This story starts in a warm and sunny, autumn Saturday morning in Leipzig, Saxony, Germany. Having been stationed in this city for a couple of weeks already, the chance, finally, arose to take a short trip out of it and explore a bit of the countryside surrounding it. The destination of this weekend trip was set to be the Saxon Switzerland National Park: a large area located in the easternmost verge of the country, right before the Czech and Polish borders, famous for the romantic beauty of its medieval towns and its dramatic mountainous scenery.
The first thing to be taken care of was, of course, to define by what means of transport we were going to get there. A private car, we thought, would be ideal, not only because it would convey us comfortably to the park and allow us the freedom to move around it at will and whimsy, but also because it would serve well as a lodging for the cold nights, too. The previous evening, we’d booked a small, cheap car online from Sixt rental agency. So was I then aboard that train heading to Halle airport of Leipzig – whence I was supposed to pick up that car – when the thought struck me: I did not have a credit card. I knew from bad past experiences that rental offices often absolutely require one of those ‘magical’ plastic cards which allow their holders to pawn themselves so that the card-issuing bank may give birth to money out of thin air upon request, and they will not accept any other form of guarantee. That was the exact case with Sixt, I became assured as I reached the airport and was talking with that suitable-for-showcase but scantily-capable-of-speaking-or-thinking-much guy behind the company’s desk. I was about to give up and get back to the city by train, when the thought came upon me to ask him if, to his knowledge, any of the other companies accept cash deposits. He dashed over to the adjacent office and, a few moments later, he was back conveying the information that they do.
I walked the few steps and stood before Europcar’s desk. Behind it was sitting a girl in her early twenties. Her pretty face was duly maked-up to be put on the front page of some popular fashion magazine. And her fine, white fingers, decorated with fancy rings and lustrous nail-paint, were perkily sliding over the keyboard. But her brain was somewhat deficient. After all the necessary effort it took us to communicate, and then to locate the car following her instructions – which went like “go straight – go left – go up” and are not of great help when looking around an airport area – I was then driving back to the city in a brand-new, black Opel Mokka. I rented that for €40-something per day. It was slightly more expensive than the one I’d booked originally but it was much more spacious: ideal to make a good home for two nights.
I picked up Kristina and we drove to the city centre, where we also picked up a Blablacarer we found to share the trip with us until Dresden. Quite a strange but nice fellow he was. He was from Armenia and was settled in Germany for the past few years. He did not have any reason he was going to Dresden. He just found someone going somewhere in Blablacar, and decided to join just to do something with his day off from work. After some two hours, a great part of it stuck in the traffic-jam we encountered at the last part of the way, we’d made it to Dresden. We dropped off our Armenian friend at the central station and drove further southeast into the Saxon Switzerland.
Our first stop was the town of Pirna, built on the south bank of Elbe River. We first stopped by at a supermarket where we got supplied with plenty of food. We then parked the car as near the centre as possible and had a kebap at a Turkish place, which was the best kebap I’d ever tried in Germany. And finally, we got to digest it with a pleasant afternoon stroll around the town.
Pirna has been continuously inhabited since the stone age and has a rich heritage to exhibit. We got to discover various picturesque spots, rambling around the town’s old paved roads. These same roads have been many times flooded by the volatile waters of Elbe. A funny irony I got to learn of: during the record-level floods of 2002, the shopkeepers who had decided to seal the fronts of their shops against water were the ones who suffered the severest damages. That was so as the watertight fronts only collapsed altogether by the high pressure and everything inside them was reduced to shivers by the rushing water. While the unsealed shops were only gradually and smoothly filled up with water.
Lastly, we took a walk up to the Sonnenstein Castle which crowns the town, notorious for having accommodated a Nazi euthanasia centre where around 15.000 mentally disabled human beings were exterminated, after having served as subjects to creepy medical experiments. Ironically, we happened on a wedding ceremony a young German couple, quite incongruously, had decided to hold there. Keeping any mournful or cheerful events out of consideration, we got to wonder at the view of the town and its painting-like surroundings, which was splendid.
The sun was lowering and we had to hurry up and hike a bit before dark. We crossed the bridge to the north bank of Elbe. We drove along it to the east for a short distance and parked on one of the scanty spots before the trail entering the Himmelsleiter forest. There was a stairway going up the steep slope through the inviting forest. After the stairs and the forest, we found ourselves in wide, elevated field land. We followed the beautiful path to the north, staring at the grotesque rock formations protruding out of the earth in the distance and at the plunging sun. We took another path to the east moving along the side of the village of Dorf Wehlen, and then south again on another path, heading back towards the river.
The sun was lost behind the one side of the horizon, and a bulky moon had shown itself up over the other when we stopped and sat on a bench at a nice viewpoint overlooking a curve of the Elbe. The silhouettes of the hills across were murky as the depths of hell, but the surface of the river was glistening with silver moonlight. There was no trace of moonlight left when we got back into the thick forest making for the car. We walked slowly along the ill-defined trail following the torchlight bundle, which was poorly illuminating a tiny part of the boundless darkness of the forest – in a similar fashion reason does in the abyss of the human mind’s unconscious.
We were briefly led through a small clearing, where the ruins of a small stone hut were standing overlooking the eternal flow of the river. An information board made us aware of it having belonged to a famous German painter. That must definitely have been a painter’s house, one could also guess without the board informing about it. The ruined hut left to its ghostly loneliness, we were back in the forest. A while later, we were coming down the same stairway which led us up there and, having completed a circle, we were back to the car.
It was dinner time. Gas, stove, victuals and wine bottle in hand, we got down a set of concrete stairsteps and sat on the last one of them to dine by the very edge of the riverbank. Stomachs full, it was sleep time. We got back to the car, flattened the back seats, moved all the things to the front ones, hanged some towels for drapes over the rear windows, roosted in the warmth of the sleeping bags, and hit the hay in pending of a new day to arrive.