A Neighbourhood in Bloom
As I write, spring has burst out of its prolonged slumber, exploding through dead leaves and winter dreariness. Within ten days all that looked brown sprouted buds and flowers in short succession and my surroundings are hardly recognisable. A walk in my neighbourhood boasts purples and pinks, bright yellows and tender whites as one yard competes with the other to show off its belated beauty. The fragrance of spring is everywhere. Grass shot up already and the hum of lawnmowers can be heard echoing from street to street. Finally spring is truly here. To tease us, the warm days – up to 23C – plummeted to 14C over the week-end. Optimism however is now unabated as the birds, in their joyful chirping, twittering, trilling, whistling and singing all declare in chorus that winter is gone.
At the nearby Bio Farm, sheep and their young grazed away at the fresh pasture or rested in the sprawling meadow.
A Week-End in Northeastern Bavaria
A couple of weeks ago I was invited to stay with a former English student and her family at Tännesberg in the Oberpfalz region of Bavaria, close to the border of the Czech Republic. This was just as the weather was starting to change although it was about ten degrees cooler than in the Ulm region. Surrounded by warm and generous hospitality I felt treated like a princess, and spent a wonderful and informative week-end with my hosts Marianne, Werner and Simone. Werner possesses a wealth of knowledge on local customs, historical facts and events, and he patiently answered my many questions. There is still so much more I would like to find out!
The Free State of Bavaria, or Freistaat Bayern, is east of Baden Württenberg. Germany has 16 Federal States or Bundesländer, which were formed after 1945, with the exception of Bavaria, Saxony and the city-states of Bremen and Hamburg, which predate 1945. Bavaria is the largest and oldest German state going back to the 6th. Century. Bavaria covers an area of about 70 549 km2 (or approx. 27239 mi2).
As you can see I live fairly south-central where Ulm / Neu-Ulm straddle the two state borders. One is just on this side of Baden-Württenberg and the other is just on the other side into Bavaria.
Tännenberg, north-east of Regensburg, is a lovely area and there are many forests one can wander through. This is exactly what Simone, Werner, Marianne and I did after my arrival. We chose to take one of the hiking loops that snaked up and around. We passed a section where an artist carved animals out of tree stumps, giving the otherwise unsightly stumps a new purpose.
We took a break by a placid lake surrounded by meadows and copses and were treated to an idyllic scene.
There were a number of unique grave markers along our walk, telling the history of its deceased inhabitants and a commemorative marker depicting how a local farmer came to his tragic demise; he had been struck by lightning.
On our return we skirted the granite area; rich deposits of the rock and mineral (quartz) are found in these parts. We then climbed the hill where the historic castle used to be. Stone-hewn stations of the cross placed alongside the path that originates below at the village, serve as pilgrim markers to the summit. Up a flight of stairs is a giant crucifix with a gold overlaid Christ flanked by holy women. The high point, commands an impressive and untrammeled view of the village below and of the surrounding areas as far as the eye can see.
Over dinner and wine we compared differences between Bavaria and Baden-Württenberg. Bavaria has its own language, hard to understand for any outsider. Customs are similar. For Bavaria, the predominant faith is Roman Catholic, with Protestants localised in the northeastern parts of the state whereas Baden-Württenberg has a mix of both Catholics and Protestants with a higher number of Catholics.
Women have more traditional roles in this state and men are inclined to be more chauvinistic. Even the tax system tends to put women at a disadvantage if they are working outside the home. Bavaria offers good and stable earning opportunities, and in general wages are lower but then so is cost of living. Regensburg, one of the nearby larger cities (see map) has approximately 3% unemployment. For a more in-depth look at unemployment and poverty stay tuned…
Interestingly, dyed in the wool Bavarians will identify with the state rather than saying that they are German. Bavarians are characterized by their strong personality; they are very reserved and reliable. You’ll know where you stand as in conversation they are very honest and direct and don’t waste words. If something is worth saying, it is said, if not, no need to say anything. An important love declaration is: Du bist mich nicht zu wieder that is to say: “you’re okay”, which to us wouldn’t sound very complementary at all but instead here it is deemed the highest compliment. Consider that when I had my first guests over to dinner and was complimented on my meal with : “Passt schon”, to my ears it sounded mediocre and insulting but in the Baden-Württenberg and Bavaria region it means: excellent… thumbs up! Goes to show that it’s very helpful to know and understand local expressions and traditions.
The local Stammtisch or pub where regulars hang out, is also called Männerwirtshaus a tavern frequented predominantly by men. The pubs have been on a steady decline though; of the 36 pubs that existed in Tännesberg only 7 remain, a sign of the changing trends not so much in alcohol consumption as one of drinking at-home-with-the-family or at the home of friends.
Some culinary differences and specialties are the Semmelknödel and the Nuremberg Rostbratwurst
and among the sweet offerings, the Kirchweihnudel that looks very much like a flattened doughnut!
Pictures taken from http://www.bavaria.by/typical-bavarian-dishes
Because of my keen interest in the life of pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer, my hosts offered to take me to Flossenbürg on the last day of my stay. Flossenbürg was a concentration camp that chiefly held political prisoners, at least initially. The visit was sobering and the grounds a testimony to the other side of history that may not be as well-known. You’ll be able to read more in a dedicated blog later on.
On the drive back, I came across several villages where statues were still adorned with Eastern garlands, each village having its own particular display, as evident in this example.
Of course, there are many more areas and cultural aspects to Bavaria and maybe there will be opportunities to expand during future travels.
For now, and until next month, embrace spring with all its joyful gifts of new life and promises!