Consider this passage from Patrick Leigh Fermor’s A Time Of Gifts,
detailing how our traveler spent the evening of December 30, 1933:
On this far side of the bridge I abandoned the Rhine for its tributary and after a few miles alongside the Neckar the steep lights of Heidelberg assembled. It was dark by the time I climbed the main street and soon softly-lit panes of coloured glass, under the hanging sign of a Red Ox, were beckoning me indoors. With freezing cheeks and hair caked with snow, I clumped into an entrancing haven of oak beams and carving and alcoves and changing floor levels. A jungle of impedimenta encrusted the interior — mugs and bottles and glasses and antlers — the innocent accumulation of years, not stage props of forced conviviality — and the whole place glowed with a universal patina. It was more like a room in a castle and, except for a cat asleep in front of the stove, quite empty.
This was the moment I longed for every day. Settling at a heavy inn-table, thawing and tingling, with wine, bread, and cheese handy and my papers, books and diary all laid out; writing up the day’s doings, hunting for words in the dictionary, drawing, struggling with verses, or merely subsiding in a vacuous and contented trance while the snow thawed off my boots.
An elderly lady saw him there, and asked who he was, and what he was up to. When he told them he was an English student walking to Constantinople, the woman and her husband insisted that he be their guest that night. They were Herr and Frau Spengel, the innkeepers. To this day, the Red Ox Inn is owned by the Spengel family, the sixth generation.
That passage — the road, the cluttered inn, its alcoves, the warm oaken interior against the cold cobblestone street outside, the books, the diary, the bread, the cheese, the wine, and a cat curled up next to the pot-bellied stove — is my very specific idea of heaven. I could be in that moment for eternity.
I must go to Germany.
The videoclip above is something I found on YouTube; an American traveler showing what the Red Ox looks like today.
UPDATE: Reader Midtown offers a wonderful anecdote:
In 1998, while visiting a German friend in northern Germany, I borrowed his car and drove along the Moselle River from Koblenz to Trier, making many stops along the way. Rod, you would thoroughly enjoy that trip! Several villages along the way are worth a stop.
One crazy thing about the trip was that, as a child, my family had a small picture hanging up of a European scene. In the scene, a half-timbered house overhung the narrow street outside. We had no particular connection to this place; none of us had any idea where it might be or even if it was real. But I never forgot that image. So, imagine my surprise when I crossed a square in the village of Bernkastel-Kues and I run straight into this house! It turned out to be a little pizzeria, so it being lunch time, of course I went in. I was alone (which is fine by me) and an elderly German couple was sitting next to me. As I was finishing, the woman told me in English that they would like to pay for my meal. Somehow they knew I was American, and the male of the couple had been a German soldier in World War II, had been captured by Americans, and had been treated so well in captivity that he wanted to repay this random American 55 years later. I often thought about that when the torture stories started coming out of Iraq.
Here’s the building, by the way: http://media-cdn.tripadvisor.com/media/photo-s/01/76/b4/65/bernkastel-kues.jpg
Click on that photo. Here’s what I think of it.