Yesterday was Corpus Christi (Fronleichnam in German) in Freiburg, and the experience made the entire ticket here worthwhile. We had heard about lots of small town processions on this day that feature the local traditional costumes of the Black Forest, but it was pretty hard to get information on when and where those processions might be, and transit runs on a Sunday schedule today, so we went for the simple route of attending mass at the central Muenster in Freiburg.
We arrived a little late, and barely got in the door. The place was packed and the mass, (Mozart’s Missa Brevis), was in full swing. The aisles were lined with flags and people in various costumes. Only as the procession got underway did we see that most of the costumed folk were members of local trade guilds: butchers, bakers, miners, each carrying a flag as well as a grand medieval-looking altar. (We saw these same altars later at the local museum of medieval art – they were the real thing.Some of the same symbols, such as pretzels for the bakers, are also featured in the cathedral’s stained glass windows, since the guilds helped finance the building of the cathedral in the first place). There were also a number of university fraternities represented, decked out in colorful uniforms and ceremonial swords. Needless to say, Katie, who was tired of standing, perked up once she could see the costumes.
The entire procession moved out of the cathedral, and that’s where it got really interesting. They had rigged up a sound system from the worship space throughout the entire Altstadt (old city), so that as we walked through the town you could follow every prayer, every reading, and sing along on about eight hymns. And, I have to say, it appeared that there were very few merely curious onlookers – there was a lot of good singing going on around us. The city was otherwise shut down – the streetcars stopped along the route, all the stores closed. A number of shopkeepers and homeowners had set up small altars and icons along the route bedecked with flowers.
The service concluded back on the square outside the cathedral with the singing of Mozart’s Ave Verum Corpus and more prayers in a variety of languages. In all: three hours. Makes our Easter Vigil look like a short prayer service.
Corpus Christi is one of those Roman Catholic feasts which is not celebrated among Protestants and viewed as somewhat suspect even among some Catholic theologians because of its medieval origins. The original intent was the adoration of the host itself, with an emphasis on the value of seeing the transubstantiated body and processing it around. Obviously, it’s a kind of piety not much featured in Lutheran circles. But the tradition seems to have survived precisely because of the kind of thing I witnessed today: an opportunity for a community to come together and move the body of Christ – the people – outside the church walls and into the streets people daily traverse. What I experienced was a recognition of the Monday-Saturday vocations of believers and a visible way of praying for the places we live and work.
Of course, it got me thinking about how such a witness could possibly work anyplace else. How would the “guilds” of our U.S. churches– the educators, social workers, lawyers, doctors and business owners – represent their daily work in procession? Will reminded me of a Garrison Keillor line, something about Protestants attempting to do public processions looking like a large party of people walking to lunch.
But seriously, how could the community move into the city and the work of the people – literally the body of Christ – be recognized as Christ’s presence outside the church walls? Of course we do so every day, in all kinds of ways spoken and unspoken, recognized and not. But there is value in making these things visible, if only once a year.
So much about Germany makes a lot of sense. Don't get me wrong: we love it. But there are a few things that are just plain mysteries to me.
First: Local hot water heaters: it’s often said that in heaven, the Germans will be the engineers. That certainly is true when you behold the rail system, but it makes less sense in the household. Every bathroom has its own little local heater, and usually you spend the entire time under the water trying to find that happy medium between scalding and freezing. In our case, when two adults shower in succession, the second is sure to be cold by the time it’s over.
Second: “Fuzzy” water. Germans love carbonation, which has become something of an issue for our children. Even when we find them “stilles Wasser,” they inspect it carefully for bubbles before they will take a sip. The festival we visited last Sunday literally had no non-carbonated drinks on the menu except for wine, so we had to beg for tap water. They looked at us quite strangely, but humored us.
I know there is good historical reason for this: the saying goes “in wine there is wisdom, in beer there is strength, in water, there are bacteria.” Nevertheless, it’s amazing that in this land of very high environmental awareness, no one has pointed out that all that bottled water is both unnecessary and a bit wasteful. (Yes, they do recycle – a lot more than at home – but picking up large crates of Getra”nke is probably the single most common use of an automobile around here).
That being said, in general Europeans are less rabid about hydration than Americans are. You won’t see them walking around sucking on water bottles all the time as if a couple hours separated from water would be the death of them. Drinks are something you sit down for and enjoy, slowly. It may also explain why public restrooms are less plentiful.
Finally: Spargel. Don’t get me wrong. I like asparagus as much as the next person, but it really is an obsession here. There are entire restaurant menus – expensive ones – devoted to asparagus dishes. Like fish, the stores will only tell you they are selling it “market price” for the day. Downstairs the pricing system alone was enough to keep me from buying any for a week here. First, it’s sorted by color: white, violet and, rarely, green. Then by diameter, the thick stuff being more prized. Add to that the weight conversion and the Euro conversion, and my head begins to spin. It's good, but not, to my mind, 9 dollars-a-pound good.
When we decided to spend the bulk of our time in Freiburg on this sabbatical, a lot of folks – particularly our Ko”lnische relations – asked, “Why there?” Other than its proximity to France and Switzerland, I couldn’t give a lot of reasons. Mostly I had two strong pleasant memories of summer afternoons in Freiburg: one from my student days when I visited from Tu”bingen, and one on our honeymoon. I hadn’t spent tons of time here, so in some ways I think we just got lucky. But here are good reasons to love Baden (the southern half of the state of Baden-Wu”rtemberg, not Baden-Baden, the city).
It is cyclists’ heaven. There are plenty of sport cyclists around decked out in neon colors, but there are also plenty of people just out doing their shopping, taking their kids to kindergarten, or going to work on sturdy touring bikes. And lots of Omas wearing sensible shoes and semi-formal clothing just out doing their errands.
Clean energy everywhere! Since this is the sunniest corner of Germany, they are taking advantage and using solar power wherever possible. There are also wind turbines on the mountains and, of course, lots of hydropower. Hotels advertise that they are carbon neutral and the streetcars boast on their walls that they are "prima fuer das Klima"
Flammkuchen. I think this dish is the primary source of my positive memory 20 years ago: a local specialty cooks good cheese, ham and, yes, sour cream on a thin pizza-like crust. It's one of those dishes that reminds you how close to France you are.
The Schwaben will never admit it, but I think the Spaetzle is actually better here.
German beer AND wine. As our hosts here say, the area “breathes French air,” and the wines are good. One of the local Freiburg beers does nothing for me, but there are other Schwarzwald beers that are quite drinkable.
What’s true in the U.S is also true here: in general, the South is more hospitable. They also have more tourist traps, but we generally know how to avoid those.
The Ba”chle (see yesterday’s post), and, in addition, fountains everywhere. Because digging deep wells in the city was impractical, Freiburg early on developed a large system of fountains to deliver drinking water all over the city, and the Ba"chle were engineered to deliver water for washing and other uses. We have three little public fountains within just a couple minutes walk from our place here in a very small village. Running water to mess with outside = happy kids.
Considering that we are traveling with two small children, we've done pretty well keeping track of all our belongings, but, of course, a few things have gone missing:
Johannes’ blankie: this, fortunately, has been recovered, though not yet returned to us in Germany. Of course, the one irreplaceable item was lost in the cab on the way to the airport!
One copy of Anna Karenina, left in the Reykjavik Youth Hostel: if you can’t read the Russian novels on sabbatical, when can you? Turns out, so far, I can’t now either.
Expensive Icelandic groceries mistakenly left in the fridge of our first night’s lodging. Everything in Iceland, it seems, costs at least $12 US.
One huge pretzel, dropped in the Baechle in Freiburg: The kids, of course, can’t resist playing in the streams that run throughout Freiburg’s city center. Since the 1300’s these fast-flowing small water ways have provided natural air conditioning to the city that is known for being Germany’s sunniest corner. Legend has it if you fall in them, you’re destined to marry a Freiburger or Frieburgerin. We’ve warned Katie and she is being quite careful. For Johann, naturally, it’s already too late.
One little boat, washed down the drain in the Baechle. Our first day out we saw some children floating little wooden boats in one of the slower moving Baechle. Seemed like a great idea, so we went in search of boats of our own. What we didn’t know – and what probably explains why every child in townisn’t putting boats in – is that in many places the Ba”chle suddenly go down a drain.
Blessed Pentecost from Germany, where it is an honest-to-God holiday, both yesterday and today (Pfinstmontag).
That is not to say that a lot of people are going to church. We are in a heavliy Roman Catholic region, where there are crucifixes and tiny chapels all over the rural landscape, not to mention gorgeous churches in every little Dorf. Nevertheless, the town where we are staying is now reduced to being part of a 3-point parish, so there was no mass said there yesterday.
Instead, we headed into the city center (20 minutes by bus and streetcar-- even on a Sunday schedule!), and heard High Mass at the cathedral. It was Mozart's Mass in C Major with the Archbishop presiding, so it was standing room only. That was just about the only thing happening downtown that day -- a stark contrast to the day before, when the streets were absolutely packed for a market-day-preceding-two-holidays.
The Germans also celebrated Mother's Day yesterday (though their Father's Day coincides with Ascension, and thus was already over). You'd think that would mean the option of a nice lunch at a cafe in the afternoon, but not so. Most places, if open at all, were only serving drinks. At this point we were a good hour from home and starving. We did manage to find a "Do"ner Kebab" place open all day (basically what we call gyros). To paraphrase Luther, "better an open Turk than a closed Christian."
Although the early part of the day was exceedingly quiet, we did notice that by 6 p.m. a lot of the Gaststa"tte were indeed open and full of customers. No Mother's Day brunch in Germany, but plenty of options by dinnertime.
Tonight marks the end of three weeks of sabbatical. It's longer than I've ever taken for plain old vacation, and yet I still feel like I'm just beginning this experience of time away from the daily grind. We haven't been travelling long yet, and the preparations for the travels meant a lot of to-do lists back at home, so in that sense we haven't settled in to a new rhythm yet as a family. Also, Will hasn't finished his work yet -- but he's getting there.
Things did not get off to an auspicious start, because I left the one irreplaceable item in the cab on the way to the airport: our son's beloved blankie. So far he's been mostly too distracted to grieve it for long, but bedtimes would be a lot easier with it, that's for sure. It's taken me several days to forgive myself for the mistake.
In fact, there have been plenty of reminders that this whole experience, as unique and wondrous as it is, is not meant to be an exercise in perfection. There has been illness (our nanny's and, to a lesser extent, mine), lost items, a couple temper tantrums, sibling spats, a cut finger and an all-too-close encounter with stinging nettles. Family life and all its dynamics continue as usual, only in closer quarters and unfamiliar places.
I'm not getting much writing done yet (lack of blogging has not translated into lots of other writing, for all the above reasons), but life itself is taking center stage -- eating, sleeping, family and exploring the world. That's plenty for now.