Here I sit, with a four day weekend ahead of me. The life of a language assistant in Germany, you will understand, is a difficult one. I won’t have you thinking though that I’ve been wasting my time. No, I do my due diligence by my Stelle here in Trier, but I also take time to enjoy myself. Indeed, “cultural exchange” runs throughout the program, asking assistants to share as well as receive with their students and German peers.
Last weekend I got all the other assistants here in Trier ’round mine and, with my roommates, we enjoyed a late American and even later Canadian Thanksgiving. With the exception of Whitney, Hillary, and I, no one had celebrated Thanksgiving before. We did our best to make it an enjoyable experience for all. I took care of the turkey, and everyone else brought along side dishes, including the usual sweet potatoes, carrots, parsnips, and etc etc. We did have brussel sprouts, but SOMEBODY forgot them in the fridge (speaking of which, I should probably check to make sure they’ve not gone bad…).
North Americans might struggle with trying to celebrate Thanksgiving in Europe and Germany, particularly because as far as North American holidays go, Thanksgiving is unarguably perhaps the most North American in scale, by which I mean that everything’s really big! You need a big oven to cook your big turkey to feed your tonnes of guests, and a big table in a big room to sit them all in. I was somewhat dubious about our oven, and whether a turkey would fit or not. I had shared my doubts with Svenja back in October, when I first mentioned the idea of hosting Thanksgiving.
Me: “I mean, I’d like to have everyone around for Thanksgiving, I just don’t know if the oven’s big enough…”
Svenja: “Our oven’s plenty big. Besides, it’s normal sized.”
Me: “But it’s not North American size…”
Turns out it was big enough, so no worries there! (Svenja would later realize as well what I meant by “North American” sized ovens when she saw the oven in the American forces accommodation we stayed at in Weiden some weeks ago)
Our apartment’s kitchen, while having more than enough room for the four of us here to sit around and talk or breakfast together, indeed even in some comfort, was not quite up to housing the 11 or 12 people I envisioned inviting. This led to much inner turmoil on my part. I wanted to do the polite thing and invite everyone, but I just couldn’t see everyone squeezing into our wee kitchen. There I was, sitting in my largely empty room, wringing my hands and getting increasingly anxious.
Then, it hit me: move the table into my room! A perfect solution – everyone fit in quite happily, with plenty of good cheer.
Thanksgiving is such a pleasant holiday to celebrate, with much of the comfort and Genossenschaft of Christmas, but without the stress often associated with that season, a season well under way now in Trier.
The Trier Weihnachtsmarkt (Christmas Market) officially opened on Monday. On Tuesday I walked through it for the first time during a break at school, before the day’s business had properly begun. Workers scurried about from hut to hut, opening the shutters and arranging goods on the little black-velvet covered shelves. While walking by the Flammkuchen stand the sight of a worker manually splitting wood for the fires surprised me – I had thought that the wood piles were just for show!
When I returned a bit later to the Market I bought myself some Reibekuchen, a fatty sort of latkes or potato pancake, served with apple sauce, so good. Working in a school so close to the Hauptmarkt and the Christmas Markets certainly has some benefits: Reibekuchen, crepes, Bratwurst, roasted sugar almonds (so good, though they make your teeth hurt!), and other lovely sweet things. There are, of course, downsides to working so close to it all, namely: Reibekuchen, crepes, Bratwurst, roasted sugar almonds, and other lovely sweet things.
Two days previous on the Sunday one of my teachers picked me up for a drive along the Mosel to Bernkastel-Kues, a nearby town famous for its Riesling (as the entire region is!). Bernkastel-Kues is found some 50km to the East-Northeast of Trier nestled down amongst those vineyards and wine hills. It was the Romans, as far as we know, who first started cultivating wine here: the shale in the soil holds the heat, allowing the Riesling grapes to grow despite the limited amount of sunlight the region receives. I’m told that the shale also gives an interesting aroma or taste to the stuff. I wouldn’t exactly know, wine not being my thing. I find myself agreeing with Mark Twain’s observation on German wines in The Tramp Abroad:
“The Germans are exceedingly fond of Rhine wines; they are put up in tall, slender bottles, and are considered a pleasant beverage. One tells them from vinegar by the label.”
Bernkastel-Kues retains much of its medieval architecture and flair, having been spared destruction during the War. Popular legend says that an American or a British bomber intentionally “missed” the bridge and town, as he had fond memories of visiting as a tourist before the war. Whether this is true or not, the town still has buildings dating as far back as the 16th century in typical regional style.
Before heading back to Trier we huffed our way up to Burg Landeshut, the old ruined keep overlooking the Mosel. Archeological excavations suggest that the castle’s foundations date back to the Romans, who might very well have built a castellan on this spot to defend the wine regions. You get a nice view of the Mosel’s bend here, a view I’m sure would be much more beeindruckend in the green summer months rather than November’s greys. Na ja, we all have our crosses to bear.
Speaking of bears, popular legend says that folk used to think that the name “Bernkastel” referred to the ruins atop the hill, which might have been named Bären-kastellan or Bear Castle. I don’t think this is true, but it’s a fun story, especially given Germans’ relationship with bears!