to give it a miss. There is no one else on the Danube Path that morning apart from a lot of large black slugs inching their way across the tarmac. What was it that impelled them to set out from a vast area of presumably edible vegetation, a positive mollusc Serengeti, and undertake a hazardous journey, exposed to predators and inattentive cyclists all the way, only to arrive at another identical mollusc Serengeti? You might theorise that slugs are just plain stupid and once they set off in any particular direction they just keep going until they bump into something that they like to eat. Or are these particular slugs the Columbus's of their species, happy to set off across an ocean of tarmac on the off chance of an Eldorado on the other side? Will they return to where they started from to report back to their less adventurous fellows. No. Surely the answer must be sex. It must be the case that they can smell an alluring female on the other side? How does your slug smell? I don't know, he's got no nose.
I arrive in Ulm at 2.00pm, go straight to the Hauptbahnhof, dump my bags in a locker, chain Doris to some railings and head for the city centre. Ulm has some 'previous' in Irwin family history. In the mid nineteen sixties the family were on a camping holiday driving to Venice I think. My father was always one for 'pushing on' as far as possible every day. He wouldn't stop driving until my mother lost her temper. On this particular occasion she lost her temper in Ulm and we stopped at a hotel bang in the city centre, a Protestant throw from the Cathedral. We checked in, taking our bags up to the room and then my father, following directions from the desk clerk, went to park the car In the hotel car park. As he exited the car park he took a wrong turn and promptly got lost and worse he had not made a note of the hotel's name. He returned more than an hour later accompanied by a jolly leather coated German policeman and dog having visited most of the hotels in central Ulm. I remember the Cathedral well, it has the highest spire in Europe and you can climb the 750 odd steps to the top if you wish to. Having just cycled 30 kilometres in driving rain I decided against this and went in search of lunch and Wi-Fi. I had a delicious fish and some excellent Wi-Fi in a trendy bar. Later I walked round the outside of the cathedral and wished that my children were with me, partly because I missed them and partly so that I could explain what flying buttresses are and point out the excellent animal gargoyles.
My reading has revealed many facts, both interesting and uninteresting, about Ulm. I am interested in military history and a bit of a Napoleon fan and it was at Ulm in 1805 that he so totally outmanoeuvred the 'unlucky' General Mack, commander of the Austrian army, that the latter was compelled to surrender with barely a shot fired. It was also at Ulm that the World War Two Field Marshal Rommel was given a state funeral in 1944. He was implicated in the failed Von Stauffenberg plot to kill Hitler and because he was such a heroic public figure the Nazi regime gave him the option of taking poison, which he did, rather than risk public a trial and public exposure of his treachery. He got a state funeral having 'died of wounds received in the service of the Reich'. Claudio Magris in his book Danube takes Rommel to task for believing that it was more important to avoid the disastrous effect on the morale of the German military that a trial would have caused. But surely Magris is being naive, the Nazis would have happily watched him die on a meat hook and still say that he died of 'wounds received....'. At the other end of the Nazi social scale Magris tells us of the fate of a young brother and sister, Hans and Sophie Scholl, who printed and distributed anti-Nazi manifestos and who were executed in 1943. One other wartime fact about Ulm is that of the city's 12,795 buildings only 2,633 survived Allied bombing intact.
When you cross the river at Ulm you leave Baden-Wurttemberg and enter Bavaria. At that point the signposting of the Danube Path goes to Hell in a handcart. Whoever is in charge of the Bavarian signage is not fit to wash the car of the guy from Baden-Wurtemberg. The signs become tiny, hard to spot, badly placed, ambiguous. I will have to be more alert from now on.
Doris and I had a pleasant and uneventful run to Gunzburg, a very pretty town whose attractions were only marred that night when I read that it was the birthplace of Joseph Mengele, the bestial Doctor of Auschwitz. For what it's worth I ate Wiener Schnitzel and chips that night, the chips were excellent.