Monday, November 24, 2008

Federweissen and Good Folks

So when I first jumped on board for this whole Fulbright-year-in-Germany thing there were a couple choices to make. Should I regret never studying German? Yes. Should I bring my guitar? Yes (but it usually sits untouched behind me). How many books should I bring? A bunch, there's a lot of time on trains. Should I stay with a host family for the first three weeks after Marburg? In hind sight, Yes.

Originally they said there would be limited spots. I was worried that as a paleontologist who didn't really need to perfect my German, that I would take the opportunity from someone who really needed it. Turns out there were plenty of spots available. Oh well, I just need to find other ways to improve my language skills and explore German culture, namely be leaching off the contacts my friends have made. The first family I got to spend much time with was Schoenherr household in Wiesbaden.

A couple weekends ago, I went to Weisbaden to join the Ohio State Design kids who are studying in Germany for the Federwiessen Festival. This is the same group of students who let me tag along for Oktoberfest. Let me reiterate that they are wonderful people who seem to tolerate my fossil ramblings and let me in on the latest thoughts on industrial design. Click here for some images of the festival and the town (they're at the end, after the stuff about the previous two posts).

The town itself is lovely. Untouched by the war - rumor has it the American Generals wanted to preserve the golf courses - the churches and administrative buildings reveal the ninetieth century was a time of economic boom in the capital of Hessen. The town is also home to the US military base you always hear about when injured soldiers are lifted out of war zones in the Middle East and Africa. This means there is a large American population and football games are readily available at some bars. It was a Saturday, so the group of loyal Ohio State fans swung by "Yours" an "American Bar and Cafe" near the largest church in town and the world's largest Coocoo clock (we waited for it to go off and, to be perfectly honest, I was a bit disappointed. Two people came out on a track and went back in while the chimes half-heartedly went off. It wasn't even that large, just the size of the front window of the tourist kitsch shop that set it up. I'm tempted to go home and build my own world's-largest-coocoo-clock).

"Yours" was decorated with nostalgic memorabilia that apparently just begs to be nailed to the wall. Trombones, pictures of Marilyn Monroe and football helmets were suspended above us à la Ruby Tuesdays or Applebees. What was not to be seen was the Ohio State football game. It figures the one opportunity I'm in a bar with all the football channels beamed from the US, the Buckeyes have a by-week.

We also wandered through the snazzy new mall and the opera house where they'll be performing Tristan und Isolde next March. For dinner, we met Juliane, the lone German guide we had at Oktoberfest. She's a waitress at a trendy Japanese Restaurant in Wiesbaden. When she got off, we hopped on a train and headed to the Federweien Festival.

Federweissen is young wine. It only has 4% alcohol, still has grape skins and is incredibly sweet. In other words, it's delicious and way too easy to drink quickly and copiously. The festival itself was a quaint block party compared to your average church festival, let alone Oktoberfest. Each vineyard had its own booth, so you could experience all the varieties in their immature form and benches for everyone to gather around. It was one of the first wintry evenings of the year so we also sampled gluehwein, hot wine with spices for a cold evening. This German mulled wine is apparently available at all the Christmas Markets. I'll keep you posted. That night, it really hit the spot.

After we had our fill of "Feather Wine" we headed back down the Rhine to Juliane's house where her family graciously opened their doors and couches to all of us. The next morning we had a traditional German breakfast with plenty of bread, cold cuts, spreads and eggs for everyone. The highlight of the morning was chatting with Juliane's dad, Helmet, who has traveled the world. He is also a schnapps connaisseur. I be honest, I didn't know they existed, and he quickly filled me in on the correct tasting etiquette and what to look for in your really strong alcohols. One of the tricks is to hold the liquor in your mouth, let the burn of the alcohol dissipate and enjoy the flavor. Now you know. Lindsay, Chris and I then went on a brief flight through some of his selection, including one that had been handmade thirty years ago. It really was delicious.

We also saw the new house Juliane will be moving into that is overlooked by the Hexenturm or Witch's Tower in a small town that reminded me of a flatter Marburg. She even has a creek and woods in the backyard. It's her first home and she already has everything I've wanted in a residence since I was four. We swung by the house one more time and I got to thank the family for so graciously opening their home to us. They were excited that I used a little German and invited me back to practice once all the Ohio State people have gone back to the other side of the Atlantic. I have to say I wouldn't mind a bit, though there's another family that I also need to talk about that I visited the next weekend...


Carolyn said...

This is only loosely related, but I started reading Vis & Ramin, which (scholars suspect) inspired Tristan & Isolde. I've never read/seen the latter, so I'm probably one of few Americans to do things in the proper order. If you have your copy of Vis & Ramin, it may help to prepare you for the German performance of Tristan & Isolde.

Matt said...

No dice. That was a hefty book, and it didn't fit in my suitcases. I could always read Romeo and Juliet to do things in reverse order, right?