Sunday, May 12, 2013

Chapter 20:: Shared Borders

Lawna had a particularly rough week at work this last week, so I wanted to do something special for her for Mother's Day. Sunday is our usual day of connecting with family back home with telephone calls. Also, most places in Germany are closed on Sunday, so Saturday seemed the best day to celebrate. I decided to take her to France for lunch! France is only an hour away from where we live, and we still hadn't ventured across the border. Paris would probably require at least a three day weekend, and I would rather take the train than drive there, so I got on Google maps and looked for a quiet, romantic town nearby. The result was Saverne, an ancient town in Alsace that still features many old half-timbered houses, a castle and several old churches. The downtown area, as is the case in many European towns and cities, is full of old buildings that have been restored as restaurants and shops in a mostly pedestrian environment.

Saverne, like so many villages in this region, dates back to Roman times, and is known for a museum that houses a sizable collection of Roman and Celtic artifacts. Unfortunately, we did not have the time for that. We parked near the town center and just walked around, enjoyed the shops and peeked into a few old churches. The Alsace region has historically been a contested area between the Germans and French, the subject of frequent wars, and contains a unique mix of both cultures. In Saverne, one hears almost as much German spoken as French. It is, however, a distinctively French community. The buildings look more French and the women dress more stylishly. The food is, of course, French, and the bakeries (patisseries) sell different fare than their German counterparts. We also visited a chocolaterie, and sampled and ultimately purchased some divine delectables. Saverne brews its own pilsner, Lecorne, which is named after a unicorn horn that was supposedly discovered in the area long ago. Historians suspect that the supposed horn may have been the remains of a prehistoric animal, but the legend is still popular and lives on in a light, flavorable brew.

Spring has been a combination of rain and radiant, sunny days. We have been so soaked by almost daily light showers that everything is a mossy green, an emerald delight. The rain clouds produce artful lighting over the lushly green-carpeted countryside, punctuated with swaths of brilliant wildflowers. The air is positively drenched with the smell of flowers and sap, and the frequent rains keep the air clean and cool. I have lived in Hawaii, and yet I don't recall ever having seen and smelled anything so incredible. I feel guilty when I am indoors. Some Americans (and Germans) I know complain about the frequent rains (and, indeed, sometimes the days are gray and dreary), but the payoff is beautiful. Last Saturday, Lawna and I biked to the nearby town of Landstuhl  and ended up in the midst of their Maifest. Apparently, most years the festivals are dampened by rain; however, on that Saturday the weather was sunny and absolutely crystalline. We stopped for some coffee and pastry at a local bakery, and then walked around the fair to watch the children ride the carousel and amusement rides. There was plenty of sausage and beer and even an amethyst booth. Flowers, especially varieties of tulips,  bloomed everywhere in the town, and I sensed a palpable relief from the cold winter that had wound down just weeks before.

I find the differences between life here and in the States to be mostly positive. I don't much like driving in Germany, but most other aspects of village life are pleasing. We don't have television here, just movie rentals.  I don't really miss it. Germans in the village go out for walks every evening (daylight lasts until about 9:30 in the spring), often with their dogs. I wish our dogs in San Antonio could have lived in this town where you can just let them loose in the fields to run around. People walk their dogs every day, rain, shine or even snow. The dogs don't care, and it's good for the owners. People are always out walking. The countryside draws us out. I look out the window and think to myself, why am I in here? Walking, biking, gardening--it's a natural instinct when the countryside is so inviting. It's a great way of life.

Germans around here eat a lot of meat, and tend not to be too fond of vegetables. Most of them smoke, so that many look older than their ages, and many may drink a lot of alcohol, but they also walk and bike and work outdoors in their gardens, and I suppose it sort of balances out. Some Germans are definitely overweight, but I have not seen the morbid obesity that is so prevalent in San Antonio. Beer bellies--sure! But I don't see enormous girths taxiing around on scooters at grocery stores. Apart from some fatty dietary issues and filterless Galoisie cigarettes, the German lifestyle is pretty healthy. Most of the food is natural--the EU has resisted GMO foods. Even frozen pizzas list ingredients that an ordinary person would recognize. Europeans eat food that the human body has evolved to digest successfully. The bread is incredible, and quite fibrous. Streets are often steep to walk up, and many old buildings have stairs but no elevator. Daily living requires a modicum of fitness. Also, German workers retire earlier than do Americans and enjoy shorter work hours and more vacation time. It's not a sin to relax and have quality time. They also have medical care provided. Sure, some Germans are a little chunky and smell like stale cigarette smoke, but there are plenty of advantages to the German (and, really, European) way of life. When we finally leave here, there is plenty that I will miss.

No comments:

Post a Comment