A long, long time ago, long before the idea of a world wide web and the Google search engine was conceived, a sleepy hamlet along the Iron Curtain, as the Austrian and Czechoslovakian border was called back then, bore the cute, funny name Guglwald, Googlewood.
I was quite lucky to get to know Guglwald in the days when a yellow Postbus, the identical one Julie Andrews rode in The Sound of Music to the Van Trapp Mansion, was our only way to reach this promised patch of earth. When the bus arrived in Guglwald, the little knoll by the woods, overlooking the dusty road, we had indeed come the end of the “Free World.”
Since my Dad worked in a somewhat high government position, we had the privilege to spend summers in one of the reserved flats in the Zollhaus. The Zollhaus stood three-stories tall, and its gabled roofs evoked quite the storybook setting. Just steps from the border, it was primarily constructed for housing border patrol employees and their families. Imagine, living in a community of merely fifty souls. Most people had radios and TV back then but except for the twice-weekly arrivals of the Postbus, and the baker who sold fresh loaves of bread out of his station wagon, this farming community was little known to the outside world.
Life was very, very lonely along the border. Indeed. And quiet too. Lonely and a rough existence for the family running the Inn-cum-Pub-cum-convenience store hugging the Gugl, the famed hill, nestled along the vast Boehmerwald region.
Besides farming and living off the land, families invented ways of making do. A sweet faced lady, Frau Schaufflinger, with a big Saint Bernard living on the other side of the glen was famous for her butter and buttermilk. Whenever my Dad and I stopped by to stock up our supplies, I would sit at her table, the big orangey-white monster of a dog snuggled against my calf. Perking my ears to her tales, shots being fired at night, fleeing people seeking shelter, a feeling of fear and curiosity seized me.
A short hike down the road, a small weaving shop cranked out dishtowels and throw rugs, and over another grassy knoll, a family tended to bees, producing some of the sweetest honey I’ve ever tasted since those innocent August days.
Even though life took me far away from those Guglwald summers, I held on to my memories; skipping across the pristine landscape, listening to the singing brook as it bubbled over rocks and meadows, scouting the mossy grounds for edible mushrooms, falling asleep under the shimmering Milky Way.
But then in the fall of 1989 history was made. The Berlin Wall came down and so did the rusty barbed wire fences that had become the symbol of Communist Rule since the end of World War II.
Borders opened, and from then on life in Guglwald was never the same. But that’s another story.