With Rudolf Fuchs across the Swabian Alb near Münsingen
TMBW/ Dietmar Denger

The quiet form of happiness

During a balloon flight above the Swabian Alb, you float as if in slow motion and very quietly over forests, meadows and villages. And by the way you become very calm yourself.

We are already floating! The basket lifts off so silently and smoothly from the meadow in the Lauter Valley that you only notice you’re in the air because of the change in perspective. This unspectacular takeoff comes as a surprise to me, because until just now I was fighting with my fear. I don’t like getting into airplanes. Now, I’m supposed to cruise through the sky above the Swabian Alb with four other passengers and a balloon pilot in a small basket? Crazy! With nothing but a lot of hot air for propulsion? Unbelievable. And a captain who is very experienced and who knows the winds and the thermals perfectly –  but who basically can’t steer his vehicle? HELP!

Chatting with the pilot

Rudi Fuchs is a calm character and fires instead of soothing my fears. And the gas burner hisses at short intervals, spitting fire so that the air in the 180-kilogram balloon gets hotter and we gain altitude. Because right after takeoff, we’re heading a bit in a different direction than previously thought. The treetops on the slope seem precariously at eye level for a moment. “We’ll have to make a quick job of it there,” the 61-year-old says with a laugh, but doesn’t seem worried. It reassures me that I have the deeply relaxed balloon expert in front of me and can chat with him. That’s much more pleasant than in an airplane – you’re in contact with the pilot and the world around you.

Starting a hot air balloon
TMBW/ Dietmar Denger

The peace up here

The effect: Even before we are over the mountain, the fear falls off and I am happy. Happy about the glory morning sun. The incomprehensible silence and the peace up here. How quietly one can fly – pardon – drive. And how beautiful the Alb is on such a morning early at seven o’clock – with fog, damp meadows, dark forests, small villages. “Ballooning can’t really be compared to flying in an airplane,” says Rudi Fuchs as we gently share the atmosphere with our balloon.

What I like about ballooning is that it’s so slow and deliberate. And that it’s a real art to work out where you’re going to fly to and where you can land well in the end. But I also really only launch when the weather is absolutely right.

Hot Air Balloon Pilot Rudi Fuchs
TMBW/ Dietmar Denger

Which in turn means that more than half of the trips have to be postponed. But Rudi Fuchs and his wife don’t have to make a living from the balloon business either. It’s more of a passion that started by accident, by the way. A friend bought a balloon cheaply in the early 1990s and persuaded Rudi to get his hot air balloon license.

Above the Swabian Alb biosphere region

The great thing about ballooning, besides the silence, is that you usually fly 500 to 1,000 meters above the ground and can still see a lot below: the herd of cows galloping excitedly because of the strange dark red giant bubble in the air. The deer in the field taking a dip in the morning sun. Racing cyclists whizzing downhill on the road below us. We’re on our way above the Swabian Alb biosphere area around Münsingen, an impressive piece of nature in the southwest and a great vacation region – but it’s still a bit early on this Sunday for cars, hikers and recreational cyclists. The world below us lies largely still.

Balloon flight above the Swabian Alb in Southern Germany
TMBW/ Dietmar Denger

As if in slow motion

Although Rudi Fuchs measures a wind of about 15 kilometers per hour up here, there doesn’t seem to be a breeze. “It feels that way because we use the airstream as propulsion,” he explains to us. It’s a bit as if we’re on slow motion and someone has also turned the sound mute – apart from the occasional fire-breathing gas burner. It has to heat up the 4500 cubic meters of air in the screen at regular intervals. And that’s why we’re also warm in the basket.

No adrenaline rushes, but satisfied passengers instead

Where is the journey going? We don’t know. The plan is for us to be in the air for about 1.5 hours. “We’ll probably land somewhere near Trochtelfingen,” says Rudi, who has already made more than 2,000 trips as a balloon pilot, so he’s a very experienced pilot.

We five passengers are all on board for the first time. Carmen has given her friend Angelika the ride as a present, so that she can overcome her fear of heights. Indeed, Angelika is looking quite relaxed into the distance and taking photos with her cell phone. Siggi and Erwin have wanted to do something like this for a long time. The couple gazes devoutly down at the landscape, hardly speaks and obviously enjoys every minute.

Landing hot air balloon after a flight above the Swabian Alb
TMBW/ Dietmar Denger

All worries are blown away

And me? All my worries are blown away. I would not have thought it possible. I stand in the basket and marvel at the beauty of the world without a rush of adrenaline. Envy the birds. Observe the geometric patterns of the treetops and harvested fields. Discover the Hohenzollern Castle in the distance in the haze. Time flies, yes, a pun – but we are not flying: we are flying because the hot air in the balloon is lighter than the air around it, Rudi explains.

The last small forest near Trochtelfingen is overcome, we sink as if in slow motion, the ground seems to come gently towards us. With an imperceptible hop, the basket touches down on a colorful summer meadow. So we climb out, pack up and then have breakfast together. I pat Angelica on the shoulder with a smile. We two timid ones have made it, too. No, much more than just made it, I can see that in the shining eyes of the person sitting next to me. We really enjoyed it. For the first time, I had the feeling that I was in good hands in the air. Yes, even more: I came down wonderfully during the ascent.

More about a balloon flight above the Swabian Alb at Fuchs Ballonfahrten, more about the Swabian Alb on their Website.