A bend in the river, Saarland

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Saarland passes by the car window in a blur of green hills and industrial buildings… it is always that way in my imagination, the red brick chimneys of the Völklinger Hütte standing tall against the backdrop of the forest beyond the motorway… and it is always raining against the window or snow is falling from the sky through a winter mist, which is strange as the first time I ever came to this corner of Germany pressed up against the French border it was May, the sun shone, and we drank beers in the cobbled square of Saarbrücken, and licked our ice creams down by the river in Mettlach.

We went to the Saarschleife on that first visit too, parking with a thousand others before a short walk through the woods to the lookout point. And it is spectacular, this view that graces every piece of tourist literature published in the region, a bend in the river so perfect that it looks as if it were created by a model railway enthusiast so that he could double up on his bridges and tunnels. Judging by the photographs it was sunny on that first visit to the lookout point. Lotte was not yet walking unaided, a month shy of her first birthday. The sun shone as well when we went to Luxemburg, and then to Trier – for white wine and Karl Marx’s birthplace – but still the Saarland lives in my imagination as a place of perpetual drizzle, as it is today.

Lotte is walking unaided now, and as we climb out of the car the rain has stopped, seemingly granting us a window for our walk. And we are going to take advantage of seven years of learned mobility and so, rather than head straight for the lookout point, we deliberately turn away, following the path down and down through the woods until we reach the river itself, unable to see that famous bend because we are standing right next to it. We take a break on a rock, sitting next to a couple of cyclists, and then the signs point us up once more and we began to climb to where we started, saving the best – the view, the lookout point – for last.

Halfway up the hill and our window of dryness shuts. The rain begins to fall. At first we shelter under a tree and a slight hollow that has eroded out of the hillside. But the rain gives no sense that it is preparing to stop, not this time, and the path is transforming itself into a slippery, muddy river, so we press on. Up and up we walk, soaked to the skin despite our waterproofs. Finally we catch a glimpse of the tops of the trees and an off-white sky above us. Nearly there…

Around the final bend, the water gushing over our feet now, and the trees give way. We turn to look out over that famous view and… nothing. White, only white. It is not the sky we can see above us, but the mist that has dropped down onto the hillside with the rain. It swirls in front of us where we know there to be a drop off back down to the bottom and the edge of the river. If feels as if you could lean forward and grab it, soft and airy like candyfloss, but unable to hold your weight as you tumble. At the lookout point a crowd has gathered in the shelter, staring out into the void. They are looking in the right direction. Saarland’s most famous view is there below us, a view that all of us are here for and none of us can see.

We join them, hanging our waterproofs at the back of the shelter. These people have come prepared – sandwiches and thermos flasks, bottles of wine and plastic glasses – how long have they been here for? The rain has eased now, and the car park is not far away. Why do they wait? Why do we wait?

And then it happens.

The mist retreats in stages, backwards and sideways, slowly but surely revealing the scene. The Saarschleife, that bend in the river, gradually comes into view. In the distance fork lighting strikes at irregular intervals. Rain falls on the river around one side of the bend. Sun shines down around the other. It is natural theatre at its best, and we know now why we walked through the rain and our companions know why they waited just that little bit longer. Last time the sun shone, but this time is better. Let the rain fall in Saarland. It makes what comes next all the more special.

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Words: Paul Scraton
Pictures: Katrin Schönig

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