On a balloon ride over the Swabian Alb, you float silently above forests, meadows and villages. It is all so calm; the world seems to be in slow motion.
We‘ve taken off already! The wicker basket lifts off so silently from the meadow in the Lautertal valley that you only notice that you are airborne by the change in perspective. This quiet start takes me by surprise, as I have secretly been fighting my fear of flying. I don‘t like to get on a plane – and now I‘m supposed to cruise through the sky over the Swabian Alb in a small wicker basket? With nothing but hot air holding me up? And a pilot, who is very experienced, but, basically, cannot control his vehicle?
Pilot Rudi Fuchs fires up the burners. The gas hisses in bursts, breathing flames that heat up the air in the 180-kg / 400-pound balloon. The hotter the air, the higher we can fly. And right after the start, things take an unexpected turn: for a moment, the treetops on the hillside look very close. “We have to act quickly now,“ says 61-year-old Rudi with a laugh, but he doesn‘t seem concerned. It is reassuring to have this totally-relaxed balloon expert in charge; I can chat with him about what is going on. It‘s so much nicer than being on a plane: here I am in direct contact with the pilot and with the world all around me.
It’s so peaceful up here
The effect is dramatic. Even before we are up and over the mountain, my fear of flying has disappeared. Everything up here makes me happy. The morning sunshine. The incredible silence. The peace. It’s amazing how quietly we fly – sorry – drift. And how beautiful the Alb is on a morning like this. At seven o‘clock, mist still wreaths the meadows, dark forests and small villages.
“What I like about ballooning is that it is so slow and deliberate,” says Rudi Fuchs. “It is a real art to work out where you are going to fly to, and where you can land safely when you get there. But I only fly when the weather is absolutely perfect.” Besides the silence, the great thing about ballooning is that you usually fly between 500 - 1,000 m / 1,600 - 3,350 ft above the ground, so you can see a lot going on below. A herd of cows galloping. Deer in a field. A cyclist racing downhill on the road below us. We are travelling over the Swabian Alb Biosphere Reserve around Münsingen, southeast of Stuttgart; its unspoiled countryside makes this a great holiday region. But the world below is still asleep and silent.
Although Rudi reckons that the wind is blowing at about 15 km /10 miles an hour up here, we don’t really notice a breeze. “It feels that way because we use the wind to carry us along,” he explains. It‘s a bit like we‘re in slow motion and someone has turned the sound off. “Today, we‘ll probably land at Trochtelfingen in about 90 minutes’ time,“ says Rudi, who has already made more than 2,000 trips as a balloon pilot. By contrast, all five of us passengers are first-timers. Carmen gave her friend Angelika the ride as a present, so that she could overcome her fear of heights. Siggi and Erwin have wanted to do something like this for a long time. And me? I just stand in the basket and envy the birds. In the distance, we spot Hohenzollern Castle. We hop over a little wood near Trochtelfingen, then sink back to earth as if everything is in slow motion. With an imperceptible hop, the basket lands in a meadow. Time to climb out, pack up and go to breakfast. I give Angelika a pat on the back. We two scaredy cats made it. No, we did more than just make it. I can see that by the expression on her face. We both actually enjoyed it!