The first or second Christmas after Marco moved in, when he got back to London he told me that someone from his hometown had died, and the whole village had come out to be in the funeral procession. My urban-American-sized mind imagined a hearse with a massive trail of people behind it, and so I asked, disbelievingly, "There were thousands of people in the funeral?" Marco looked at me a bit funny, then said "There are only about 50 people who live there", and that's when I realised "village" meant something much different to him than me.
In the years since, I have heard a great deal about Schwerbach and its goings-on, and, once she found out that I don't have family living in London, received a standing invitation from Marco's mom to spend Christmas with the Kleins in the Hunsrück. This year, I finally took her up on the offer (which had kindly been extended to Sushil as well).
However, the first stop was in the megacity of the region (Koblenz, pop. 110,643) to see where Jan grew up, just 45 minutes away. (To me, it's "just". To Marco growing up, it was a world away; the family only went to Koblenz once every other year or so. There's a joke over here: Americans think 100 years is old, Europeans think 100 miles is far.)
Koblenz is located where the Rhine and Moselle Rivers meet, forming the Deutsches Eck, so the region has a strategically important history, as the many castles and forts overlooking the rivers attest to. This is also the region where a beautiful maiden sat atop a rock and sang enchanting songs to lure wanton sailors to their doom, as my fellow pupils of Frau Ranz will remember. Koblenz is a very agreeable town (sorry, city), Jan was a witty and knowledgeable guide, and the visit culminated with a wonderful home-cooked, South Asian-inspired dinner at Jan's mom's riverside home.
One of the many picturesque squares of Koblenz.
Sushil, Jan and Marco at the Rhine, Fortress Ehrenbreitstein behind.
Monument made up of three sections of the Berlin Wall.
Yeah, but is it art, sweetie?
Next it was off to the Hunsrück proper, a rural region of small towns, villages, farms and a nascent wind-power industry in the middle-West of Germany. Marco's sister, Simone, hosted the family and us for Christmas Eve cake-snack-dinner-snack-dessert-snack, which we quickly learned was to be the pace for the holidays. Unlike in most of America and the UK, Christmas Eve is the big event, not Christmas itself. The Christ Child brings gifts to the children on Christmas Eve; Santa is just St. Nicholas, and comes earlier in the month.
The next three days we were ferried between various relatives, who all graciously hosted, overfed and overwined us. As it was Christmas, and I am benevolent, I even agreed to a country walk across the region's newest attraction, the Geierlay rope bridge, with which Sushil used up his one-per-marriage walking-across-something-high-and-precarious coupon.
Simone's first (of many) spreads.
Sushil and I showing our German pride with Simone's son, Max, while waiting in the utility room while the Christ Child set out gifts.
The "Rocket Cow", painted on the side of the barn to protest against the American nuclear military presence in the area (now gone).
Smiles before the Geierlay rope bridge...
...but not so much during.
Sushil was especially fond of sampling each family's potato salad recipe.
Marco's hometown, Schwerbach ("Heavy Brook"). There are now 14 numbered buildings in the village, a right construction boom, up from 12 just two years ago.
Marco in front of the family home.
The heavy brook!
Sushil getting a gutter ball in Kegeln, German nine-pin bowling, a more varied form of the game.
What struck me about the Hunsrück was how much it looked like Germany is "supposed" to look. When I took German in high school, every picture of Monika and her friends could have been taken in the towns of the area. Indeed, when we passed a man with a moustache and mullet, even the people fit those of Deutsch Aktuell 1989. My heart will always be with Berlin when it comes to Germany, but it was great to see a more classical region of Europe's hegemon. But best of all was seeing where my friends grew up and getting to understand a little bit better what makes them the people they are. Hopefully I can return the favour in Mojave one day.
Town square of Kirchberg, the Hunsrück's oldest town. (Vielleicht wo Monika geht jeden Tag, von Montag bis Freitag, in die Schule!)
The orange building is the "Asia Wok House", showing that even this isolated corner of Germany is opening up to the world. Marco's uncle and aunt admirably volunteer one day each week helping out with the refugees who have been relocated to the region.
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