Hitching a Ride in Swabia, 1934

From A Time of Gifts: On Foot to Constantinople: From the Hook of Holland to the Middle Danube, by Patrick Leigh Fermor (Journey Across Europe Book 1, NYRB Classics, 2011), Kindle pp. 88-89:

The rain had churned the snow into slush, then blasts from the mountains had frozen it into a pock-marked upheaval of rutted ice. Now, after a short warning drift, the wind was sending flakes along by the million. They blotted out the landscape, turning one side of a traveller’s body into a snowdrift, thatching his head with a crust of white and tangling his eyelashes with sticky scales. The track ran along a shelterless hog’s back and the wind seemed either to lay a hindering hand on my chest, or, suddenly changing its quarter, to kick me spinning and stumbling along the road. No village had been in sight, even before this onslaught. Scarcely a car passed. I despised lifts and I had a clear policy about them: to avoid them rigorously, that is, until walking became literally intolerable; and then, to travel no further than a day’s march would cover. (I stuck to this.) But now not a vehicle came; nothing but snowflakes and wind; until at last a dark blur materialized and a clanking something drew alongside and clattered to a halt. It turned out to be a heavy diesel truck with chains on its wheels and a load of girders. The driver opened the door and reached down a helping hand, with the words “Spring hinein!” When I was beside him in the steamy cabin he said “Du bist ein Schneemann!”—a snowman. So I was. We clanked on. Pointing to the flakes that clogged the windscreen as fast as the wipers wiped, he said, “Schlimm, niet?” Evil, what? He dug out a bottle of schnapps and I took a long swig. Travellers’ joy! “Wohin gehst Du?” I told him. (I think it was somewhere about this point on the journey that I began to notice the change in this question: “Where are you going?” In the north, in Low Germany, everyone had said “Wohin laufen Sie” and “Warum laufen Sie zu Fuss?”—Why are you walking on foot? Recently the verb had been ‘gehen.’ For ‘laufen,’ in the south, means to run—probably from the same root as ‘lope’ in English. The accent, too, had been altering fast; in Swabia, the most noticeable change was the substitution of -le at the end of a noun, as a diminutive, instead of -chen; Häusle and Hundle, instead of Häuschen and Hündchen, for a little house and a small dog. I felt I was getting ahead now, both linguistically and geographically, plunging deeper and deeper into the heart of High Germany . . . . The driver’s Du was a sign of inter-working-class mateyness that I had come across several times. It meant friendly acceptance and fellow-feeling.)

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Filed under Britain, Germany, labor, language, travel

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