A Childhood in Germany

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Right
now, some Americans are criticizing Germany because of its refusal
to support the US wars on Afghanistan and Iraq. Germany should support
the US, critics say, because of America’s involvement in World War
II. It seems most American know little more about Germany than Hitler.

There
is more to a culture thousands of years old than those 13 years.

Although
I now live in the US, and have for decades, I was born in Germany
and grew up there as a child. My entire family still lives there
and I visit at least once a year.

I
often think there is quite an advantage to growing up in two different
cultures. One becomes more tolerant toward diversity and learns
to appreciate the different flavors, tastes, and smells.

My
parents were seven years old when the war ended. Neither of my grandparents
was in the war, thank goodness. One worked for the railroad and
the other was a baker and farmer in a small village.

When
my father went through a career change, he moved his family of five
kids to my mother's home to live on my grandparents' farm. For over
two years we lived a lifestyle that most people have never known.
We later moved into our new house in another town.

The
fondest memory I have is being awakened in the morning by the hammering
of the local blacksmith, a profession long dead these days. The
blacksmith took care of all the hoofed animals, since tractors were
still a rarity in the 60's. Most farmers still used horses and oxen
for plowing and carrying their harvest home.

The
sounds of hooves were heard throughout the day on the only street
through the village. It may be an odd sound to wake up to, but combine
that with all the other farm life noises such as the crowing of
a rooster, church bell striking every half hour, and the sound of
the birds, and you have my alarm clock.

Life
was very simple. Everything revolved around the four seasons and
so did our religious holidays. Palm Sunday or the Feast of Corpus
Christi, and the Harvest Blessings were major holy days. Each house
placed flags out their window showing their colors of red and white
for Franconia (the state I was from). Yellow and white were religious
holidays. Windows were decorated with table clothes, candles, and
pictures. Small birch trees were placed on the side of the road
and decorated and fresh grass was to be the carpet of nature for
the entire congregation to walk on.

My
grandmother and I would go pick flowers in the meadows the day before
a certain holiday, because I was going to be one of the flower girls.
The procession was led by the speaker, young girls, women and children,
flower girls, the priest, the band, with the men making up the rear.

Songs
were sung and prayers were said. I loved those processions in the
summer. Everyone wore their Sunday best and it was quite a colorful
event. Men often wore their traditional clothes, with flags waving
all around them.

My
grandfather was the local baker, providing fresh rolls, breads,
and croissants for the people and surrounding areas. His father
was a baker and his grandfather too. The house was built circa 1740
— as it says in stone over the entrance to his little shop. His
place was also a café and a tavern. A tavern, because he
also made and sold his own wine. His vineyard was located at the
southern side of a hill outside town.

The
local farmers would stop in for a glass of wine or their favorite
beer each night after their work was done. I knew them all by name.
My grandmother's kitchen was quite large with a wood-burning stove
and a huge table and bench. Rather than sit in the guest room, people
would pile in around my grandmother's kitchen table. I never thought
anything of it; this all seemed normal to me.

Tradition
had it that men would visit the tavern after church. They usually
piled in around 10 o'clock after church on Sunday morning. My grandmother
would be cooking Sunday's dinner while the men discussed politics
and the harvest. It was a smoky affair, with cigars and pipes. And
somebody always had snuff.

My
grandfather participated in some of the heated debates and my grandmother
was never afraid to add her own comments to the mostly male conversation.
As a kid I used to quietly listen to all that was said. Come high
noon everyone went home to their Sunday dinner. This tradition exists
to this day.

The
grape harvest was another big event. Each year my grandfather hired
helpers from the village to cut the grapes off the vines. It was
an all-day event that started on an early September morning. The
grapes are dumped into huge wooden barrels which will have to be
squeezed and pressed. Of course we kids loved tasting the sweet
grape juice until our bellies ached. My grandmother would always
cook a huge meal for lunch. It was great fun to go into the vineyard.
One had a wonderful view to the small valley and hills.

The
new wine was stored in four wooden barrels. After about a month
my grandfather would serve the new wine to his customers with his
famous onion bread. That would have been in late October and November.
For about two weeks all wine owners have the same tradition. The
wine is called "Federweisser" and it doesn't taste like
wine yet — but its effect is quite powerful already.

The
next special event would be the christening of our church. It's
kind of like a birthday celebration of the church building and we
had it in early November. Each town has this. People from all surrounding
villages would pay a visit to the local guesthouse and mingle with
their neighbors and eat the customary meals of goose, duck, and
hare. We even had deer and wild boar on the menu at times.

The
women would bake huge cheese and apple cakes for this event. Since
their wood-burning stoves were too small, people would bring flat
cake sheets to my grandfather to be baked in his big oven. Gosh,
I will never forget the smell. There were cakes and cakes everywhere.
The mood was busy but festive. It was a major hustle and bustle
and there was even a dance with a real band.

There
are four people in every village that have authority and the respect
of the people. That is the mayor, the priest, the local teacher,
and the hunter or warden. When I started school, we had four grades
in one room with one teacher. All this changed after I started second
grade. But the fact that I was at a school house with only two classrooms
was amazing.

Downstairs
was the u2018Kindergarten' run by an old maid who never married, but
had been provided a room to live. She lived there for over 35 years.
I remember her reading out of this huge black Bible every day when
I was in Kindergarten. This Kindergarten was founded by the elders
of the town. My grandfather was one of them. They donated enough
money to open a school and a Kindergarten.

We
also had a hunter live with us. His name was Nicolaus. I always
thought he was Santa Claus, because of St. Nick. He was in charge
of the forest and the wild life. Hunting is not a sport as it is
in other cultures. Our forests are too small for that and pretty
soon the wild life would have been gone. The tradition of the hunter
is that of a warden; he made sure that everything stayed in balance.
Each year the hares would get out of control and he'd host the annual
hare hunt. People would ask to get a hare before he and other hunters
would set out in the morning.

Usually
about 20 hunters gathered in their green outfits and hats with their
dogs to round up the long-eared critters. They literally brought
them back tied up on a pole. And as always there was a big celebration
afterwards with venison too and wine.

Now
my uncle has become the warden of the village and he keeps up with
the tradition of the past. After the hunt was over, the green-dressed
men with their hats would stand on my grandfather's front porch
and blow their horns. They not only had to learn how to be a Jaeger
but also a musician.

The
winter months were very quiet and people did a lot of indoor work.
Since most families used wood-burning stoves, there were a lot of
chimneys smoking. My grandmother told me that they used to spin
wool in the winter. Now it has become a decorating item. But she
would knit socks.

Christmas
was different, too. A real live tree is not put up until Christmas
Eve. Santa Claus comes on December 6 and the Christ Child comes
on Christmas Eve. Most of the time we had snow, which was perfect
for us kids. We had enough hills to have perfect rides on our sleigh.
Sometimes the creek was frozen too, and we were able to slide on
ice for a while.

The
spring and summer months were still the best. We watched little
TV, so we played in the attic or in the gardens. We often ventured
out to the old ruin on top of a huge hill. There used to be a fortress
of the local land owner many centuries ago. The tenants had to pay
their taxes to the landlord with part of their crop. The food was
stored in a cellar that is on my grandfather's property. I believe
it says 1600-something over the entrance. My grandfather stored
his potatoes and beets in this cellar.

It
was often a creepy feeling to enter a ruin or a cellar for that
matter. The locals would have stories of underground tunnels and
old knights roaming the countryside. Of course now the ruins are
all covered up with trees and shrubs. Some of the rocks were used
to build new houses in the village. Nothing got wasted.

As
kids we had to use our imagination to keep us busy. I don't think
we lacked material.

My
brother and I slept upstairs right next to the grain storage room,
where there are – of course – MICE! We discovered a mouse
hole in the wall; so we set up an observation station under our
bed covers trying to lure the mice out with bread crumbs. I don’t
remember ever seeing them, but we did spend an entire day up there
staking out our plan.

There
are many more memories and experiences I've had as a young girl
growing up. There was no plumbing or running water in our home.
As kids we didn't consider this to be a problem. A big deal today,
of course. I spent many summer months back with my grandparents
after we moved. I loved going out in the fields to get a load of
hay or sunflowers. Driving through narrow passes and roads almost
made my heart stop, because I thought we surely would tip over in
his tractor. It never happened.

The
countryside is still breathtaking. The entire family had to go out
into the fields when it was time to get the potatoes out of the
ground. Sacks after sacks were filled. We also had wheat and oats.
There was a local miller about two kilometers outside town who ground
the wheat into flour.

Those
are good memories. I'm sure life wasn't always easy and I recall
these things as seen through the eyes of a seven-year-old. But it
stayed with me. Every time I smell fresh-cut grass, or the soil
I think back to those days growing up with my grandparents. Things
have changed since then and modernization has made it even to the
most remote places.

As
you can see, there is a lot more to Germany than what the media
portray.

October
11, 2003

Sabine
Barnhart [send her mail]
moved to the US in 1980 and lives in Fort Worth, TX with
her three children. For the past 15 years she has been working for
an international service company.


        
        

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