Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The Eifel, Kreis Daun 23.12.93: Counting Cousins (Not!) and Village Marketing

In the car, on the A1, about ½ hour south of Köln, driving back from Dreis to Hamburg. It’s about 10:45 A.M., and the first really clear, sunny day we’ve had—though the sky still has clouds. Flat, pretty farmland with rich, red-brown earth and church steeples in every direction. Actually looks like a lot of southern Minnesota. Catholic Germans imported the village-clustered-around-a-church pattern virtually intact.

Impressions: the store in Dreis, the one and only store, as far as I could see. We go into it after our walk round Dreis in the snow and rain in which we sketched and snapped pictures. It’s on the 421 highway, one long rectangular building with a rather dirty window occupying much of the roadside wall. In it that forlorn and dusty collection of odds and ends one finds in the store window of any village anywhere, lined up a bit with kitschy Christmas objects.

The shop owner, an officious woman of about 50 with short black hair and appraising gray eyes, pelts out a deep-throated, rather minatory Guten Morgen!, though it’s afternoon. Steve goes up to the cheese-and-meat counter at the back of the shop, behind which she stands chatting to a village woman, and asks for postcards. She comes out and shows him the rack of cards, disdainfully. He selects various views of Dreis, then goes to pay.

As he does so, the village woman walks out with her basket. I step aside in the narrow aisle and say Entschuldigung. She doesn’t look at or acknowledge me, as I’m stone and she cold water running past. In general, the women coming in and out (as several do while we’re in the shop) have the same cold, challenging air of the shop owner—as if they want to communicate that we outsiders needn’t feel superior to them, or attempt to impress them with our money, fine clothes, sophistication. Any disclosure of who we are must begin with us.

When Steve pays, he tells the shopwoman he’s a Dreiser by descent. She thaws, if only imperceptibly—enough to ask bold questions, such as where his family lived in the village, with whom we’re staying in Dreis, where we’re going, whether our friends in Hamburg are male or female. All in German, of course.

Another round, short woman with warmer brown eyes and a very heavy, almost freakish auburn mustache fringing a mouth full of bad teeth, comes up behind Steve and listens. She talks animatedly in that splashy, wet way people around here speak German. I understand only some of what she ways. Steve mentions the Sprünckers and Lambertys, and they say these are not Dreis families. They’re from Dockweiler and Hohelfels, villages only 1 and 2 kilometers away, which the Dreisers treat as if they’re other countries. This is an attitude we meet several times when we discuss Steve’s ancestral families: there’s a very precise sense of where each family is to be situated, and it corresponds to Steve’s records. The Lambertys were from Hohenfels.

Conversely, a family (e.g., the Schäfers) in any given village has a clearly delineated sense of who its kin are, a not very extended sense. In all the villages, families such as the Schäfers, Sprünckers, and Lambertys claim that there are separate, unrelated families of the same name in the village—which is hardly likely to be the case. In such small villages, it’s certainly highly unlikely that everyone of the same family name would not ultimately stem from the same common ancestor—especially when these names are not particularly common.

Discussion over, we turn to leave the store. A cross-eyed woman comes in as we go out. She appears to stare balefully, though this may be because her eyes can’t do anything else.

No comments: