Thursday, August 6, 2009

Wössingen, Baden, Germany 6.7.09: Holy Nooks and Champagne in the Garden

Two less hectic days since we left Freiburg. Yesterday we drove first to Wagensteig, where we’d been told there was a Heimatsmuseum for the Buchenbach and Falkensteig area.

Got there a bit before it opened, so we waited as one and then two more families arrived, and finally the tour guide. He asked if we all wanted the tour in Allemannish or German, and told him German was our preference. And then the tour . . . .

The house, Falkenhof, built in 1620, was one of the earliest in the area, a typical Black Forest farmhouse of the period. We first looked at the barn, built into the house in typical Schwarzwald fashion to provide heat for the bedrooms above the barn—likely those of nephews living and working on the place when it was constructed. A spring built into the barn gave water to the cows and cooled the family’s milk and butter.

Inside to the stube, the family’s primary gathering place, and the only room in the house with windows. A large kachelofen provided heat and baked the family’s food, through a back door connecting to the kitchen. A long table with benches served the needs of the multigenerational families in such houses, which could be as large as sixty, when one added the farmer’s own many children, nieces and nephews, brothers and sisters, and parents together.

We toured the kitchen, cellar, workshop as well, getting a feel for the life of families in such Schwarzwald farmhouses from 1600 to the 20th century. A life that was constant struggle to stay warm in a climate that was cold and a place that was snow-bound much of the year, and to feed many mouths on thin, hilly land.

The houses must have been horribly depressing much of the year, with their tight, low-ceilinged, dark rooms. To show us how dark the rooms would have been even in daylight, the guide turned off the lights in the small windowless bedroom attached to the stube, and in the kitchen, and in both rooms, we were plunged into absolute darkness.

When he showed us the HerrGottwinkel in the stube, with its crucifix, hanging herbs, and holy pictures, he told us such a shrine had a great significance to people who lived such hard, marginal lives prior to modern times.

And then on to Karlsruhe for a meal with Steve’s K. family, and one of the most harrowing rides of my whole life. The long museum tour had made us late, and Jochen tried to make up time by driving as fast as possible in occasional open spaces on the autobahn.

I now realize that a kind of logic governs the behavior of German autobahn drivers. When open spaces of a certain length occur in the left lane, one guns it—to the maximum. Then one slams on the brakes as one approaches slower cars and either tries to nudge them out of the fast lane, or gets into the slower land until the left opens again, and the whole business takes place all over again.

It was absolutely harrowing, and since I was in the front passenger seat and couldn’t avoid watching, I decided simply to lower the seat, take off my glasses, and pretend to nap—as I prayed furiously (and silently, of course).

The meal in Karlsruhe was very pleasant. We sat in the garden of an Italian restaurant and drank apfelschorles and ate antipasto plates of olives, marinated mushrooms, melon and prosciutto, sliced tomatoes and mozzarella, sliced roasted peppers, and eggplant and zucchini sliced and fried in olive oil.

Then meals of whatever we wanted—pizza, salad, spaghetti. I had fettucine with pfefferlinge mushrooms, and found it not very well-prepared.

The host, who paid for all of the meals, was Friedrich K., the oldest living K. in the world. He and Steve sat together talking over family history. A very nice old gentleman who lost his wife a year or so ago and now lives near a son who provides assistance for him.

Three sons were there with their wives—Martin, Matthias, and Ulrich—along with children of Martin and Matthias. All exceptionally nice people.

Then back to Wössingen, where we found Friedoline the cat waiting at the door for us, meowing loudly and clearly delighted to have his people back, who keep a chair at the table for him, to give him bits of meat, camembert, and smoked salmon.

Today, a visit with Tante Rita, who lives in the old K. house in Jöhlingen, and who insisted on giving us sekt at 11 A.M., and then with Helga in her garden, who pulled a branch of redcurrants for us and cut a fragrant Augusta Luise rose for Steve to take, a rose her husband had loved.

And then more sekt at a table in Helga’s garden, in the cooler, breezier, but still sunny weather today . . . .

Rita speaks a very Badish German, and I understand only bits and pieces of what she says. I do begin to hear distinct words, though—mei Garda = mein Garten, and Noi, noi! = Nein, nein! Like many Badish speakers, she’s a voluble and dramatic talker who acts out what she’s saying with winks, nudges, gesticulations, waving hands.

I find I hear and understand more and more—almost everything when people don’t lapse into rapid dialect. Even so, there are moments when I hear something that I know is absolutely wrong, as in Freiburg at the weinfest, when I could have sworn I heard Regina’s brother-in-law saying Pfirsich Marmelade, and it was clear to me he was not talking about peach jam.

I keep thinking of an elderly woman we met in Kirchzarten. Steve, Regina, and I had walked to the bakery while Jochen waited on the other side of the street. As he waited, a woman got off the bus and began to talk to him, and continued talking as we rejoined him. She was 88, and was on her way to walk several miles back to her house in another village. She was so vital, with big, bright dark eyes, set back in deep lids, hair still dark and pinned back in a kind of Betty Davis style, and a becoming tasteful flowered frock. A beautiful woman: meeting her brightened my day.

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