One of the bakeries is closed, but then it closes every day at two anyway. The post office is closed too. Technical difficulties, apparently, which is bemusing for a post office. High tech stamps are surely E-mails, and the post office doesn’t sell them. The Penny is open for the essentials, although by the looks of the bored assistant, the locals all have what they need. The city hall is closed as is the antique shop, which most people claim still opens regularly, but no one can tell you when. Even the ice-cream store, despite the warm summer’s afternoon, has the shutters down and the door locked. Mind you, despite the perfect ice-cream weather, there’s no-one to buy it. Customers of the other bakery, the one that is open, have their pick of the seats out front in the baking sunshine. Inside, a woman sits starting into space, idling over a cup of coffee and a dried out Bretzel.
Two cars pull up along side each other. The drivers chat pleasantly, windows open, arms resting on the car door. A third car wants to turn left where they’re talking, the closest today will get to a traffic jam or a crowd. There are two bikes parked on the market square, though to whom they belong one can only wonder. Over a steady hour marked by the tolling bell, a handful of people arrive to post letters only to be turned away by the roughly made sign. A jogger jogs. A child cries from an open window. A dad walks by watching his son precariously perched on a new bike wearing a bright green helmet and a brighter smile. They come and they go, probably headed for the playground to have the swings to themselves.
In a couple of hours the bakery will close as two or three of the restaurants open. The fourth and fifth in the neighbourhood remain closed for summer break. It’s Schnitzel, pizza, or a curry tonight. No Spanish or African until September. There’ll be no change of pace. A few tables scattered with cake crumbs will move inside as the baker packs up and a few more will come out to be decorated with candles left unlit, a sign of proprietor’s optimism.
The school is ghostly quiet, the white brickwork standing solemnly, no use to anyone until the leaves start to turn and the chatter of the young return for another year of learning. The gates are locked, the playground deserted, and the windows closed. Around the side, a pair loiter. Not up to mischief, simply passing the time in the shade on a sticky day. A tanned man the wrong side of forty with the right idea has the square behind the Rathaus to himself. Stretched out in a lounge care, sun on his face, he takes not the slightest notice of the nothing going on. All the other benches sit empty, not even a bird perched to eat up a find.
Between five and six the narrow pavements host a few more feet as the fit and healthy head down the hill on foot from a day spent at whatever coal face they’ve chosen. The 5.20 tram brings a small crowd up the street too, all those who work in the centre returning uncomfortable in work-appropriate attire and shoes that rub in the heat.
There’s not quite any hustle and certainly no bustle as the afternoon slips into evening as gently as the temperatures drop. A few more joggers come by. The dog walkers bring their best friends out, squeezing in a whizz around the block before dinner or waiting to take a longer, quiet stroll after the plates have been cleared. The mother with the baby who won’t sleep does laps up the main street, commits up the hill to the church and embraces the cobbles on the way back down.
By eight o’clock, there is tinkling of piano music from above the town hall as the choir practices, filling the empty square below with a a soft melody. By nine, silence has returned. The streets are deserted. Laughter and conversation spill out of the open window of the wine bar, the only sound left as night falls. It is darker just a smidgen earlier than yesterday as Monday slips quietly into Tuesday for another week. And likewise, as the night draws in a little bit closer and a little bit cooler, summer begins its first tentative step into autumn for another year as the streets lie empty and silenced, settled for another night.