A long day warranted an early start. I had settled with Gigi the previous night that we would leave at 7.30 am after a cup of coffee. Gigi was to have left earlier than us for an appointment and hence, had arranged with his wife to direct us to the highway. Gigi was still at home in the morning when I had got ready. So we had a cup of coffee together before he left for work. I spent some time with Gigi’s wife understanding the education system in Switzerland and the reason why they decided to let their children stay on and study in Zurich. The education system in Switzerland is quite different from that in the rest of the world – they set high standards for entry from other systems with a view to discourage it. Entrance to University is easier from local schools than from International Schools and other countries.
It had rained overnight and there was a light drizzle when we started off. Gigi’s wife travelled with us in the car to the place from where the highway signs were distinct, she bade us goodbye and returned home by bus. The Navigator was also active today in guiding me to the highway. As a double check I had jotted down the names of major cities en route – so it was Schafenhaussen, Stuttgart, Hanover and Hamburg to watch out for on the way to Benefeld. Within 40 kms of Zurich I reached the border. There were no formalities to be completed and the German Autobahns could be used free of charge. Joby told me that they are in the process of putting together a tolling system. The roads were superb; the best I have used so far, even with the road works in progress. However, some of the temporary lanes are so narrow that I had to swerve once very quickly to avoid going into another car in the next lane. The side view mirrors of both cars shook hands, though. What I liked best about the German roads is that there is no speed restriction on the motorway except the temporary ones that range from 60 to 120 kmph. The authorities, I understood, believed in the concept of ‘driving responsibly fast’ and the onus is on the road users to monitor themselves. The condition of the road, signage and driving discipline are all top class and meshed with the concept. Later I also came to know that once you are given a license it is for life. There is no retest or reapplication, even after one has become a senior citizen!
I consistently maintained speeds above 120 kmph and at times touched the top speed of 180 kmph. The road condition being such there was strain in driving the long distance to Benefeld. We only stopped to fuel in three locations and for breakfast and lunch. One peculiar feature after entering Germany was that WiFi locations were never mentioned publicly and enquiries at fuel stations and restaurants only brought dissatisfied and unwelcome looks and grunts. We remained out of touch with family and the social media.
We were to stay in Benefeld with Fr. Xavior, my cousin. Kamalamma Chechi, Fr Xaviour’s sister, rang up from Hengelo when I was driving to Milan. The phone call was stranger than fiction to me for it was just the previous day I was wondering how to contact Chechi and Bernie Chettan since I was travelling through Holland! During the phone conversation they suggested two changes to the itinerary; first that we stay in Benefeld with Fr Xavior instead of Gottingen and Hamburg and second, that we should go through to Hengelo instead of Bremen on the return from Norway. I agreed to re-visit the itinerary along with Google maps and return with possible revisions. Upon reaching Milan I redid the itinerary as suggested and confirmed with Fr Xavior that we would reach Benefeld on the 9th. About 60 kms short of Benefeld I rang up Fr Xavior, who confirmed that he would wait for us till a half past 3 pm. After that he would have to go to a church in the parish to introduce the priest who was on holiday in Benefeld and had agreed to say Mass at one of the churches in his parish. Almost on cue the traffic slowed down due to a patch of road under repair. Sensing that I would not be able to make it to Benefeld by 3.30 pm we got into a fuel station to tank up and have lunch.
The Navigator helped me reach Benefeld and the address given by Fr Xavior without a hitch. As we reached 20 Kirchestrasse I found Fr Xavior waiting near the small circulating area in front of the Church; he had just returned from the church he had been to. Fr and I had met just once before – at the wedding reception of his niece in Bolgatty Palace, Cochin. However, he looked a carbon copy of Kamalamma Chechy, his older sister in Hengelo. The rapport that Lal and I stuck with him was that of long lost friends and it did not take long to establish. He made us comfortable in the house he was staying in next to the St Mary’s Church.
Fr did not take it amiss when we asked if we could use the washing machine. A load of soiled clothes had to be done. That was loaded into the machine before we left on a walk to the forest; Benefeld is a village within close proximity of Bremen (50 kms), Hannover (75 kms) and Hamburg (100 kms). Within a few minutes of the walk we entered a thick forest of huge pine trees. Fr told us that the area was used quite substantially for the manufacture of arms and ammunition. Large underground bunkers full of live ammunition were discovered after WWII by the Germans themselves. The dumps were dynamited to destroy the cache lest it fall into wrong hands. In the forest can be found building with tall trees growing on them; it was meant to hide the ordnance factories from suspicious flying objects! There are many plaques in the forest explaining the past activities there; it being in German I could only surmise from the pictures given alongside that it was indeed an active factory where many Germans and POWs worked. Fr told us that it was one of the means employed by successive governments to sensitise citizens against war; that Germany should never be the reason for another catastrophe. At the edge of the forest were meadows of Heide that flowers occasionally – normally not every year. We were fortunate to see a field in bloom – the purple carpet was a joy to behold. Fr then took us to the flour mill operated by lifting water from a stream. The Mill is now a Museum. The rather simple mechanism – which I had seen in Aurangabad, India too – lifts water from a flowing stream using a wooden wheel and turns the shaft of the flour mill, which powders grain.
We returned to the house after a good walk of the village, where farming is the mainstay. Fr told us that they raise three crops a year. The seeds are sowed in one round and the harvest is taken in rounds as each of the crops get ready. The next crop is a tuber from which sugar is extracted. Dinner consisted of Wourst (big sausages) and salad with red wine. The theme had been set for an interesting discussion on life experiences thoughts of evolution. The most elevating concept was what Fr explained as the evolution of man from the state of Homo Erecticus to Homo Asceticus – the slow and painful evolution of man from a cannibal to an ascetic (or sublimated individuals)! His theory is that the Supreme Being sends an example of Homo Asceticus to Earth once a while to infuse in the present man that that is what they will all become one day; that it is their future. What a powerful thought! Lal and I said, almost sotto voice, that we were destined to travel to Benefeld, altering the established itinerary, just to partake of that game changing concept.