I was in the
Federal Republic of Germany to watch a hunt. A friend had put me in touch with
August Riehle, one of the top hunters in the Black Forest, and I had called him
from Paris. It is not easy for a foreigner to see a hunt in Germany, and it is
nearly impossible for him to hunt himself, but now I was supposed to meet
Riehle early in the morning at the railroad station in Gottenheim, a little
town outside of Freiburg at the bottom of the country. I forgot to ask him what
he meant by early and I tried to call back, but all the French telephone system
could get me was Milan, so I went to the Gare de l'Est and took a train to
Strasbourg, bought a Michelin map, rented a car and drove down into Germany,
which has the best road signs in the world. I rolled into Gottenheim in the
middle of the night, found the railroad station and parked, curled up under my
big black-and-red L. L. Bean jacket and went to sleep.
Then someone was
knocking on the car window. He had on a bright blue sweater and dungarees and
he was smiling. I opened the window and he said, "Good morning, Herr
"How did you
know it was me?" I said.
"Your car is
French," he said. "There are no French cars in Gottenheim." He
smiled again and introduced himself as Hans Riehle, August's son.
I got out and we
went to breakfast at an inn on the town's main square. A breakfast in Germany
can be like dessert in America—coffee and cake. As I dipped my cake into my
coffee Hans told me what was going to happen.
All the hunters
and drivers, the local farmers who drive the game to the hunters, were
gathering outside the inn, and when they got there the hunt would begin. Some
of the drivers carried what looked like cutoff hoe handles and some were
holding those wooden noisemakers I used to whirl around my head on New Year's
Eve in New York's Roosevelt Hotel waiting for Guy Lombardo to play Auld Lang
Syne. The drivers would pound on trees with the hoe handles and whirl the
noisemakers as they moved through the brush and trees, driving the game in
front of them. Then Hans said it was time for me to meet his father.
August Riehle was
standing talking to a group of hunters and drivers. He was not a big man, not
tall or heavy, but from the way everybody stood there and waited for him to say
something, he was the biggest man around. He was in charge of everything in
sight, and there was plenty to see—20 or 30 hunters, almost as many drivers,
all kinds of dogs, hoe handles and noisemakers, brass hunting horns and guns.
The hunters carried their shotguns broken open, upside down and hanging from
their shoulders by the sling. Riehle finished whatever it was he was saying and
turned to me and smiled.
Herr Packard! It is a fine day for hunting." He looked up at the sky.
I looked, too, but
the sun wasn't up yet. I thanked him for letting me come on the hunt. He nodded
and then he got off a paragraph of German to Hans and the interview was
"My father has
much to do this morning," Hans said, taking me aside.