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Der Weg Ist Das Ziel

A Campervan Dream – June 2006
We took a walk in the hills as the weather was so sunny, ending up at Ravenglass on the west coast of Cumbria where, in the car park, was a camper van with, ‘Der Weg ist das Ziel’ written on the back. It had a Berlin registration plate, and Hilary decided she’d go and ask them what ‘das Ziel’ is, as neither of us could bring the meaning of it to mind.
The folks in the camper van at first thought Hilary had come to move them on, as they’d been having problems with that in England, though not in Scotland or any other country they’d been to, but when they realised that she could speak some German and was asking what ‘das Ziel’ means, they were enormously friendly and it seemed to us like we’d be waiting for her conversation to finish until nightfall.
The couple in the campervan were German, in their 50s perhaps, who’d sold up everything and bought a camper van and were touring slowly round Europe. England they were troubled by, as in addition to being moved on from overnight stops, since they didn’t like campsites and who can blame them? they were finding the country enormously expensive and they wanted to know from Hilary how anyone could afford to live here. Hilary had a challenging half hour as the conversation was in German and they made no allowance for her level of proficiency in the language and spoke at conversational speed, but she got the gist of most of it.
And der Weg ist das Ziel? It means literally the road is the goal, something like better to travel than to arrive, to part-quote Robert Louis Stevenson. Ziel is a word we’d not come across before, it equates pretty closely to the English ‘goal’, (though not in football, that’s a different word in German – das Tor), perhaps not a word you’d expect to use that often.
English and German both have a distinct word for goal separate from the word for destination (which is Bestimmungsort in German, worth exclaiming now and again even if you don’t want to go anywhere), whereas French and Italian don’t. Sort of fits the Protestant ethic somehow.
And on the front of their van the Germans had printed, ‘Lebe deine Freiheit’, Live your Freedom. These signs were professionally produced on a quite new and well-appointed camper van. Not in the least sense hippy-like, just a middle-aged couple who’d decided to do something a bit different. Wonder what will happen to them. We should have asked for their visiting cards.


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