We biked 60 kilometers that day. It had rained as we set up our tent (after 14 km in the rain between train and camp, my phone falling repeatedly onto the concrete, the gps failing). It had rained during the Trendelburg Mittelalterfest. If the water from the overflowing creek beside our tent hadn’t been louder than raindrops, I would be able to tell you that it rained all night. Our tent was missing pieces. Our sleeping bags were too thin. We spent the early mornings hiding in the heated laundry and wash room, drying our shoes on the radiator and drinking instant coffee out of a thin aluminum mug while Winter played in the sink. It had been summer when we left home, but when we arrived in Trendelburg, it was fall, if only in spirit.
We had plans—castles to visit, places to bike—but the rain, the fucking rain. When the sun came out on Friday, we lapped it up, hungry dogs. We got onto our bikes—Winter and I on one, Tea on another—and took the Märchenstrasse (Fairy Tale Road) bike trail to the north. Suddenly, our little weekend vacation felt perfect. We should have been at home getting ready for the chickens we were planning on getting, but on a whim, we packed up our bikes, a borrowed tent, and nothing that would be remotely warm or waterproof enough, and took a train to a station outside of Kassel instead. We still haven’t gotten those chickens.
The bike trail was gorgeous, first following the Diemal and then the Weser rivers through the type of German forests that remind me of Pennsylvania. The beginning of our trip had been miserable. Jovial, but cold and uncomfortable and damp. Now the sun was shining, and its absence during the past two days made its warmth on our skin, the light on the river and the trees, our bikes, the existence of the path, the sun, the air, the sky, all of it, feel like magic.
I love German bike trails. So well marked. So well maintained. You can get anywhere in this country by bike, absolutely anywhere. There are over 200 bike trails covering something like 70,000 kilometers. Want to bike from Frankfurt to Berlin? It’ll take a while, but you can do it, possibly without ever having to get on a road with cars. Don’t like hills? Bike along a river. The bike trails are one of the first things I think of when people ask me whether or not I ever plan on returning to America. No, no, I say, couldn’t stand to say goodbye to those bike trails.
By chance, I had read about Mühlenplatz in a flier detailing the local sights and a circular bike trail that could bring a body to a number of sights along the Fairy Tale Road. Mühlenplatz is an outdoor museum containing miniature models of many of Germany’s most important castles, buildings, and mills. It sounded slightly weird—in that roadside stop, “See the Biggest Rubberband Ball in the World” kind of way—and looked like the kind of thing I would like taking pictures of and a two-year-old would like running around. Correct on both counts.
It was a strange and wonderful little place. Admission was an easy-to-part-with 2 euro for adults, nothing for kids under 5 years old. The mills were fenced off, but the rest, well let’s just say that two year olds can’t read signs.
And in Germany, isn’t there always a sign? (Translation: Please don’t touch the models.) Ah well. She didn’t get us kicked out, even when she took off her shoes and threw them in the creek. Even when she tried to climb Neuschwanstein. Even when she tried to open the windows off all the little houses.
There is something magical about miniatures. As a child, I loved to imagine the tiny villages that wood fairies might inhabit in the forest or to read about little people who could sleep in a match box and use a needle as a spear. Beside its weirdness, layered around it, Mühlenplatz has some of that magic, the magic of looking in on another world, one frozen by your gaze, one that will spring back into life when you turn your back. Especially on a sunny day after a long bike ride, seen over the top of a quickly melting ice cream cone.