Twenty-five miles an hour isn’t fast. A plane going that slow would fall from the sky. A car might be holding up traffic. A bicycle would be a little scarier. But still not excessive.
Now imagine, if you will, going at that speed in a plastic go-cart, close to the ground, down the side of a steep mountain for over 8,500 feet. Seventy-three bends and nine jumps. Thin wire-netting along the sides by the steepest drops which may, or may not, catch you if you fall out. How can that be scary?
We drove for a long time up a narrow winding mountain road. I’m not sure how I was persuaded – possibly the promise of a high-altitude cappuccino at the top – but we got onto a chair lift suspended from a suspiciously thin cable. We rose higher and higher for 15 minutes. The air grew colder. I was almost starting to enjoy it when it ground to a halt. The cable creaked. The seat started swinging gently. I looked down. It was long way off the ground.
In 2010 a 22 year old snowboarder, Dominik Podolsky, was stuck on a ski-lift in the Austrian Alps for six hours. He thought about jumping down but he was ten metres above the ground and would probably have broken both legs and frozen to death. He tried burning a paper tissue to attract attention. When this didn’t work, he moved on to receipts and business cards. Eventually, he was forced to burn banknotes from his wallet. Finally, on his last €20 note, he managed to attract attention and was rescued.
Of course, none of this went through my mind at the time. I just looked down at the ground and wondered if a double extension ladder would be enough or would they need to fetch a triple.
After a mercifully brief stop, we started moving again and eventually reached the top. It wasn’t a particularly high hill, around 1200 metres but the views were spectacular. Across the valley to distant mountain peaks. Nestled far below in the valley was the town of Oberammergau.
It is primarily a ski resort but the hill in August was packed with hikers, some of whom had walked to the top. Some, wearing sturdy boots and carrying impressively full backpacks were preparing to climb even further. The cafe was doing a thriving trade. There was a rope walk through the treetops that needed bright yellow helmets and sturdy safety harnesses. A short zip line and playground for children. And of course the go-karts.
I checked my seat belt. I checked it again. The operator checked it and said ‘Off you go. Just press that lever.’
I pressed the lever and off I went for 8,500 feet downhill.
I changed my trousers at the bottom.
Oberammergau is best known for its performance of the Passion Play every ten years. It was first performed in 1634 after a promise made by the villagers. They vowed that if God spared them from the effects of the bubonic plague they would perform the play every ten years. The play involves over 2000 actors, singers, musicians and technicians. The villagers claim they have been free of the plague since its first performance. I’d prefer a large bottle of antibiotics personally, but whatever.
The village has a population of 5,415 and 5,414 are involved with running either souvenir shops or restaurants. The other resident is selling tickets for the 2020 Passion Play. Had Madam needed a cuckoo clock, some Lederhosen or a creepy Bavarian doll she would have been set. Fortunately for my wallet and bulging suitcase, all our souvenir needs had been previously fulfilled.
Like Partenkirchen, elaborate murals decorated many of the shops and buildings. Many were beautifully painted and must have taken skilled artists many hours of labour.
We sat at one of the outside tables of a restaurant on the main square. Rather than rely on the translation app on my phone and end up with a pig testicle and rhubarb sausage, we asked for an English menu. Unfortunately, some of the translations were a little odd. Once we had eliminated the twenty-three different types of sausage there were only a couple of options left.
Madam ordered a ‘Cold Meats and a Bowl of Lard’ and I had the much safer Vegetable Rosti. Her’s turned out to be a correct translation and did include a large bowl of lard. Yummy. I was pleased I had the Rosti.
We had a look at the outside of the Passion Play theatre and a half-hearted browse around the souvenir shops. Since we only had a couple of hours in the town, we headed to the tourist office to see if we had missed anything. It was a Saturday and the tourist information office closed at 1pm.