I’ve been somewhat silent recently. With good reason. I’ve spent a delightful fortnight doing a ‘grand tour’ of central Europe, visiting old friends and family. I’ll add some posts about some of the experiences in due course. However, almost the last experience was the most surprising. After a couple of hours stuck in scarcely moving traffic, I found myself beside the Bodensee (Lake Constance to English readers), somewhat tired, and feeling enough was enough. So I parked the car, paying for an hour, and went in search of a place to stay overnight.
The first hotel looked ok from the outside. So I went in and was happy to discover they had a room free. The receptionist, immaculately dressed in his black suit – it reminded me of an undertaker’s, gave me a lengthy discourse on everything the hotel could offer. My German was weak, but I grasped all the essentials: I could eat dinner on the terrace or inside from such-and-such a time till such-and-such a time, breakfast was served from 6 am till 10, I could dance to the live music (I didn’t actually pay much attention to this part, since I’d no intention of dancing, even solo), I could get special discounts on this and that in the town, including the various excursion boats, and so on. The undertaker receptionist escorted me around so that I knew where the dining area was – the same as the dance floor – and the terrace outside on the shore of the lake.
The room was on the second floor – no lift it seems – and the hotel was decorated in true 19th century style with various portraits of famous unknown visitors, sketches of the lake and the Alps, various wood sculptures – or were they wooden household implements belonging to a 19th century household? I didn’t look too closely – I was tired. But the stairwell and the corridors were tastefully hung with tapestries, displaying hunting scenes or deep mythological encounters – at least the ones I glanced at. Later, I wondered why I had not examined the art work with more diligence. It wasn’t as though I hadn’t the time. The stairs and the corridors reeked of brown and dark yellow – it was as though I had stepped back into turn-of-the-century sepia photographs (the previous turn, I mean).
So you get the picture. I find myself in an archaic hotel, one that Kaiser Wilhelm or even Queen Victoria herself may have patronized. Even the staff seemed to exude service of a kind that normally died out half-a-century ago. But then I could only judge the service by the trained smiles, extensive explanations and possibly over-helpful advice: they could have been saying many other things in between the words I understood. However, I did eat on the terrace and there I discovered the clientele of the hotel.
The music was rebroadcast from speakers across the terrace, the live music being inside. Dance music from the 1950s and 1960s. Very danceable. And out on the terrace were the dancing couples, galloping through the foxtrot, swinging around the cha-cha-cha, gracefully gliding the slow waltz, more speedily with the Vienna waltz, even rip-roaring rock-and-roll (Rock around the clock came around at least twice). These were couples who moved in perfect time with each other, their limbs throwing off the shackles of years and remembering what it was like to be 20 again.
The dance segments were short, four or five dances, then the two musicians (they were quite good) took a short break. The couples recovered their years and struggled (some of them) back to their seats. Most seemed well past 70, perhaps averaging 75, but could they dance! I had stumbled upon the kind of hotel that catered wonderfully for the holiday desires of elderly German couples – mobile ones, that is, no lifts it seems. It was a time warp. I could imagine that fifty years ago the hotel had been catering to the same age group, but with a full orchestra playing the dance music of 1910. The waltz apart, the dances would have been different. Did they dance the mazurka?