THE Konditorei, not substantially observed in Amerika as a patriotic institution, quickly caught our fancy as we began our motor trip through Germany.
This was some years ago, and we hope things haven't changed all that much. We had bought an automobile and planned on unplanned days, guided only by the highway maps that came with the automobile, shunning the major routes and the tourist haunts. We'd pause in late afternoon at a family inn, and picnic at noon in hospitable beet fields.
The dictionary says a Konditorei is a confectionery. It is, but it is also more. It is a lunchroom where a bakery sells its own goodies to be eaten there. Being a German lunchroom, it also closes during the lunch hour. We learned not to get the door locked in our faces as we came running up. So with a supply of stout cheese and a new sausage every day, plus bread and sweeties at random from a Konditorei, we inspected most of the beet fields of Germany and gained weight.
We looked forward to a day or so in the Harz Mountains, a nursery for many of Germany's better folk tales. It was not a bright morning as we headed out, setting a suitable mood for kobolds and Zauber-stuff. The mountains were wooded, and we felt their spell. Then we saw a roadside postal pillar, far from town or house, and we had a packet of picture postcards ready to mail to our friends back home.
''The postcards!'' my wife said. I had stamps, so we lapped and attached, and I descended to walk around and drop the cards in the letter box. I looked at the little sign. It said, ''Notice: This collection box is serviced weekly on Tuesdays.'' Today was Wednesday. Just then it started to snow.
This was undoubtedly a Harz Mountain snow squall, as it was beautiful. It was late October, so it was not unseasonable. The flakes were huge and drifted, dozing on a quiet air. Immediately, the needles of the thick spruces were caught full of flakes.
We had stopped for the postal box, were still stopped, and as there was parking space for the box, we simply set the brakes and remained to dine. Out came our little board, knife, cheese, wurst, bread, pickles, and olives, and on went our flashing safety lamps. And the little Konditorei box with its baker's choice of surprises. ''Guten Appetit!'' she said.
''Buster Keaton!'' I said.
Just like that, we had passed into a fairyland delight of jolly elves, gingerbread houses, and spun sugar. Over all the Brothers Grimm themselves seemed to have suspended a suitable silence. The falling snowflakes were not soft and sticky, so we could see through our glass, and we ate while watching the flakes drift down.
But we stopped eating at what we saw. Through the snowflakes came a shadowy movement, barely distinguished, and it was a flock of sheep moving toward us as sheep do, one to the other, shoulder to shoulder, follow the leader.
''I don't believe it!'' she said.
Using our State of Maine formula for counting sheep, I ticked off the legs and divided by four, and reported not quite 200 sheep before I came to the dog, confident and trustworthy, covered with snow along his back and his eyes on every sheep in his flock, one and all, and paying no heed whatever to two brazen foreigners stupid enough to think he couldn't bring his flock around a Volkswagen. Not one sheep broke step, and that dog betrayed no awareness that we were there with our little box of Konditorei dessert.
Sheep and dog passed us, and then came the shepherd. He was wearing a heavy woolen cape and his broad-brimmed hat, and hat and shoulders were heavy with snowflakes. In his right hand was his crook. Like the dog, he saw us not as he passed, and I'm sure would not have stopped to chat.
Why he was moving his flock uphill in a snow squall is a question we can't answer. Perhaps he started and the snow sneaked up on him.
Neither can I say why we had postcards to mail and it was a particular Wednesday. To be honest, I'm not sure it ever happened; perhaps we imagined a pixie plot and ate a magic cookie from the Konditorei box, a confection the scheming baker had intended for his fair-haired granddaughter on her birthday. Who knows now? The whole scene, the entire moving tableau, may have lasted three minutes, but I'm not sure of that.
It continued to snow there in the Harz Mountains for another few minutes, and then it stopped, so we feel safe in saying the whole thing was purposely arranged and timed to suit our schedule. We could have come by tomorrow. What is time in a place where the mailman comes once a week?
This year, in April, we had a robin snow. It was a squall just like the one we saw that noontide in the Harz Mountains. The sky darkened and gloom hovered.
Suddenly, it began to snow, thick, heavy flakes that are seen in robin time only. It snows quickly and then stops snowing. But enough to powder the tree limbs, and some say to encourage the earthworms to make the early robin glad.
I was caught in it, halfway between the shop and the house, as I went for lunch. I stomped my feet and shook off the snow as I came into the house.
''A good old-time robin snow,'' I said.
''So I see,'' she said, ''and it should put a little green in the new grass!'' Then she said, ''But I looked, and no sheep!''