Once Upon a time in Bavaria
Our Sleep Storyteller-in-Residence, Phoebe Smith, talks about the adventure behind her latest Sleep Story, Once Upon a Time in Bavaria.
There is a road in Germany, running through the centre of the country, which is known as the ‘Fairy Tale Route’. Steeped in legend and folklore, it not only contains some of the places where the notorious Brothers Grimm – responsible for penning classics such as Little Red Riding Hood and Rumpelstiltskin – lived and based their stories, but is also home to a great number of castles. However, away from the well-driven road, down in the southeast corner, there is another castle, one that is also more than a little fantastical.
Built by a man called Ludwig, who was a royal known as the Swan King due to his love of Wagner, the arts and opera, he designed such a fortress in Bavaria which looks as though it has been plucked straight off the pages of a children’s picture book. The walls are painted white, the turrets crown towers in shades of emerald green and sky blue, and, at the foot of this great castle, myriad lakes spill out over the meadows below, creating a patchwork of green and blue that seems to mirror the structure itself.
It is in every way a magical site to behold, but there is yet more afoot that makes this particular area more than a little enchanted. For it is here where an invisible line runs along the length of a mountain ridge.
You can’t see it with your eyes – and I know because I have stood along it myself. It is a picture perfect spot. Mountains rising each side, dramatic drop-offs revealing valleys filled with colourful roofed houses both ways, where rivers snake through the landscape often engulfed by melt water. Looking in the distance – particularly on one side, you can just about make out the tips of some other famous castles – but I’ll confess that is not what makes it such a captivating spot.
It is rather an imperceptible line – a border and manmade designation that marks the end of Germany and the beginning of Austria. It is a point whereby Bavaria becomes Tirol, where the language subtly changes. The calls of “Gutten tag” are replaced by the uttering of “Grüss Gott”, and – of course – if you were entering by plane, a passport may be required.
But walking on foot no such checks are needed. You are free – like the wildlife that linger in the woods – to dance your way along this edge – with one foot in one country, the other foot in another, without a care in the world. There’s something utterly liberating about it. To both see and sense the line and at the same time wilfully ignore it.
Up here birds fly between Germany and Austria, the thermals being the same on both sides. Deer eat the nutrient-rich leaves grown by German rain before making their way to munch on those fed by Austrian dew. And tunnelling rabbits can begin their home under the red, yellow and black designation of the Bundesflagge, only to remerge under the white and red of the Bindenschild.
It’s as though they are making a mockery of these manmade labels – teasing any border patrols with their lack of concern for these artificial demarcations that bear no semblance to the uninterrupted natural world found on the ground.
There are few places where you can be as flippant about such things, but up here in the hills, above the fairytale castles belonging to the swan king, absolutely anything is possible. You can meander backwards and forwards, neglecting political differences, linguistic variations and all the things we tend to concern ourselves with at borderlands. And instead – like the wild animals – be entirely free. Up here I can dance, a hiker’s dance, criss-crossing between countries free as the birds, feeling utterly enraptured.
And so though the castles are indeed delightfully exquisite, and look as though they were lifted straight from a Disney movie, I let the drivers follow their noses in search of a fairy tale and I, instead, follow my own bewitching freedom, teetering on an invisible line, a walk without borders, where the only limitations are my own imagination.