Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Öhe 25.12.93: Weihnachtsmann and Klepper Hymns

At W. and K.’s cottage on the Baltic Sea. We drove here in the early afternoon. It’s about 2 hours north of Hamburg, east of Flensburg, at Öhe.

It’s lovely, a two-story yellow-brick house on an old farm. The houses are along a lane leading to the farmhouse, an imposing red-brick building of two or three stories, with wings almost like an English manor house. Past the farmhouse is the sea, which we saw only after night fell, as snow and rain whipped off the water.

Yesterday, we drove to W. and K.’s about 2:30 P.M. They had fixed Knödeln and Rotkohl and turkey, and we had a bit to eat, then drove to K.’s sister’s house, A. Her husband U. is an engineer with Electrolux, which in Germany is a manufacturer of industrial kitchens.

The house is very glitzy—white marble floors, a high-tech kitchen all polished marble and steel with an oven one cannot yet buy commercially, one that cooks faster than a microwave, cool white linen walls everywhere, with banks of windows and French doors, sparkling bathrooms with the best polished-steel fixtures, a huge wine cellar and play rooms for U. and his four-year old son P. (a workout room with elaborate sauna, a tool room, a room in which U. and P. have constructed a miniature steam engine!). As we passed the laundry room, U. said it was “his wife’s” washing room.

At first I was a bit uncomfortable. Tried to pet the family’s cocker spaniel Dinah, and K.’s father told me not to do so. Her father a small man with a set mouth and lines in his cheeks to accompany it, and blue eyes that seemed to stare and stare all night long. Her mother is a very pleasant stocky blond woman who laughs easily and gruffly, as K. does. Both were dentists, as is K. and as her sister A. is.

W.’s parents arrived a little later, she thin and gray-haired with a sympathetic, somewhat nervous face, her hair cut in an engaging boyish shingle, he taciturn and frail-seeming, with a face like something a puppet-carver would make—close-set (and deep-set) blue eyes, a long, thin nose. Then came W.’s sister H. late, as she had been the night of the children’s music performance. She told me at dinner the reason for her lateness was that she had felt sick at her stomach, had taken medicine, then lay down to rest and overslept.

K. told us in the car today that H. is unsettled; married in 1970 and divorced in ’71, then has been unable to get subsequent relationships to work and regrets that she will not have children of her own. W. and K. have left instructions that if they die, H. is to raise T. and A.

I like H. She clattered on in my ear at supper last night, talking re: fat farms she goes to, her compulsive eating, her increasing dissatisfaction with Weight Watchers (it now allows chocolate and ice cream: one taste leads to another). The older people looked as if they wanted her to shut up: Frau throws herself at American man, WWII revisited. The younger ones seemed to pity her and think she was shaming herself.

Shame’s a big force in the German psyche. One’s expected to get it right, and if one doesn’t, there’s not a lot of leeway granted.

But I liked H., as I’ve said, and found her public fragility endearing. I sensed that she’s lonely and unhappy. K. told us she fights constantly with the man with whom she lives. He was decidedly not there last night, and at one point U. said something to the effect that he wondered what her Freund would make of all her attention to me.

Heiligabend: after champagne toasts were drunk very formally, tea and coffee and kuchen and tortes were served. Then we retired to the living room, the candles on the Weihnachtsbaum were lit, and Weihnachtsmann knocked at the door. It was W. in a Santa suit (with face mask). P., the adorable little boy of U. and A., does not know that W. is Weihnachtsmann. W. does a really good job; speaks in a gruff voice as he interrogates everyone re: whether they’ve been good or bad. We all stood in a semi-circle in the foyer for W.’s appearance.

Then exchange of gifts. Everyone sits and opens presents that the giver brings around. K.’s mother gave us a homemade Eierlikör, H. a bottle of wine each, W. and K. a cup and saucer each, and A. and T. a box of marzipan each.

W. and K. gave her mother a wooden toilet seat, which she wants because the painted ones are so cold. W.’s father suggested she put it over her head to display it. Someone suggested she get a heated seat, and she said, Ach, nay! She didn’t want to cook herself, just to be warmer.

After presents, a meal of herring salad made by K.’s mother, containing chopped salami, boiled eggs, apple, pickle, onion, and yoghurt, in addition to the herring. Also a herring salad from W.’s mother, with sour cream, bay leaves, and juniper berries. And smoked salmon (an Irish pink salmon) with horseradish in cream. With this, bread, cheeses, and tea, coffee, and wine. Afterwards, a really good French red wine from U.’s cellar to drink with the last bits of cheese.

Then at 10:15 to Katharinenkirche in the Innenstadt, for the 11 P.M. Gottesdienst. We met the R.’s there, sat with them, including R.’s mother. The church was destroyed during the war, and rebuilt afterwards. I didn’t see a lot of it, as we simply walked down the aisle and sat; but it wasn’t really pretty inside. Too stark—white walls, no stained glass windows.

A good, though small, choir, and a sermon by Peter Cornehl of the University of Hamburg. The sermon preceded and followed by readings from Isaiah and Luke, with carols sung by both the choir and the Gemeinde.

The sermon, to the extent that I followed it, hit on the theme of darkness, the darkness that the light of Christ appears to illuminate. Peter Cornehl spoke of the darkness of poverty and political repression, referring specifically to the Nazi period in Germany and present resurgence of Nazism, the situation in Russia, sickness (he mentioned D. Sölle in particular). All this was interwoven with the story of Jochen Klepper, whose hymn Die Nacht ist vorgedrungen we sang. He was a poet whose wife was Jewish, a resister of the Nazis, whose hymns are now sung in churches.

After the sermon, a bidding prayer, in which the pastor of the church (in a big ruff) went to the high altar and prayed for the Somalians, Bosnians, South Africans, Latin Americans, homeless, etc. As we left the church, a collection was taken up for Bread for the World.

Then home, bed, and up at 10:30 to drive to W. and K.’s, where we had breakfast, packed, and came here. Along the autobahn north, not much to see, but on the country roads over, pretty rolling wet pastures with hawks hovering over them, and crows (Krainen in German, I learned) on fenceposts and telephone wires, prosperous villages of red-brick houses and vacation houses, with little farms right within the villages, green pastures, cows, chickens.

A particularly pretty village called Kappeln just as one approaches the coast, with an inlet of the Baltic called Schlei. (Is this related to our English word “slough”? When I was growing up, the waters that backed up from rivers near us were always called sloughs.) the village has a harbor with fishing boats, houses perched on a hill overlooking the Schlei, a clean Scandinavian look. In some ways, it reminded me of those little Scottish fishing villages one sees on the east coast of Cape Breton, rugged, but not made coarse by ruggedness.

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