Tuesday, June 2, 2009

North Germany looks...and sounds like Kansas

So you know how every social group has some kind of pack mom, a mom who just kind of takes in ragamufins? So is the case with Stefan's mom. Since she maintains such an open-door policy stefan invited me to their place for Pfingsten (whitsome...I have no idea). We took a car to a town close to his hometown using something called "mitfahr" or "ride with". It essentially is electronic carpooling with safety reviews, so you can get to random towns on the cheap. Yay! Our driver was actually pretty great, contrary to what I had feared, and the short drive was pretty nice too, though it was harder on the Germans there, who are not used to sitting still for over 2 hours...hah! We eventually reached the town of Oltenburg, the town to which Ellerbrock is a satellite, where Stefan's parents met us. They were a pretty jolly lot, tall and blond as the day is long, both of them.

The first thing you notice when you get out the car at Chez Stefan is the size of the house (bigger by far than average), second are the fields around it, and lastly you notice the...olfactory indicators of agriculture to put it delicately. "yeah...you get used to it" Stefan sighed as my nostrils flared. And you did, though I am going to admit that, having lived with a teenage boy, the smell of a few little cows down the road was not so awful.

That night we sat around at their place, drinking beers and singing along with...sing-a-long music when Alex, Stefan's sister, and Tim (names altered for kind-a-nymity), her husband, arrived. I had heard a lot about Alex, and apparently she had heard a lot about me and liked what she had heard, so she greeted me with a massive bear hug. And did I say she too is hearty and tall and blonde?

I'm good at being anonymous, right?!!

Yeah, I was totally freaked out at first, having grown too used to a cold handshake or air-kiss on the cheek, but she is just one of the sweetest creatures I ever met, just full of enthusiasm and smiles and a really energetic side, which shown through when, after a bit of booze she started dancing. The hopps got to me too and I "treated" the room to "A Parody of a Song This Evening" in true SAI style. Oops.

I was konked out solid when the next late morning the upstairs rang with a loud "Guten Morgen!!" "it's the Russians!" I yelled back. Wrong. It was a lady (maybe Alex, maybe Mama Stefan) summoning us to a massive German breakfast. You know when you hear about what a hearty German breakfast is? This was that. A little scary for a girl not too keen on the whole breakfast idea to start.

The big eating was not done for the day though. For the better part of the morning I wandered around the area, perhaps barefoot, sometimes joined by others, and soon we were summoned to the lunch, celebrating the 30th anniversary of Stef's parents.

It took place at essentially a community house. It was part bar, part community hall, part restaurant. I would say it serves the same function as maybe an elk lodge. It being a town of 300 max, the family was well known, and the woman there had made an amazing spread: two kinds of potatoes, salads, spargel, chicken with berry sauce, pork medallions, you name it. Frankly it too was large and intimidating, and it was all we could do to stagger out for a walk afterwards, which took us to the border of the Prussian Kingdom and the Duchy of Hannover, if I recall correctly. I might not though, too much gravy can interfere with short term memory.

We tried to siesta, mostly with success, and we needed that because the local professional football (not our kind of football, so calm down, Americans) team, Bremen, was playing for some kind of complicated tournament trophy. I can't successfully explain it, but they were essentially in a consolation bracket from the big tournament that happened before. Anyway, they were still hella-enthused though. For these folks, Bremen is the 1994 Dallas Cowboys, and it draws aggressive adoration. This was understandable to me, and I was excited to experience this new enthusiam with some of Stefan's hometown buddies.

It didn't take long to get to the watch-party, since it was just up an astoundingly straight and unlit country road. By the time we got there, the party was started, and folks were drinking. Now, when I say drinking I don't mean a couple of brewskis or something, but HARD alcohol. I won't go into how much I drank, but I will say that I drank until I could rally enthusiasm for the game. I will also say that I was really into the game until about 42 minutes into the game, at which point I thought "oh, so THIS is why Americans don't like soccer." It became like The Simpsons clip, in which you hear them announcing a soccer game as "half-back...passes to center...passes to halfback...half-back holds it...holds it...holds it." But I hung with it! It almost reminded me of my glory days on the mad Catholic YMCA team of the Red Hot Chili Peppers...or before that the Ladycats (one victory! what what!). Afterwards, Bremen having won against the loathsome Leverkusen, one of Stefan's friends, rather under the influence of alcohol and soccer, ran off upstairs and came down NOT with more alcohol, NOT with a Bremen jersety, not even with a boombox. He emerged with an ACCORDION. That's right. The one girl there from Nordrhein-Westphalia and I looked on in horror as he took requests. Then I asked him about some of his musical influences (Amelie? Dave Douglas' band? something jazzy?), and he ran off and came back with--no joke--a CCR songbook, which I was honored to hold as he played. I had a drunken accordion sing-a-long to "Proud Mary" and some other tunes...yeah...that totally happened. Again, though, I kept my cool, in true southern style...though it did make me miss my ranchero music (yeah, missed the mariachi stuff...that's right). We were just rocking out olde schoole. It actually reminded me of the time mom learned accordion on a busted instrument for the church Fat Tuesday celebration. Even though I was hanging in, we did make rather swift tracks back to the house.

The next morning we took our opportunity to head off to the North Sea, only an hour and a half by car. If you go at low tide, there are miles of just mud, called the Wattenmeer, and it is SO COOL. The mud is supposed to be healthy; the biodiversity is legendary, and the air is so cool and salty and wonderful; it reminded me of Cape Cod. There weren't way too many people on the beach, even though it was a Sunday holiday, and those who were there were relaxing, flying kites, windsurfing, just enjoying a Sunday outside. Stefan and I elected to explore the low tide:

this is a crab; I named him Julius

Then, when the tide came in and the weather turned colder, we drove back to Ellerbrock for a quiet rest of the evening. It was quiet for US, but Stef's brother's night was anything but. When we had woken up that morning, we couldn't find him, and I asked after his whereabouts. Turns out he was taking part in somewhat of a tradition there in which the young people of the village just start partying at some ung-dly early hour (8 I suspect but maybe earlier) as a way of...Pfinging? I don't know, but the next day was a holiday, so why not party the whole day through? We weren't awake when he left, and we weren't awake when he came back which indicates to me a party fortitude in the face of which I can only say:
Respect, sir!

Brother Stefan certainly didn't get that respect at the breakfast table the next day. I would go so far as to say he got quite a bit of razzing at the hands of his family. As everyone packed up and headed out I went out for a stroll to see this:

a procession of trailors attached to tractors going down the road for...some reason...It's a good image to leave you with, and it communicates to me the lessons of my time in Ellerbrock: everywhere has their own version Kansas!

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