Friday, September 12, 2008

Marburg 4.5.05: Krieg Frauen and Self-Advertising Church Patrons

If I were going to battle, I’d want an army of women with me who are all cashiers in German supermarkets. More shrewd, intelligent, fearless, no-nonsense people are hard to find.

Two days ago, we saw one do battle with a man over 75 cents. He was bound and determined to pay only 1.15 for a bottle of chilled water. She insisted the price was 1.90 for chilled, 1.15 for off-the-shelf, and so charged him.

He persisted. She stood her ground, or, rather, seemed to occupy her little cashier’s stool with even more determined force, her little cobby body hunkering down on it with a terrier’s refusal to give an inch. “Johnny (or some such name—all this was in German, of course), walk over and check the price on water,” she called out contemptuously, as she continued to ring up customers, clacking those plastic grocery dividers as if they were weapons of war. Snap! Crackle! Kein Problem, she’d say in a voice dripping with irony. She positively bristled, every hair on her head, conveying utter contempt for a man who’d dare to try to pull a fast one on her, and all for 75 cents.

And she won. He walked away.

The second encounter also involved a few pennies—a lost coin, to be exact. A man ahead of us managed to drop it and it rolled under a display case in front of the checkout counter.

He was most annoyed, grumbling and contorting himself ineffectually as he tried to retrieve it. The checkout lady was, sad to say, stonily unmoved by this scene of human misery. She perched on her little stool, looking wry and wise, telling the man not to worry, it was near closing time, and she’d find the money and spend it. In other words, she was gasoline to his smoldering, surly, penurious German male fire.

And she won. He did not find his lost coin. He left the store still grumbling.

She, for her part, sat there looking every bit the queen of the absurd—badly dyed blonde hair, soul-seeing dark blue eyes made even darker by unfashionable who-gives-a-shit heavy blue eyeshadow.

I quite liked her. She had plumbed the depths of humankind, especially male humankind, and had come up empty-handed. She knew, and didn’t mind telling anyone, what a vainglorious, peacock-silly lot we are, strutting and fretting our hour on the stage, all sound and fury.

Other profound observations on the German character: I’ve recounted an exchange with (better: lecture from) the man who got us told for parking too near the crossing stripes in Kronberg. Yesterday, as we drove through suburban Kronberg, Steve was over the speed limit a bit and a little schoolboy, all of seven, with a schoolbag on his back, looking on with an alarmed face, the weight of the world on his shoulders, gives him the arms-extended, palms-down slow-down gesture.

Can you imagine encounters like this in Ireland? Imagine the Irish taking it on themselves to instruct you in the rules for not parking near a crosswalk. (And remember: the man thought I was German, a local; he addressed me in dialect.) Imagine an Irish schoolboy being traffic cop to the world. So early are national characters formed.

And the oddity of German culture, with its spongelike ability to absorb other influences and still remain resolutely Teutonic: as we left the breakfast room, the hotel phone rang and the waiter ran to answer it: Ich gruβe dich. The phone played “Deep in the Heart of Texas” as it rang.

More Teutonica: as we enter the hotel at Marburg, I pull the door open to get my luggage through. It’s a door that swings both ways. A young woman entering pushes it . . . and instructs me that it’s better that way. Silly me, to have thought that pulling a door open might work . . . .

We just visited Elizabeth’s church. A grave young man, very ogre-like, comes in, genuflects conspicuously, crosses himself, and then does one of those macho nose-pulling things. It is a Lutheran church?

I later see he has a shirt with Benedict XVI in big letters on back. On front is, Machet Ratz! As we leave (he’s made the rounds, praying at every shrine possible), he comes out while we’re standing outside the church and eyes us distastefully. The brave new world won’t include the likes of us, even in churches over which Catholics no longer have jurisdiction.

Some interesting—and amusing—artifacts in the church, including what looks like a 15th-century carved stone Madonna (no: I’m entirely wrong; it’s 1860 and is Elizabeth). She’s holding her cloak full of roses. It’s called Rosenwunder.

How early is that trope, I wonder, the Lady (whichever one) with roses in her cloak? Certainly as early as Guadalupe, but probably much earlier, I’d guess. Roses from the mystic East, symbols of exotic treasure/pleasure . . . . It’s amazing how they captured the European imagination and became symbolic of so much.

Also amusing: a medieval panel (maybe part of a triptych?) showing the donors, obviously good burghers, kneeling in midair beside a crucified Jesus much smaller than themselves. A nifty little advertisement for themselves in perpetuity and disguised as piety.

In similar vein, the gravestone of Conrad (Elizabeth’s husband?) shows him huge and Jesus, crucified in the corner, very small. Between them the inscription, Ecce homo . . . which appears to apply much more to Conrad than to Jesus. Can the engraver truly have been unaware of the double entendre and irony?

Comment re: Ratzinger in German magazine Bunte, by Katja Woywood, actress: Die katholische Kirche erlebt eine Renaissance, die durch die charismatische, warmherzige Figur des ehemaligen Papstes sicher erklärbar ist. Ich glaube kaum, dass ‘Papa Ratzi’ diese fast schon bedingungslose Begeisterung forsetzen kann. In Alltag wird man sich vielleicht auch wieder daran erinnern, was in Name der Papste, besonders für uns Frauen, untersagt und reglierementiert wurde und wird.

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