Sunday, July 08, 2007

socks & sandals

I left Zurich and headed for Lake Konstanz. Whenever I mentioned to a local I was headed to the lake, I was always met with “ohhhs”, “ahhhs” and “you’ll really like that place”. And I did. I had searched for a place to stay near to the town of Konstanz, and found a Portuguese guy who was here to study German, living with a German host family in the little village of Wahlwies. Nice little place with apple storage sheds, a creek and the odd whiff of cow shit. On my second day I headed to Überlingen, a little village on the other side of the lake to Konstanz. I walked around the botanic gardens, checking out the nearby caves that seem have served an official civic service at some point. A few of them had little ankle deep pools in them, which according to one person, had to do with local monks cleaning people’s feet. Must have been some sort of Medieval mad cow dieses thing. At one point, I spent about 30 minutes getting ripped to shreds in an empty house block, foraging for raspberries and blackberries and screwed with the macro capabilities of my lens. The berries were worth the thorns and I got some nice bug photos. Compared to the previous week, it was a pretty nice day weather wise.

Once I had finished my two day stay in Wahlwies, I caught a very early train into Konstanz, where I wandered around for a little too long with my main pack looking for a place to stow it. When the lockers were back at the train station, hidden in plain view between the side entrance and the tourist office. I had a wander around the town, met a few people and had an interesting chat with a German Jehovah’s Witness who had been a missionary in the Philippines for 15 years. At 5pm I met with my new host and wandered over the border by foot. While only 800 metres from the border, with no visible break between towns, I was not in Konstanz anymore, and stayed with Simon and Pasqual in the Swiss town of Kreuzlingen. They are two Swiss mates who both hold Couchsurfing accounts and share a place together. Just when I thought I had missed out on getting the low down on Swiss culture, these guys came to the rescue. These guys gave me the inside goss on what the compulsory military service is like – Get this: Pasqual’s role for when the Germans finally invade Swiss territory involves riding around on a motorcycle, taking down the road signs to confuse the enemy. Not sure what good that does when almost every Volkswagen comes with a GPS these days. Another weird thing about the Swiss military is that once you have finished serving your compulsory time, you are asked to take your gun home with you, just in case the French want to have a fresh crack at breaking away from tradition.

A rather weird statistic is that Switzerland has a higher per capita percentage of gun ownership than the US. On weekends, the men who have finished their service travel out to firing ranges, get drunk and squeeze off a few rounds. This is to not only meant to keep them in practice at the drunken operation of a weapon (imagine you’re at the pub and English paratroopers start dropping from the sky), it also reinforces the idea that the enemy (when and if they appear), will closely resemble cardboard cut outs of SS soldiers, terrorists and Nazis of Middle Eastern descent. One sight that might take you by surprise is the one that is found on public trains heading out of town on Friday nights. Men dressed in the business like suit – shirt – tie, with a briefcase in one hand and a mobile in the other will sometimes have their assault rifles slung over their shoulder, resting against their back. How very Nakatomi. Apparently during WW2, the Swiss government had such a high opinion of its armed forces, that they claimed their fierce army was the reason why Hitler didn’t invade Switzerland. Hmm, me thinks it had something to do with the banks being there, rather than the Swiss’s ability to remove road signs. Perhaps this vested interest tactical may have been why the oil ministry building in Bagdad was one of the few government buildings to be spared during the bombings in 2003.

Yippe-ki-yea, mother fucker

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