Germany prides itself of the efficiency that it has become synonymous with. From the renowned reliability of its car manufacturers to their infamous work ethic, German efficiency is ingrained in the nations culture. The German road infrastructure is the embodiment of this, and the famous autobahn paramount, so as we drove west out of Berlin I was expecting nothing less than a trouble-free cruise down what is supposed to be one of the world’s great road systems. Obviously, with a top speed of 72mph the campervan wasn’t going to be testing some of the unlimited road stretches which the autobahn is famed for but the planned drive to a small lake near Hanover wasn’t expected to take longer than a couple of hours.
Two hours into heavy road works having only covered a few miles I began to accept that my preconceptions of the highway were shockingly misguided. Crawling at a glacial pace past the traffic cones, roasting in the unairconditioned cabin worrying about the air-cooled engine not being cooled by any air was a stressful situation made so much worse by a potentially broken dynamo. Whilst I was frantically trying to plan for a breakdown and occasionally having to drive a foot forward to appease angry drivers who didn’t have time to wait for any extra few inches then they had to, the rest of the guys were having a great time. I’ve never understood the haste of some road users to inch forward at any opportunity they have to make sure they are fully up the bum of the car I front. They’re still going to get out at the same rate even if they allow a few yards and relax as the traffic moved at no further than a few feet at a time. The recurring horn abuse is even more pointless as never in the history of traffic has any one parted the sea of traffic like Moses and succeeded in driving up the middle of the now open road because they annoyed everyone in front so much. As I sat contemplating the bizarrely pointless behaviours of some road ragers the guys sat with the side door wide open, as they lapped up the sun and cracked open a few beers and made a bit of lunch. A passing car of Polish blokes even joined in with the celebrations of upgraded roads and cracked open a few cans themselves as the passing traffic beeped in appreciation of the fun going on behind my seat. One elongated halt in the traffic was utilised by a game of frisbee down the closed lane until the van required a push start which side-tracked the chaps from their throwing. They left me to worry about why the van failed to start whilst they resumed their game and frolicked on the abandoned stretch of tarmac, which at least entertained me as they nearly hit other helpless cars or nearly flung the disc over the central reservation to the unhindered traffic flying up the other side. The wallowing in my fear of breakdowns, jealousy of non-drivers and disappointment in the great autobahn ended after a few more equally arduous hours and for the last sumptuous segment I was able to put my foot down, slowly accelerating to breach the 60mph mark by the time the satnav ordered us to pull of onto the smaller roads.
Planning a road trip and finding places to spend a night by traipsing through the satellite images provided by google maps is never a reflective or reliable method, but when it came to Steinhuder Meer it proved to be a remarkable success. Most people who have embarked on two-month long journey of thousands of miles have it reasonably well planned, especially where they plan on staying, but not us, we backed a seemingly fool proof concoction of instinct and lazy internet searches to decide our route. This had let us down previously, a few times in France being the most frustrating but did this change our minds and push us to be organised and well prepared up the road? Absolutely not. From the orbiting cameras of satellites, we selected somewhere that looked like nothing more than a small lake by an unremarkable village which was nicely plonked half way between Berlin and Amsterdam- but on arrival to the unpredictably outstanding shore we were delighted to be proved otherwise. A bridge big enough to jump off but small enough to climb back up carried us to the central island which boasted a beach, complete with a bar and a park where I could finally join in with the frisbee tossing without worry of riotous drivers. The lack of a rope swing was the only disenchantment but for the majority of the afternoon we were content kicking a ball about and exploring the small island. The bridge became the source particular enjoyment as we leapt off the railings into the surprisingly shallow water, which after the first floor grazing experience we were sure to avoid diving too deep into. Eventually the plunge became punishment for whoever was unskilled enough to kick the ball over the side in a game of volleys, an astonishingly regular occurrence. As much joy was derived from watching Jake struggle to climb back onto the bridge as from the game itself as he clung besieged to the supporting pillar, with no helping hands from his amused peers at the summit.
We returned to the bridge at night to enjoy a few beers on the beach, just making it over before the island was closed. We were unaware that they could close an island so ignored the curfew clearly signposted in the car park. The second we made it to the end of the crossing a police car rushed through the carpark prompting us to bolt around the corner and dive into the islands shrubbery. Clearly in hunt of the shady silhouettes seen running off the end of the bridge the cop car followed us across the bridge and began observing the paths for the culprits. All in separate bushes, some more comfortable than others who had committed to a full dive into the plants, we hid silently as the patrol wandered past before giving up the truly minor infringement. Celebrating our success with our brews we triumphantly lay under a clear night sky having euphorically escaped what we thought in the adrenaline was definite jail time. Pondering the results of our near capture, wonderments ranged from a ten-year sentence in a German cell or confinement in solitude after being extrapolated back to the UK, rather than what would have been just a walk back over the bridge after, at wurst, a German telling off. (couldn’t resist the pun). The whole experience of Steinhuder Meer, as well as repeatedly saying the name in a heavy German accent, sounding more like the Pigs in Shrek than the local sound, was an unexpected delight and one that sticks out, even from some of the adventures we had around the rest of the continent. It always seems, from my experiences at least, that the stops with unanticipated beauty and enjoyment are the ones that I remember most fondly, either because of the surprise of how fun they are or because there are no expectations to compare them against.