Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Cloppenburg, Lower Saxony, Germany 9.7.09: Green Lanes and Prayer Chapels

Not much to report the last two days that would be of interest to anyone reading a travelogue. The 7th, Jochen and Regina had invited family over—Iris E. and her sister from Boston, and Jochen’s brother Lothar and his wife.

From mid-afternoon, we sat outside in the garden drinking champagne and talking a polyglot mix of English, German, and Badish—the latter mostly incomprehensible to me. I realize as I listen that the tendency to clip the final consonant off words like Garten runs through the whole dialect, and the indefinite article becomes something that sounds like d’ to my ear, regardless of gender or case, so that die Strasse becomes d’ Straush.

And Baden-Baden is, amusingly, Bade-Bade. But a long evening of listening to people talk animatedly in a language I only partly understand is tiresome in the extreme, despite the little nuggets of linguistic recognition that might occasionally enliven it.

As rain approached, we moved inside, and carafes of red and white wine appeared, along with bowls of peanuts and corn chips followed by sausage, cheese, and smoked fish. Then began the real Badish gabfest, with story after story, flailing hands, leers and winks, uproarious laughter. People in this part of Germany don’t fit the stereotype of the reserved, cool German at all.

I understood little, except one funny story Jochen told about someone he knows, who went into a shop and wanted to speak “good” German so he wouldn’t be dismissed as a country oaf.

He wanted a Tüte, which people around Jöhlingen apparently call a' (literally: a sound like “uh” for ein/eine) Guk. But since Badish often substitutes g for c and he wanted to be hyper-correct, he corrected the word to Cuk and threw in the final –e for good measure. He asked for a’ Cuke.

Regina told a story about Fronleichnam, when the town gathers at the church square at the end of the procession and sings, “Grosser Gott, wir loben Dich.” At a previous Fronleichnam event, near her were two people from the village known to be simple.

People call the man by some Italian song he’s famous for belting out at any gathering whatsoever—Volare Cantare, or something like that. The woman has large breasts and smiles to beat the band, always.

As the hymn began, Volare grabbed his companion’s breasts with one hand, raised the other to wave, and then launched into his Italian song. And as Jochen said later, these stories are told affectionately. Characters are a part of village life, and when they leave, there’s a hole in the heart of the community.

And then yesterday, a long, tiring drive by the autobahn through Frankfurt and on to Dortmund and Osnabrück. Steve had made a 3 P.M. appointment with a Herr M., a local historian, at the hotel in Cloppenburg, and we were afraid we’d be late, which added to the stress of the trip.

We arrived about 15 minutes late and found Herr M. waiting outside the hotel in his car, and he then gave us a driving tour of the area in which Steve’s ancestors lived—Augustenfeld, Evenkamp, and Werwe.

Beautiful Saxon countryside with restful-looking brick houses and barns, the occasional fachwerk and thatched-roof structure, fields of corn, wheat, and asparagus, and pastures with cows and horses.

The country lanes are deeper and greener, less sunnier and open, than in Baden. And people are, of course, less sunny and open—on the surface, at least—more reserved and cautious about smiling or saying hello.

This is a rare Catholic area in a Protestant region, and the church in Löningen, which formerly served the entire area, is an interesting mix of south German baroque and north German restraint—a mix I liked, since the baroque motifs don’t run wild and become simply silly-looking, as they sometimes do, and there’s space left in the church for silence, emptiness, contemplation.

In front of the main altar at the end of the aisle is a huge bible of handmade paper with beautiful modern illustrations, hand-drawn by someone local, to illustrate each page. One page is turned each day. The presence of this large, open bible at the foot of the altar is yet another reminder that Catholics in this region co-exist with Protestants, and have learned from the tradition of their evangelical brothers and sisters.

Also, out in the country—perhaps at Evenkamp—Herr M. took us to a little brick prayer chapel. It was beautiful inside, with old oak beams, a brick floor, two simple handmade wooden stools, and a crucifix. A place to sit and pray as one goes about the business of the day . . . . It was apparently built by someone with one of Steve’s family names, Endemann.

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