A short story that I wrote, it is based on my experience of going to Freiburg for the first time.
I didn’t use the real names in the story but I have reverted to them in this piece.
‘What if we go to the Black Forest for Christmas?’ her friend Betty had said, ‘I have Russian friends there, well Ukrainian, from Kiev’ Amazingly Jan, her new friend- recently divorced,- agreed. They had driven to Harwich, left the car in a parking lot and taken the overnight ferry to the Hook of Holland. Leaving the boat they boarded the train to Cologne, which had pulled up on the dockside’ it was 6.30am.
As they travelled through Holland, hundreds of early morning rituals were revealed in the uncurtained windows of the houses and flats that they were passing. It was still early when they arrived in Cologne. They had an hour before the Loreleii express left for Basle. The streets outside the station were spectacular in the snow, there were lavish hanging decorations and the Christmas Market was already getting into swing in the square close by.. The express followed the banks of the Rhine.
Finally they arrived in Freiburg. They were to stay in the suburb of Gunterstal just below the forest. The snowy trees covered the slopes up to Schauinsland, way above. They were staying in rooms in the village.
Before going to the family for a meal, They had walked along a forest path, it was gently snowing and the scene looked quite magical, white and glistening.
‘ I’m afraid you are going to have to learn something on this walk’ Betty said laughing ‘You can’t just enjoy it , the family always say grace before a meal, it is very meaningful to them and everyone must join in, so you must say it too. Just repeat after me “Das brot”…’Das brot’ Jan said, trying to imitate the accent “Ehnahrt uns nicht” …”Ehnahrt uns nicht” they continued until Jan could repeat the whole thing like a parrot. The Geier family spoke no English and Jan had no German.
The host, Svetlana, deeply intellectual, was also extremely spiritual in her outlook on life, the family were followers of Rudolph Steiner.
Her children were only exposed to good and worthy cultural pursuits, no comics, no TV and certainly no pop music. Nothing could be more different from Jan’s family, that had now left the nest.
On Jan’s first evening a special treat was laid on for her. Herr Professor Shmidt, the renowned geologist, was to give a lecture in the drawing room on ‘The Spiritual Nature of Stones’. He had a magnificent collection of all sorts of different minerals in beautiful colours, plus cut through samples of polished rock allowing the patterns to show through.
She sat on the sofa in a kind of bewildered trance as the German words washed over her, now and then the odd word sounded like English. She did her best to look intelligent and interested. Help! She was going to have to listen to the torrents of German for two whole weeks, one hour had exhausted her but she would do her best. Betty could always translate. A fun thing this was going to be, very different from her recent usual messy Christmas at home with crackers, silly jokes and Pop insisting that they watched the Queen on TV.
In Russia (and Germany) Christmas Eve was much more important than Christmas day and the atmosphere of the day of the Eve was quiet and somehow mysterious. There was an air of secrecy. Everyone, except for Svetlana, was banished to the back room. Jan could hear rustling and the odd sound of something being dragged along the ground. When it got dark Svetlana came into the room and beckoned everyone through the door to the drawing room.There in the darkened room stood the most beautiful huge Christmas tree, a spitzer, ‘ the pride of the forest’ completely covered with lighted real wax candles glowing amidst the dark green of the leaves, and the glittering real lead lametta. The whole tree was festooned with shiny red apples
Everyone stood completely still, the majesty and beauty were breathtaking. It really was a transcendental experience rather like the one she had experienced as a child. Everyone felt it, it looked holy and out of this world.
Then the Ukrainian Christmas Eve meal…”Das brot ehnahrt uns nicht…was uns im Brote speist ist Gottes eviges wort, ist leben und is geist” Jan did her parrot act perfectly. There were murmurs of approval.
The food was delicious and she was asked if she wanted more. In her wine induced confidence, she decided she would try and reply in the few words of German that she had picked up, surreptitiously she quickly glanced at ‘full’ in her little dictionary and she boldly said ‘Danke ich bin schwanger’. There was a shocked silence then howls of laughter…apparently what she had said was ‘Thank you I am pregnant’. The ice was broken it wouldn’t all be serious then, there were going to be a few laughs after all.
Why have I told this story?
I have sympathy with the Steiner philosophy (though not all of it, I think the way they paint is too constrained though visually beautiful) Mainly because I think we have a longing and need throughout our lives to experience wonder (I certainly do). Think of the number of breathtaking photos of sunsets that appear on Herne Bay Facebook. We need to experience awe. You don’t have to be religious to experience the transcendental , when it happens it surprises us. C S Lewis said ‘Surprised by Joy’ but maybe we are more open to it if our imagination is alive and our senses tuned and that brings us back to the arts again, the reason for my blog in the first place. Why do we want it? The material world is never enough in the end it doesn’t satisfy us, ultimately it doesn’t really bring us happiness and fulfillment..
Das Brot ehnahrt uns nicht…was uns im Brote speist ist Gottes evegis wort ist leben und ist geist. Roughly ‘Man cannot live by bread alone’ we need spiritual nourishment and I’m not talking about religion.
I am continually dipping into Kandinsky ‘Concerning the Spiritual in art’ for confirmation.