Sunday, April 20, 2014

Three Weeks

And now, it’s been three weeks.

I struggle to think of what to write, what to tell you about as the newness, the novelty of being in Germany has kind of worn off.   Don’t get me wrong, I’m still charmed by the language and customs, but – ah!  I know what to go on about….

Our second stop was in the Neureut/Wörth/Karlsruhe area.  The hotel was less a happy hotel like the one in Dillingen and more of a resigned one.  By that I mean, it didn’t really seem to have much personality, not much I could pick up on, anyway. 

The main person we interacted with was the new girl working the front desk, a young lady by the name of Diana who just moved to Germany from Hungary.  She’d been there a week before we arrived.

Our work had us speaking with all number of locals and our area of interest spanned two square kilometers – quite a large area considering our work.  However, we narrowed it down to a farm field, a meadow and an area of forest which I call Knoblauchwald, or the garlic forest, so named because there’s a plant there that grows with big green leaves (makes me think of lilies for some reason) and a white bloom and it smells of garlic.  Our work began at the height of its blooming and the smell of garlic was heavy in the air.

Again, it’s not garlic, but has a similar scent and taste.  We were told by Ernst that folks pay money for access to areas where the plant grows wild to harvest it and use it for cooking in the restaurant industry.  Of course, our work had us cutting out wide swaths of it and digging in the soil beneath so each day we’d retire entirely safe from vampires because A) they’re repulsed by garlic and B) they don’t exist, of course.

The area of our hotel was quite nice, I thought.  There were several restaurants and pubs and shops around within a couple clicks and the neighborhoods were charming.  A majestic church steeple and clocktower rise majestically above it all in a location central to the main area and it was there I attended church last Sunday.

It was a Protestant church and a Presbyterian one at that, I reckon, judging by the symbols on the cloth over the table up front and the fact that it featured an infant baptism.  Being of the old architecture, I would presume it used to be a Catholic church (of course, isn’t the Church herself to be catholic?). 

And with the old architecture came an old congregation; well, elderly anyway.  Based on the literature on the information board outside I thought it would be a little more contemporary, but the pastor was an elderly gentleman and the majority of the congregation was composed of seasoned citizens.  There was a group of younger folks, closer to my age, but I think they were there for the baby’s baptism as they seemed as clueless as I was, perhaps a bit less so since they at least speak Deutsch, as to how the service was supposed to progress.

Along the main sanctuary are pillars with open passageways down either side of the area.  On the pillars were these rows of numbers which I initially took for church stats, like maybe attendance, the amount of money given in the offering, stuff like that.  Turns out it was the hymn numbers to be sung during the service.  Well, at least the top three and bottom two were; somewhere along the line either the wrong numbers were put up or somebody improvised because they did not correspond with what was actually being sung.

Still, it was interesting…and a little sad.

But perhaps I shouldn’t be sad for something I couldn’t fully understand.

What made me sad was that the congregation didn’t even take up half of the sanctuary. 

The spirit of the service was dry, methodical, procedural.

The atmosphere was cold and not visitor-friendly.  Not one person greeted me or made an attempt to speak to me though I tried a couple of times.

It all seemed very rote, very routine, and I came away from it rather disappointed and melancholy. 

However, perhaps it was the cultural and lingual divide.  Perhaps if I was more confident in my Deutsch-speaking skills I could have reached out a little more effectively.

As I was leaving, one of the little old ladies was trying to get down the three steps right outside of the main entrance with her walker.  A handful of people stood around and watched; no one moved.  I asked if I could help; “Konnen ich hilfen Sie?”  I think she understood my gestures more than my verbal butchery.  She smiled and allowed me to move her walker down to the ground, retook her grasp and bid me farewell: “Tschuß!” 

Where I hoped to feel that universal, transcendent bond with other believers I felt only stolen glances and cold shoulders.

Ah, well.

There is a very charming town nearby to where we were working called Jockgrim – that’s “yock-grim.”  Driving up from the highway you pass through a gate in the ancient town wall and through the narrow streets to the town center where it’s considerably more open.  You can tell there’s been a bit of that old town restoration and revitalization going on.  The mayor’s office, for example, is in a building that used to be a tile factory.  Now, inside, it has modern, artful architecture blended masterfully with the older brickwork.  The area reminded me a great deal of Cary, the town in which I grew up.

Across the street is an Eiscafe – and this is what I mean by being charmed by the customs of this country.  They take ice cream and coffee and baked goods seriously.  In a place you’d expect to see teenagers working, instead you typically find men approaching middle age scooping ice cream and gelato into cones or bowls. 

The bakeries we’ve frequented seem to be family businesses, especially this one in the town we’ve been working out of this past week.  Tomorrow we leave the Sindelfingen/Böblingen area and head to our next destination.

Actually, the bakery I’m referring to is in a smaller, nearby town called Weil Der Stadt.  It was the Renz bakery with the Renaissance Café attached, run by the same family.  We went there for breakfast and lunch a couple of times, but mostly went to another bakery/café with morning seating more often (as the Renaissance Café didn’t open until brunch). 

We were able to complete our work by Friday so we’ve been fortunate to have Saturday and today, Easter Sunday, free.  I went back to Weil Der Stadt on my own and enjoyed a tasty bowl of tomato soup at the Renz and a pastry at the other location – I want to say it was the Reiter Café, but I may be mistaken.

We’ve been staying in Sindelfingen, about a 15 minute drive to the area we’d been working in and it’s more of a city.  While there are interesting aspects to it, it’s not my cuppa tea and the hotel, while nice enough, isn’t the homey kind of place like we stayed at in Dillingen our first week.

However, Panzer-Kaserne, an Army base, is nearby, so it has been nice being able to go on post for use of the gym and access to the PX and Laundromat.

Our latest site was in another small area of forest, but this time on a hill and with none of the garlic-like plant but plenty of underbrush we were given permission to clear.  On the second day I was put on machete detail and had a good old time bushwhacking through the trees.  I thought it a bit odd, or at least an interesting comparison to my very first mission which was in southern Laos and I remember thinking, “How did I go from working customer service and teaching high school English to bushwhacking on the side of a mountain in SE Asia?”  And there I was doing it again, but now in Western Europe.

So we’re three weeks in with about four more to go.

Lately I’ve been finding myself less inclined to engage in liberal amounts of extra photography.  I’m not exactly sure why that is.  I still take “happy snaps” and scenic photographs, but it being a Western country it’s not quite as foreign as a place like SE Asia is.  We’re also not working as closely with local folks as we would in that region of the world. 

I think part of it is I just want to be able to experience everything and not always try to capture it.  In most cases I’m finding that the most meaningful thing I can take along with me is a memory, experiencing and engaging in what’s going on rather than shooting it with my camera. 

It will be interesting to see how the next month goes.  I rather suspect it will feel as though it speeds up and will just fly by. 

I know in my last post I mentioned my intent to write more frequently, but that hasn’t happened.  Unsure of how indeed the next few weeks go I’m not going to voice any intent except to say I will write at least once more. 

I suppose it has to do with the team dynamics.  While there’s no real conflict there is a closeness, a unity of thought and sensibility I find to be lacking when reflecting upon my previous excursions.  And that just happens sometimes, I suppose.  Not every group of folks is going to gel and that’s alright.  That’s life.

Nevertheless, I look for opportunities to expand my worldview and enjoy and take in as much of the experiences as I can.  I am grateful for the opportunity to travel and participate in this mission.

Until next time….

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