Saturday, August 1, 2009

Kirchzarten, Baden, Germany: 3.7.09: Wine Fests and Black Forests

And then on the 2nd to Freiburg. Jochen drove us south through fields of corn, asparagus, pick-your-own blooms, wheat, flax, and then, in the area close to Freiburg, vines. We reached Kirchzarten about noon and checked into the Sonne, then sat in their restaurant garden and drank white wine schorles. Very hot here, both because it’s the hottest part of Germany and the weather is, according to Jochen and Regina, hotter than usual and schwül.

As we sat, a storm brewed up in the mountains around the Dreisamtal, and we hoped for a respite from the hot, muggy weather. But, as Jochen predicted, the rain passed the low-lying areas by and we were left sweltering.

Then we ordered a meal, and waited and waited, as the waitress apologized for the inexplicable delay. The meal finally arrived and was very welcome after the wait—mine, a salad plate with cucumber salad, carrot, radish, beet, potato salad, a green salad, and a boiled egg. Perfect for a hot summer day with the crisp, cool schorle.

After that, on to Buchenbach, slightly higher towards the hills of the Black Forest, where Steve found a wonderful history at the Rathaus. He spoke with someone there who told him of a Shoup house and hof still lived in by family members. This turned out to be a massive old farmhouse in traditional Black Forest style, with low overhanging eaves.

In front a large statue of a cow painted the colors of the German flag, with a slogan saying the milk sold there was a fair-trade product. At the door of the house, standing outside as if to greet us, a very nice young man who went inside and got his mother, a formidable large woman dressed vaguely in lumberjack style, who came out and talked with one foot propped on a stump outside the doorway. Over her head the date of the house and farm were carved: 1657.

She took our contact information and asked us to return this morning when her husband would be in. And then Jochen drove us up into the Black Forest.

Glorious. Cool dark hills with rocky outcrops, wreaths of mist, rain, occasional clearings with fields and lonely clusters of houses. It was like going back to the period when the Alemanni first arrived here. There’s something primitive, something prehistoric, about mountainous areas and their ancient settlements.

One outcrop beside which the road runs overlooks another on the opposite side of the roads, and is called Hirschsprung—the rocks from which deer jump from one side to the other. All cool, beautiful, still, except for the cars racing madly towards Basel and Titisee.

On our way down, stopped in Falkensteig, where Steve’s ancestor Andreas Wenzel, who married Magdalena Shoup in Buchenbach and went to Pennsylvania, grew up. We saw a sign for cherries and asparagus and stopped to buy fruit.

Bought a bottle of kirschwasser and then, when we picked out a basket of cherries, the lady at the stand gave them to us as a gift. As we stood eating the succulent, cool fruit (it was 15˚ in the mountains, and 25˚ in Freiburg), I happened to look in the book Steve had gotten in Buchenbach, and I saw that it gave the number of the house in which Leo Wenzel, father of Andreas, had lived in 1817.

We looked around, and it turned out we had parked the car right beside the house. It’s on the main road through the village into the mountains, Höllentalstrasse. It’s a large two-story old farmhouse built into the hillside, modernized at several points in its history.

The whole façade facing the street covered in kitsch—little gnomes, animals, flowerpots, in every nook and cranny available. A Wintergartenzimmer with a sign asking visitors to bring luck inside was rife with the wee creatures.

As Steve snapped pictures, up the hill from the train came two unusual looking women, mother and daughter. The mother was in black knee-length nylon tights, with black and white tennis shoes and a black waistcoat over a white t-shirt. Her hair was in a long plait wrapped in black, with multi-colored plastic butterfly clamps in it.

The daughter was similarly, if a bit less eye-poppingly, dressed. She was carrying a canvas bag with Viagra printed on the side. It was their house.

And they were very gracious, insisted we come inside, told us the house was built in 1745, and showed us all around. At one time the bottom floor apparently had a large old kitchen connecting to the barn, where geese and swine were once housed, and a living room with a large old tile stove (the original tiles mounted on display beside the stove).

Every surface, every square inch, covered in kitsch. The walls dancing with more kitsch on every spot available. A plastic mock elk’s head which R., the house owner, played for us. It sang American rock songs and bobbed its antlers. A little chef who peed and then ground his pelvis obscenely, with an erection lifting his apron, and another on the pot who grunted and produced horrendous toilet noises as Handel’s Alleluia chorus played.

The daughter, J., did not want her mother to display these—Nein, Mutti! Nein, bitte. Nein. But the mother ignored her, and we laughed and laughed at the little figures. And then she kindly gave Steve a clock and a vase as mementoes of the house.

An original (referring to the woman, that is), as Regina said, perhaps someone who owns a flea market in Freiburg, we thought. Definitely someone who dances to her own music.

And then back, the train to Freiburg, where we walked from the Hauptbahnhof to the cathedral, where a wine fest was taking place in the cathedral square: tents with wine from various vintners of the region, food, music.

We found a tent with wine from the area around Jöhlingen and had a glass of cool, crisp, dry Riesling as a band played oompahpah music and people at another table lifted their elbows and shoulders and swayed to it in mock enthusiasm. I had a salad with shrimp garnele, shrimp in a potato batter with threads of potato covering the whole, and then fried. Good on a very hot, close summer’s day.

As we walked back to the train station, Jochen pointed out embedded in the stone sidewalk something now being placed all over Germany, he said—Stolpfersteine, gold squares with names of Jews killed in the Holocaust engraved on them, and information about what happened to them. Jöhlingen has some of these now, he told us.

Oh, and in the kitchen of the Wenzel house, a shrine to Mary, with a dinosaur peeping over her shoulder, and at her feet gnomes, tiny apiaries with bees, a fat little chef in a chef’s hat, and innumerable other gewgaws. Very much like what we saw in New Riegel, Ohio, in fact, where Steve’s Wenzel ancestors and others from this area of Baden went after they arrived in Pennsylvania.

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