I have very fond memories of Germany. It was always the country that involved a long drive on our regular trips between Slovakia and the UK, and some places became regular haunts and favourites to stop at, like the Gasthaus-Pension Hofmann in Oberdachstetten, Bavaria, which was so lovely that we made a point of stopping there despite a quest to find different routes each time. Here there was a classically fierce, but kind frau, who terrified and charmed in equal measure. One year we slid down the long track up to the guesthouse, set in beautiful Bavarian snow-clad grandeur and frolicked in the snow on improvised sledges. The breakfasts were as hearty as the welcome.
That year it was snowy. It was Christmas and the autobahns were slow due to the weather conditions. I always loved driving under the runway at Frankfurt, where sometimes, if you were lucky, you would pass under a taxi-ing plane right above you. It was a route-marker for us that said, “You’re a good way along, now”.
But this particular year it was a hard drive – on the day before Christmas Eve. We had not quite reached Frankfurt airport and the impressive Squaire, constructed over a railway station: an enormous “groundscraper” (a large building that is only around a dozen stories high but which greatly extends horizontally) like some gargantuan rounded cuboid-shaped animal brooding next to the motorway, just past the airport.
We had stopped at a service station and this was the place where the car decided to conk out. It was a French car – they have their own minds. If there was any luck involved in this, at least it happened at a service station, rather than on the highway. We asked in the restaurant and they directed us to a phone the other side of the car park. “This is going to cost an arm and a leg,” was my first thought. We waited for about forty five minutes.
A young mechanic in a breakdown truck arrived. He spoke good English, which he was keen to practice. He told us about his brother who lived in England… and I still worried about the impending cost.
“It will drive for a bit,” he told us, “follow me slowly.” He took us through a service exit to a nearby garage which was just closing for the holiday season. I understood enough German to clock that he persuaded the mechanics to replace the part needed while we waited. It cost us about fifty euros, but he did have a debate with the mechanics there about how it was Christmas and the charitable thing to do would be to do half an hour’s worth of overtime to help travellers get home to their family for Christmas. I thanked him profusely for that and then broached the big one: “How much do we owe you?”
“It is Christmas,” he told me. “No charge. Have a safe journey back to your family.” A random act of kindness. Need I say more about my experiences in Germany?