Go Now - Pay Later
By Phyllis Weston

Four of us were taking a leisurely jaunt by car about Europe: Belgium, West Germany, Italy, Switzerland. We had crossed into Germany to visit Berchtesgaden for one reason only. That was to travel up through the heart of a mountain in a luxurious elevator, all brass and mirrors and plush-covered benches around its sides. The mountain, the Kehlstein, at the summit of which was Hitler's eyrie, now has a café that serves German goodies and café mit schlag sanne - coffee with whipped cream to you and me. There was another reward for the journey: we were on the roof of the world looking across the Bavarian Alps to what seemed like infinity. Then we turned back to Austria again.

Of course, we made frequent border crossings, which fortunately were informal. The important thing was to get rid of the coins of the country we were leaving and change the bills for those of the next country. Sometimes the coins stretched to a treat of soft ice cream cones or such cookies as chewy, chocolaty Florentines. However, sometimes there was a young girl shaking a slotted tin, reminiscent of Tag Days in World War I asking for our change for some local charity. To these causes we happily contributed our coins.

This time, leaving Austria once more, we were approached by a young girl with what looked to us like a book of raffle tickets. She knew no English but managed to let us know that the cost of a ticket was 135 schillings. That would be about $5 Canadian. It doesn't sound excessive - but it was a lot of money to people "doing" Europe (in the early 1960's) on $5 a day per person, two of whom were children.

We all four joined in a chorus of, "No! No! We don't mind giving you our change but we don't want to buy a raffle ticket, thank you!" The young girl backed off, looking sadder by the minute. However, we soon forgot her in our pleasure in the drive over the Gross Glockner Pass, one of the most beautiful routes in Europe. The road was so well made we could almost forget the driving and concentrate on the grandeur of the mountain, made all the more interesting by the swirls of mist which drifted about like airy scarves thrown by a giant hand.

Then came the descent. But what was this at the end of the pass? It looked like a sentry box out of which stepped a man who held up a commanding hand. We pulled up; and he, having a good command of English, said, ""You owe us 135 schillings. That is the price of the toll for crossing the pass". In our ignorance, we had actually refused to pay a toll - and got away with it temporarily.

We looked at each other and burst into peals of laughter, which almost shook the car. We soon paid the gentleman who by this time had a twinkle in his eye. The enormity of our crime didn't trouble us a bit. In fact, the incident cast a glow over the little town of Heoligenblut, nestling in a sun-filled valley and looking ready to welcome four re-instated lawbreakers.

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Copyright © 2001, P. Weston
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