A crowd joined me in boarding the Regional Express, which proved a misnomer on at least one count. Though bound northeastwards towards the Rhein, the train stopped at a good dozen towns along the line and, despite its punctuality, did not seem to merit fully its “Express”. Still, the two-hour trainride and relatively comfortable seating, blue fabric and ochre paneling, left me ample time to make what I would of the passing landscapes, less familiar than my dreams. I spread my envelopes and tickets before me and held in mind a few German expressions useful for multiple situations.
My first observation was not long in coming and took the form of a ridiculous hypothesis, based on what I had seen of Saarbrücken, Neunkirchen, St. Wendel, such that the traveler found all German towns to the east of the rails. To the east was the clime warmer, the woods thinner. To no one’s surprise, this hypothesis was as swiftly posited as disproved, even without my setting one foot in the Hunsruck.
That said, I would have greatly liked to set one of my two feet in the Hunsruck, which I later learned to be the name given to the low mountains, cliffs and valleys through which the Regional Express wended its way. Each minute brought us deeper into the valley, though whether one river or several ran its length, I knew not. At times, a narrow river came into sight and ran along the rails but soon cut off in another direction. When that river came back or another took its place, seemingly neither having grown in flow, my question remained unanswered.
Towns passed to either side, and I fixed their vignettes one by one to the back of an envelope and my burgeoning text. Contrary to what I might have expected, with each word added to the swarm, that text became more illegible, as though the accumulation of letters rendered the whole progressively less intelligible.
With some effort, I later deciphered that I had seen Idar-Oberstein on the heights where the vestiges of an old ringfort surveyed the valley and a church had cut itself a nook into the backing hillside. The train had also passed before Kirn where men cut away at the valleyside to make gravel to some end or other, perhaps to pave what passed for roads in that place. Long signs composed of metal letters, individually cut and stood and reading Molzinger Plätzchen and Frühlingsplätzchen, had marked out the placement of several vineyards, though I had previously associated the “minisquare” of the names with the German category of sweet biscuits.
To the former had joined the note of still more vineyards, though these were no longer walled in. Their variety had prompted me to comment on their distinct set-ups. Though certain laid claim to the flat top of the low mounts, others contented themselves with the lowlands, at times no more than thirty meters in width, and erected metal fences or stone-walls to set the grapes off from cliff-base, rail, road and each other. Still others, which had most held my imagination, took a slope between rail and cliffwall and made of it a series of terraces, on the uppermost row of which they had built a stone shelter into the cliffwall’s base. A number of these structures, three walls jutting slightly from the sheer rock and doors agape, gave the same impression that one might have upon seeing a hermit’s shelter in the Holy Land.
The train drew nearer its destination. Bad Sobernheim and its low stone bridges gave way to a “Bahnhofgebaüde zu verkaufen”, a turn-of-the-century construction now for sale in a rail town which remained without a name in my notes. The large windows allowed me to look on Bad Munster am Stein, though I would have otherwise been seated on the wrong side to take in the walkways and stairs leading to the castle remnants topping the nominal “stone”. The hills fell away after Bad Kreuznach, and the towns swelled in size as we broke out into the plains.