Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The Eifel, Kreis Daun 19.12.93: Animal Skins and Village Scenes

We’re now in Dreis (Steve’s tiny Schafer ancestral village in the Vulcaneifel), having driven here today from Hamburg. Since I last wrote in this journal, we’ve given our lecture at the Akademie (really, an evening seminar), and been to Wohltorf for dinner at R. and C.’s.

The former: uneventful, really. I felt uninspired. There were a Brazilian Calvinist, a Brazilian and Filipino Baptist, two Korean Presbyterians, a Lutheran who was (I think) from Argentina, a student from Togo who was (I think) Methodist, an Indian who was (I believe) Anglican, and two Africans I never quite placed—one, I believe, has finished his dissertation, the other belonged to one of the Pentecostal movements in Zimbabwe or Tanzania or South Africa.

Steve talked about AAR, especially about lectures on feminism and the place of gay scholars we had both heard at AAR. I talked about American Catholicism. There seemed to be a dismissive attitude re: the gay subject. All the people were church pastors except one of the Koreans, who was a deaconness married to the other Korean, and the Zimbabwean, who is a prophet. The Koreans seemed the most receptive, the Brazilian Baptist pastor, a black man, the least. He and several others were odiously testosteronish. In fact, the whole thing reeked of male dominance.

There were a number of questions afterwards re: where the group might go if it visited the U.S., and then all was mercifully over.

Because I slept poorly that night, as I often happens when I have run the gauntlet of a lecture, we got up late, in time only to go to the Nienstedt Marktplatz for coffee, then it was time to catch the train to Wohltorf. Lo and behold, S.W. was on the train, at least part of the way to the Hauptbahnhof, so we got to talk.

The trip out east to Wohltorf, which is actually only 20 kilometers from the former East German border, was interesting. We passed through several working-class suburbs with dreary shanty-like houses and little gardens of cabbage and cauliflower, beside the train tracks.

Then we came to a very posh village with fine houses and a sparkling shopping, are, and then to Wohltorf, which is an old village with a more middle-class lifestyle.

R. and C.’s son C., who must be about 14 now, met us at the station. He’s a very likable boy, one who hulks beside and over you as he talks in that utterly serious, utterly guileless way German children can have. He told us the village was an old one with a pre-Christian burial ground, and he spoke of the typical red-brick construction of houses as we passed them.

About the evening, what can I say? R. and C. were simply angelic. Soon after we arrived, they took us and W. and K., who had driven out earlier, on a long walk through the woods, the Sachsenwald near their house. The weather was awful (Was für hässlich Wetter, my Berlitz book teaches me to say), and we met places where we practically had to wade through mud and water, but I enjoyed the walk.

It was cool and misty, the forest full of pine, birch, and oak. Rudi told me the paths are marked and set aside as public walking paths. I saw signs explaining what some trees were, and there were numerous somber and healthy north Germans out hiking—young and old alike—on them.

On the hike, W. told us Dorothee Sölle was taken quite ill the day before, and is in the hospital with edema of the lungs and a very high fever. We had hoped to see her, and he was going to call. This was quite a shock. How fragile and short life is.

Once home, we had tea with wonderful cherry-and-chocolate cake, and an apple cape with whipped cream on the side. R. and C. have a lovely house with a living room opening onto a terrace. This wall is almost all windows, and the house is painted white inside and furnished in school Scandinavian colors with sisal carpeting, undyed. It’s restful to the eye, and must be lovely in summer.

(Forgot to say that on our walk we went into the 16th-century Wohltorf castle, built of red brick and also cool and sparse inside—a look R. says north Germans prefer, in contrast to the Baroque look in which all is displayed, in south Germany. The castle was lovely, with whitewashed walls inside, wide oaken windowsills, mullioned windows, beams with various designs—all in muted colors—overhead. The floor in the kitchen area was, of course, tile, red squares glazed. Upstairs, it was of massive oaken planks. There was a very attractive 17th-century hutch in the first room we entered. The sign said it was from Lübeck, and was of mixed birch and oak. The front had fruit and visages carved here and there on it.)

After tea, we sat and talked as the children (both of the W. and the R. family) played for us on an electric organ and piano. Then R. got out his sax and he and C. (piano) played a few jazz numbers, till R. did not play to C.’s satisfaction and the performance was over.

Then we exchanged presents. The R.’s seemed pleased with ours, for which I was grateful. They gave us a knapsack full—a videotape of a performance of Russian music, a Brahms requiem on c.d., a Dresdner stolen, and packages of Lübeck marzipan.

As we sat, R. brought out a wonderful champagne and we had a toast, then we toured the house. C. Showed me his collection of Steiff animals, which he said are “so sweet”—as was his accent when he said it. He encouraged me to buy one—a real German gift, he said.

We also toured C.’s train set in the basement—very elaborate, with recently constructed mountains and plans for a village, and R.’s wine cellar—also elaborate.

Then dinner. A mixed salad of red and yellow peppers, red cabbage, corn, lettuce, garlic, and dill, followed by potatoes au gratin, rice, lamb bourguignon. The meal was accompanied by a really good red Bordeaux. After chocolate mousse (prepared by R.), we had espresso and candies (wonderful kirsch batons from the Lindt people, and chocolate mints), and Willemsbirne. Then R. poured burgundy, and it was time to float/slide back to the train.

I enjoyed the evening and the warmth of both families tremendously, but I also felt very bad at points—head about to explode, nauseated, the whole gamut. After I got home, was in misery with stomach upset from the combination of social anxiety that so often plagues me at any gathering, and from having eaten and drunk too much.

Steve got us up today at 8 and we were off by 9 on the A1 to Köln and then south. I slept till almost noon. Weather awful. Rain all the way, except for one patch of clearing near Köln.

The region just north of Köln very industrial, then one begins to see little villages clustered around church steeples in pretty, flat farmland. After Köln, the Hohe Eifel—almost, but not quite, mountainous, houses all whitewashed.

We stopped in Arhütte and had a meal about 2 in the afternoon—not particularly impressive, but not bad either: Schweinebraten, boiled potatoes, mixed peas and carrots in a sauce, salad, and a Kölsch-type beer.

Then to Dreis. All these villages have a very old feel to them. They nestle up into hills and down into valleys, and have narrow winding streets dominated by church towers.

The people seemed different, though whether the difference from Hamburg is a city-country one, a Protestant-Catholic one, or a regional one, I’m not sure. Probably a mix of all, but they look different, broader faces, darker hair, and a more Low Countries and less Scandinavian look. They also talk in a more drawly, up-and-down way, less clipped and with more sh-sound to their words.

Steve has already discovered that Sprünckers, Schäfers, and Lambertys—his ancestral lines—are to be found here in Dreis, in Dockweiler, and Hohenfels.

We’ve rented a room in a little Gasthof-restaurant in Dreis, the Stube Vulcan. It’s not immaculate, but not really dirty, either, though I can’t say I like the smoke from the pub downstairs. There’s a hide tacked on the wall outside our room—some small animal—as there were stuffed squirrels, pheasants, foxes, and martens in the place we ate.

Since our rooms weren’t ready when we arrived, we drove to Daun and had tea and cake at a café there as night fell—or dark, rather. Daun seemed very pretty—a stone in its center says Daun, 1250 Jahre. People were walking even in the rain and driving wind. Shops beautiful—will see them tomorrow. And now to the b and b and, I hope, to bed.

No comments: