"With the certitude of a true believer, Vellya Paapen had assured the twins that there was no such thing in the world as a black cat. He said that there were only black, cat-shaped holes in the universe."
-- Arundhati Roy, The God of Small Things

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

On Bavaria Time

Munich-- from the top of "Old Peter"

My husband is half-German.  He was born here, but his grandmother (“Oma”) and extended family of uncles, aunts, and cousins still live in Bavaria, in a little village called Neufarn just east of Munich.  Mark (who becomes “Mark-Philip” when he is in Germany) has visited them several times in his life, and he has a deep affection for both the people and the culture over there.  Three years ago, before we were married, he took me on my first trip to Deutschland to meet his family, and I instantly understood why he sometimes daydreams about living there.

Last week, we went back with Mark’s sister and her two kids.  This time our trip was short—too short—only 7 days.  But we made the most of it, sightseeing and eating amazing food and, most importantly, spending time with family.  And this time, I was a Jüttner too.

Here are some of my thoughts (via my journal) from when I was on Bavaria time.

View of Neufarn, just before a thunderstorm
July 28, 2012 –
I am so tired.  I have been up… I don’t even know how long.  All I know is that it is 10PM by Germany’s clock and I want to write a little before I finally sleep. 

We are in Neufarn and despite my brain-disabling sleep deprivation, I already love it here again.  The pace, the feel, is just different.

The house is just as I remember it.  Three stories high (plus a huge basement) it is white stone with a red roof, built so solid it looks like it could withstand anything.  Although they do not use this term here, the structure is like a duplex.  On the larger side, Oma lives in half of the bottom floor while her son Hans Christian and his wife and three daughters live on the other half of the first floor and the two floors above.  On the other side, Oma’s sister and her husband reside on the first floor, while their son Wolfgang and his family live upstairs.  (Last time I visited, I got the impression that this is just the way things are done in Germany, but this time Wolfgang set me straight.  He said their living arrangement is not typical and friends of his think it strange that he lives above his mother.  Still, I think the family compound idea is very charming.)

The family's house
Upon arriving at 9AM, I was greeted by blue skies with big white puffy clouds, a lush green garden full of flowers and tomatoes and four different kinds of fruit trees (every few minutes a large ripe apple falls to the ground with a thud), a strong embrace from Mark’s 86-year-old Oma, and a table covered with food.

Breakfast is always the same:  a large basket of rolls and breads and pretzels from the local bakery, a plate of sliced cold meats, a plate of sliced cheeses, a plate of sliced cucumbers or tomatoes from the garden, offerings of butter, honey, Nutella, or marmalade, and coffee.  And this morning was no different. 

We ate on the patio.  I munched on a roll and tried to convince my brain that it was not the middle of the night, while Mark’s relatives spoke in near perfect English about their six weeks of vacation a year and the standard three-year paid apprenticeship their oldest daughter will soon begin.  Meanwhile, two 7-year-old boys ran around the yard and bounced on the trampoline, both naked as the day they were born and not concerned about it at all.  When they began dragging a very heavy and somewhat precarious looking ping pong table out to the driveway, no one told them to stop or be careful or put on clothes first.

This moment, in a snapshot, is what Germany means to me.  Lush landscapes, great food, few rules, and a relaxed attitude about life.  Oh yeah and delicious beer.  (But not for breakfast.)

Breakfast is meat, bread, and cheese.  Instead of lunch, they have "coffee"
which is coffee or tea and cake in the mid afternoon.  Dinner every night was schnitzel
or rouladen or sausage.  And yet no one there is fat.  How can this be???

July 31, 2012 – around 8:30PM
Images from the past three days:   Woods of tall trees that swallow the light whole, absorbing it into their moss and branches like wrapping a loved one in a warm blanket.  Horse poop on the path.  Pet bunnies tossed nonchalantly into outdoor pens, scooped up lovingly again when the rain comes.  The passing and sharing of so much food—so many dishes on the table, a saucer for every cup, a plate for every slice of cake or piece of bread.  No eating off paper towels (as we sometimes do at home), no plastic cups or drinking straight from the bottle of Coke.  Everything is glass or ceramic.  Everything gets washed, not thrown away.  Twelve family members, three generations, under one large roof, and this week we make it seventeen.  Squeezing, shuffling, scooting, adding chairs and mismatched plates, but eventually we are all around the table and it is not a crowd.  It is family.  It feels right.

Right now I sit at the table on the patio (almost all of our meals have been eaten outside).  Mark’s sister and her kids are having a late dinner after visiting Neuschwanstein today and we are keeping them company as the light fades.  Gray clouds tinged with pink are drifting by the blue sky and almost full moon, and I am being serenaded by the squeak of the trampoline and a language I don’t understand, but that is starting to sound so familiar.  (Note:  Our 11-year-old nephew Travis has the ability to eat a giant schnitzel, wash it down with an entire Mezzo Mix and then immediately bounce around on a trampoline without incident.  Ah, to be young.)  There are no cicadas here.  No mosquitoes right now and few sounds of traffic or machinery.  At the moment I smell nothing but clean air, though sometimes the scent of “landluft” (Mark’s word for cow manure—it literally means “country air”) sometimes drifts over to play.  Somewhere the cats, Minosh and Snoopy, prowl for mice, but the rabbits are already put up in the shed for the night.  The temperature drops.  A baby squalls somewhere.  A lone car goes by.  At the moment I can’t think of any of the things that would be on my to-do list if I were at home.  

August 1, 2012 – 7:38PM
Germany has the best playgrounds.
And they are not littered up with rules
and warning signs and safety reminders.
Nothing is.  I love it.
Hans Christian asked me today to translate the phrase “somebody that I used to know”.  There is a lot of American music on the radio here and that song by Gotye is his favorite right now.  He looked up the lyrics, but still was having trouble understanding the term “used to”.  We explained it to him and he got it. 

Later though, Mark realized how truly confusing that phrase can be.  It can have at least three different meanings.  I used to play soccer, but I don’t anymore.  This gun was used to commit the murder.  It gets really hot in Austin, but I am used to it.

It’s like the word up.  Such a simple little word and yet it can be used so many ways.  Climb up, get up, give up, look it up, used up… the list goes on and on.  I can’t even imagine what the dictionary definition for up is.  I bet it’s long.

August 2, 2012 – 10:05PM
I dreamed in German last night.  That happened to me during my trip to Peru.  I was using my Spanish so much and hearing it all around me so constantly that I started to dream in the native language.  But here… I don’t actually know German, no more than a few words anyway.  And everyone speaks English so well that I haven’t had to learn.  So, my dream was most likely full of gibberish.  I guess I dreamed in fake German last night.

Today we visited the Salt Mine near the Austrian border.  (We actually drove into Austria just a bit so that I could say I had been there.)  The mine tour was great.  They give you these jumpsuits to put over your clothes to protect them from the salt.  Then you sit on this “train” meaning you straddle a wooden bench and hold on to the person in front of you and fly through a tiny tunnel into the mountain.  Once inside, the cavern opens up and you dismount and begin the tour.

The tunnel our train went through.
Again, no fence to keep me off this track.
No bright red signs keeping them from
getting sued if I get hit by a mine train.

At that point, we walked the rest of the way, except for two slides and one boat ride.  The slides were awesome.  Three to five people lined up together, again straddling a very smooth wooden beam.  We grabbed on to the person in front of us, leaned back, lifted our feet, and WHOOSHED down a two-story-high slide to get to the lower level of the mine.  (I was grateful for my thick jeans and jumpsuit.  Even so my rear felt quite warm afterwards!)  At the very bottom, we took a barge across a “salt lake”, and were allowed to taste the water afterward.  (Very salty.)

The English-speaking guests were given radios that translated the information being shared.  However, after every segment, our tour guide would then tell a joke, which wasn’t recorded on the radio.  Oh well.  I learned to laugh along with the Germans anyway.

No pictures were allowed inside, but of course I bought the ones they took of us.  How could you not?

This is our last night in Germany.  I have sixteen hours of traveling ahead of me tomorrow and then 100° temperatures, pet chores, and to-do lists ready to greet me when I return.  But I plan on taking some Bavaria home with me, and I don’t just mean all the Milka bars stashed in my suitcase.  I intend to hang on to this relaxed attitude and sense of camaraderie for as long as I can.

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