That day a friend in my class and I got into a conversation about German songs (Lieder), and this famous one by Schubert occurred to both of us, because both of us could sing it:
Das Wandern ist des Müllers Lust,
Das muss ein schlechter Müller sein,
Dem niemals fiel das Wandern ein,
(“Wanderschaft” Die schöne Müllerin, Wilhelm Müller)
Night fell and I came home. Sitting long at my desk and staring onto the sky and down to the woods in the yard, I suddenly felt something in me that was triggered, most likely by this song. I realised I had been staying in Berlin for the entire month, and even though I travelled before I came to Berlin, I travelled still mostly in towns. Before I came to Germany, I was in Shanghai and New York. Before my long holiday, places I frequented were Notre Dame (of course), Chicago, and Madison. I realised that I have always been in the city, in a town, or at least in the places that highly feature human civilisation and regulated by human regularities. I gazed at the moon, whose silver beams mix with the nocturnal sounds of crickets, and suddenly felt a strong desire to break out from everything, and to go into the nature, the deeper, the farther, the better.
I pulled out a map of Germany, and happened to see a large patch of green near Dresden. It is called Saxon Switzerland (Sächsische Schweiz). I was immediately fascinated by the information I found about it – in short, it is a mountainous region with sublime rock formations and river valleys. Since it was discovered in 1766 by two Swiss painters, countless romantic poets, musicians, and painters have set foot on the famous wandering route “Malerweg” (Painter Way) to be inspired. I made arrangements immediately, did research on the estimated duration of each stage of hiking, and called the inns there to settle down several overnights to connect different stages of the hiking.
The first day of hiking I was welcomed by storm. I stood at the porch of the inn and looked into the mountains. Heavy showers shrouded the forests in a dark and mysterious timbre. Mists rose from the woods and spread across the meadow, and made the landscape seem somehow deeper and grander. The entire view was in a way intimidating, but somehow alluring. I set out, intending to experience the might of nature. On this day’s trip I admired the curious thrusting rock forms in the forest, through which the path zigzagged. The rocks went sometimes over the head, sometimes solemnly pointed downwards, sometimes intertwined with each other. At many points, one has to go through some of the openings in the rock in a crouched position. The next thing I remember of that day was the view of Bastei Bridge, which dramatically stood across several high rocks, overlooking the grand valley of Elb river, the villages resting on the shores, and the abyss down the rocks. Right next to the bridge stood since 19th century an inn with a valley-view restaurant. I thought there was nothing better that having a hearty meal while gazing out into the valley. The mists floated in the valley still, half-transparent and uneven, and clouds were floating as well below our height. The broad Elb river could be partly seen through the sea of fog from here above, lying in tranquillity. The misty weather, I thought, seemed to make everything look more remote and convey an alluring grandeur.
Close to sunset I finally wandered to the inn I stayed at that night. Lying deep in a valley protected by the woods and a castle high above, it rested on a mill and has maintained its cosy hospitality since 1842 for wanderers. On the ground floor is a restaurant, on the upper floors are guest rooms. The house was furnished in completely 19th century wooden décor, and conveyed to my standard the best cosiness. After an extremely generous dinner, I came back to my room which was cosily small and with a window looking out to the mountains. The sun gradually retreated, the mists rose over the forests, which grow darker and deeper. Several hours passed and the moon rested itself on the top of a cliff, and under the moonlight, even the mists started to glow. The stream flowed past the mill with merry sounds and entertained with the cows on the lawn. I felt as if I have unconsciously slipped into a nostalgic old fairyland, secluded, quiet, and idyllic. I sat upon the window, turned off all the lights except the dim lamp beside me, and intended to enjoy this serene night. Under moonlight I took out my pocket poetry collection, and read:
Die den Sinn gefangen hält,
Steig auf in der alten Pracht!
(aus „Wunder der Liebe“, Ludwig Tieck)
In the following three days I wandered the entire region until the village Schmilka on the border of Czech republic. Looking back into those wandering days, I thought of memories of climbing rocks, being assailed by the chill in the forest, strolling along the stream, being welcomed by inns, walking past mills, resting in forest grottos, etc. I believe that these moments, though experienced not always with easiness, will remain in my heart. The last night I rested in an inn at the foot of the mountain, and as I looked back to the ridges, I found it unbelievable that nature just revealed me her beauty with such generosity. It was my Romanticist tendency that drew me to nature, and this unique experience seemed to have brought me closer to Goethe, Eichendorff, Schubert, Schumann and Wagner. The images of Saxon Switzerland will always come back to mind, and remind me of the fairness of Creation.
The train back to Berlin ran along Elb valley, and as I watched the river and quaint villages in golden morning light pass by my view, I bid my farewell to this patch of land, as the last several clock towers of the churches gradually left my view.
Bald werd ich dich verlassen,
Fremd in der Fremde gehn,
Auf buntbewegten Gassen
Des Lebens Schauspiel sehn;
Und mitten in dem Leben
Wird deines Ernstes Gewalt
Mich Einsamen Erheben,
So wird mein Herz nicht alt.
(aus „Abschied“, Eichendorff)