Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Braunschweig 7.1.94: Germoney Graffiti and Warm Hospitality

So much happening, and so few minutes to write, that I’m falling behind.

To return to the chronicle of yesterday: morning of 4th January, we drove to Braunschweig, unfortunately taking a federal road rather than the autobahn. I say “unfortunately,” because it took us almost all day to drive a distance that would have taken 2 hours; but we did see beautiful flat farmland and placid little villages of red brick and thatch.

Stopped for lunch at a café in Ülzen, a very pretty city with a fairly well-preserved Altstadt and a rather impressive church. We looked inside the latter after lunch, and found some women and a man doing some work. Almost immediately they left, telling us they wanted to lock the church, and suggesting that we look at a gold ship in a glass case. We did so rather assiduously, then went outside, where I noticed that two 17th-century memorial plaques on the church wall had been sprayed in black paint with the slogan, Gegen Razismus.

As we walked back to the car, I saw a building painted with the sign, “F—k Off, Germoney.”

Braunschweig: the J.’s turned out to be lovely people. M. met us at a gas station, and drove us to their house. She looks to be about 60, and is a wiry, lively woman with a boyish thatch of bright red hair, and intense, dancing blue eyes. W. is more ponderous, a tall, rather courtly Austrian with black hair and wise, sad blue eyes.

The first evening, M. gave us tea and cookies when we arrived, then we asked to walk, and she took us for a stroll around her village, now a part of Braunschweig.

Then we returned home to find that W. had arrived, and had a supper of turkey and pineapple in a sauce, severed over fried broad spinach noodles, with bread, cheese, and sausage. How I long for fresh fruit and vegetables in Germany!

Afterwards sat and talked desultorily re: diverse things. M. told us she had read Karl Rahner in their youth. They are well read, in that way educated, middle-class Europeans are—a way that is so unselfconscious, genuine, and broad that it puts Americans to shame.

Their home is surprisingly unprepossessing, considering that M. is a judge’s daughter and W. the head of a hospital in Braunschweig run by the Daughters of Charity, called Vincentianas in Germany. The house is new, three stories, very solid and well-appointed in that way German houses are, without being fussy: windows, including french doors, that open both from the top and sides, precisely fitted shades that really work, etc. M.’s teapot had a little sponge attached beneath the spout, and a chain thing running from the handle to the spout to hold the lid on.

I really admire the way such European families choose to live. Nothing is show, but nothing is uncomfortable. The “space” that one buys by settling such a home enables one to garden, read, travel, entertain friends to whom one can talk wittily and widely about gardening, books, travel.

Travel: the J.’s have traveled all over Europe and the Near East, and are intelligent travelers, with a catholic sympathy for countries like Italy, whose German-engorged beaches they avoid like the plague, preferring the rich layers of history of the small inland cities.

And languages: after traveling in France, M. realized her French was inadequate, and she and the children studiously enrolled in a language school in order to hone their skills. W. has met on a weekly basis with an Italian tutor for several years and now speaks very good Italian.

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