On 3rd October 1990, East and West Germany are reunited, ending 45 years of Cold War division. In the aftermath of the Second World War, Germany was divided between the four major Allied powers; the Soviet Union, the United States, Britain and France. In 1949, the United States, Britain and France combined their occupation zones to create the Federal Republic of Germany in West Germany, while the Soviets established the communist German Democratic Republic in East Germany. At midnight the Freedom Bell, a gift from the United States, was rung, and Germany was again a united nation. The East German state, which had essentially collapsed in 1989, was dissolved, and its people became citizens of the Federal Republic of Germany.
At this time, and for some time after, I had never visited Germany but in 2007 I found cheap tickets to Friedrichshafen. I really had no idea where this was and I really didn’t care, I was determined to have the flights so I booked them without giving the transaction a second thought. After it had been confirmed I set out to discover where it was exactly and to learn something about our destination. I was delighted to find that it was in the far south of Germany sitting alongside Lake Constance and within easy reach of Switzerland and Austria.
When we arrived in Friedrichshafen the weather was perfect and the sun was shining and we quickly took a taxi to the city that drove us through some, quite frankly, uninteresting suburbs, and it was a lady taxi driver to take us there so there was nothing very exciting about the drive either as she took us to our hotel with a sedate efficiency.
As it was about lunchtime we quickly organised ourselves and made our way out of the hotel and down to the lake to see what the city had to offer and we were absolutely delighted as the place immediately exceeded our modest expectations. We had had no idea of what we might find so we were surprised to discover a broad sunny promenade with bars and restaurants overlooking the lake and a genuine holiday resort atmosphere.
Lake Constance is a vast freshwater lake on the upper River Rhine situated between Germany, Switzerland, and Austria and is the third largest in central Europe after Lake Balaton which is in Hungary and the second largest Lake Geneva which lies between France and Switzerland. It is sixty-three kilometers long and one-hundred and eighty-six kilometers around, at its widest point it is nearly fourteen kilometers across and it covers approximately five-hundred and thirty-nine square kilometers of total area. Ninety per cent of the water is melted floodwater from the Alps and this supplies three-hundred and twenty cities and towns and four million people with drinking water, so this is a very big lake indeed and it is fairly important to an awful lot of people.
It is an interesting fact that there is no legally binding agreement as to where the boundaries lie between the three countries that border the shores of Lake Constance. Switzerland holds the view that the border runs through the middle of the lake, whilst Austria is of the opinion that the lake stands in condominium of all the states on its banks. Germany agrees with neither of these points of view and doesn’t care too much anyway. I expect they would get their own way if they really had a mind to.
We walked for a while along the sociable waterfront and before very long selected a table at a bar with an expansive view of the water and in the full glare of the midday sun. This was a perfect spot for a lunchtime sojourn and we sat in the warm sun and looked out over the water towards the snow capped Swiss Alps. The water was busy with ferry boats either crossing over to Switzerland or simply stopping off at all the little towns that border the lake so later we walked along the promenade to check the schedules for our planned trip to the other side of the water. The timetables were even more difficult to understand than the menus so after quickly running out of patience we returned to the waterfront and walked back along the promenade past the zeppelin museum and with the afternoon sun still pleasantly hot we found another bar and sat and enjoyed another beer. We sat and enjoyed the beer and the wine in the afternoon sun and watched the people walking back and forth along the lakeside boulevard stopping frequently to buy ice cream or to stop like us for refreshment in one of the many bars overlooking the lake.
Even on this our first day, I found that I was being forced into a reassessment of the German people. Here in their own country they were so obliging and polite and not at all like the loud pushy archetypes that I had encountered before usually on holiday in Spain or Portugal where in the 1938 style of Hitler’s annexation of the Sudetenland they notoriously commandeer the best pool side seats. I have to say that it was a real pleasure to be here and not really what I was expecting, it felt relaxed, refined and cultured and I was glad of that and to have my national prejudices so quickly readjusted.