As if the three Ms weren't enough, Aparna Karthikeyan talks about the fourth M — a little ceramic mouse that became hers during a visit to Germany
There's a little ceramic mouse in my bathroom. He rests his head on a pillow, has a bunch of grapes draped over his tummy, and I'm pretty sure he's whistling a happy tune. A German tune, most likely, because he came from there, a gift from a very drunk potter, who put his plump arms around me, breathed alcohol fumes into my face, and told me, tenderly — “I have no idea how much it costs lady, just take it”. And so I did, and he's been my bath-buddy ever since...
That man — and his happy-whistling mouse — are typical of that region of Germany, the very-beautiful, very scenic bits surrounding the Mosel and Rhine rivers. ‘Relaxed', ‘romantic' are the words that springs to mind when I recall our short visit one warm May weekend to discover the Mosel — memories of vine-yards rising sharply from the river valleys, castles topping off green, rolling hills and pretty little villages with unpronounceable German names remain. But jostling for space — and winning — is an image of a glass of deliciously chilled Riesling. ‘White, versatile and very easy on the palate', is the official spiel; I remember using shorter, simpler words — the likes of sweet, light and lovely; nobody seemed to care. They only seemed to mind when you made a meal without it, as we had learnt the day we arrived…
Celebrating a long drive!
Having driven some 360 km — from Amsterdam to Koblenz, a largish town to the South-East of Cologne — we decided to celebrate with a picnic outside town. We found a wooden bench, the perfect setting for an alfresco evening meal. To our left, lit by a late spring sun, the Mosel lapped gently, making murmury, soothing noises; its distant shore was stubbled with short vines, the sparse green-brown cover a far cry from their autumnal picture-postcard lushness, and yet striking in a rough, stark way. To our right, was a tiny village that clawed its way up a hillock; it was the kind a child would draw — one tall steepled church, a few houses huddled around it, with trimmed green hedges and tidy front-lawns. But no sooner did we spread out our wares, than the entire population of the village descended on us.
(Of course, by ‘entire population' we're talking half-a-dozen well-dressed old women, and an equal number of double-chinned old men).
They came in pairs, in the guise of walking their dogs; the women flashed big smiles, the men-folk raised their brows; we must've seemed so exotic to dry, sandwich eaters, even as we sat surrounded by jars of pickle and packets of vadams , hungrily polishing off dabbas of thayir-sadham … Conspicuous by its absence was a bottle of Mosel's finest — was that why all those brows were raised?
And so, we decided to make amends the next day.
But first, we toddled up Deutsches Eck. It sounds like a fungal infection, but when you say it properly, it means the German Corner, and is actually very impressive. The Rhine and Mosel merge at this point, and the spot is marked by a magnificent monument topped off with a gigantic statue of a horse, rearing into a powder-blue sky, its big, bulbous eyes, flared nostrils and open mouth frozen in metal. On its massive back, the German Emperor William I sits in rich, military regalia; it is, however, not the original statue, as the World War II bombing wrecked that. The current 14-mt tall one was installed in the 1990s, and today, it's a superb vantage point to watch the rivers flow swiftly into one another.
Climbing monuments is thirsty work, especially under a fierce sun. That's when the local ‘wine tasting' seemed such a great idea; but after a few generous ‘samples', all we could manage was a toy-train ride around town. The guide delivered a mind-numbing, multi-lingual talk on various, historical monuments; we smiled back politely at all the right places and leered back at wrong ones. But the sun sobered us up quickly once we walked out of shade of the train and put our faith in the air-conditioner. We drove along the Mosel, recalling Rick Steves' recommendation — a fairy-tale castle high in the hills, all turrets and spires, which managed to survive all the unrest and wars that lasted eight centuries through a series of strategic alliances.
Sometimes, ‘fairy tales' can be the biggest letdowns. Burg Eltz, thankfully, did not disappoint; it loomed, like a 3-D image, from the middle of a thick-green forest, inviting a sharp intake of breath, and several clicks of the camera. We mooched around its ancient, cool interiors for a bit, taking in intimately narrow courtyards and half-timbered towers, while brick-red windows stood out on mustard yellow walls — this was about as colourful as medieval castles got! When we were sure we had our eight Euros' worth of sightseeing done, we headed back to the Mosel, passing by the very attractive town of Cochem, and that's when we came across the sign ‘Amphoren'.
It was a pottery shop, with large urns and colourful pots on display. Pulling up hastily, we were greeted by the din of several dogs barking their heads off at once from within a gaudily painted Hansel-and-Gretel-ish house. But instead of the wicked old witch, a large, florid man stepped out. He patiently told us the price of the wind-chimes and garden ornaments. But, by the time I found the mouse, he had had enough. He sweetly gave it away, got rid of us, and went back to his booze. And we went our way, only now, we were the proud owners of a happy whistling mouse from the Mosel…