If you're looking for a calmer way of traveling through Germany than speeding through the countryside on the nation's autobahns, a farm in the southern Bavarian Alps has just the thing for you -- a camel.
Not your typical form of transport in Bavaria
Camels don't really fit the typical postcard image of southern Germany, with its fairytale castles and snow-capped mountains, but that didn't stop Christine Sieber and her partner Dieter Graf from starting up a camel farm there. The business is doing well, and their tours through the rolling countryside have turned out to be a run-away (well, plod-away) success.
Summer at the camel farm
Getting someone up onto a camel is not an easy job. The 26-year-old Christine Sieber hasn't injured herself yet, even though every month she's been helping more and more camel fans, newlyweds and children into the saddle. Recently, one of her customers was a 98-year-old man, who like many was fascinated by the idea of lumbering by the famous Neuschwanstein Castle in the Allgäu region on camelback.
"There is something almost meditative about riding a camel, because they are always so amazingly calm and unperturbed. They pass that feeling on to everyone around them," says Sieber.
A slower kind of snowmobile
Not quite four wheel drive
But unlike an all-terrain vehicle or even your typical German rent-a-car, camels are not made for every weather condition in the Alps. Although they can deal with snow and ice, water is a problem for the desert-trained animals. It gets sucked up into their thick fur, and with their soft feet, they slip and slide in the mud like someone learning to ice skate. When it rains, as it often does in southern Germany, Sieber has to rein in her herd and lead them back into the barn to wait out the shower -- one of the downsides to touring the countryside on camel-back.
Camel racing in the Emirates
For Sieber, though, that's just part of the animals' nature, and something the experienced camel racer takes in stride, like the fact that her preferred mode of transport is something of an oddity in Germany. Sometimes she misses the excitement of racing camels in the United Arab Emirates, where she lived before starting up her business in Bavaria.
"For the local people it was a little bit unusual to see Europeans on camels, especially women," she says. In the Emirates women are not even allowed to be spectators at the races, but Sieber not only raced, she came in first in Dubai.
Intercultural dialogue in the Allgaeu
From time to time Sieber dreams of organizing huge camel races in the Allgäu -- an unusual ambition for someone who studied to be an accountant. In fact, it was only once she met Dieter and his camels that her career path changed direction. Since then she has been helping to raise baby camels and weave blankets from camel hair. She has even set up a small camel museum.
Working with camels is difficult, says Sieber, but satisfying. "They are very intelligent animals, and also such individualists. They will follow your lead even though they are so incredibly strong."