Not him again, he’s in here every night!”
It’s true. I am back (in England that is). If you weren’t sure at first whether to believe the Twitter feeds, Facebook statuses and unofficial ‘sightings’ concerning my whereabouts, you can now rest assured; I am back! As of May 22nd I have been residing again in the U.K., and, by the looks of it, I’ve brought some tropical German weather with me. Life’s normalcy (the good normalcy) is slowly returning and the die-hard student habits (at one point almost eradicated through German work mentality) are gradually resurfacing. Sitting in my back garden with the laptop, basking in the May sunshine, the feeling of being home is indescribable. I have spent 8 fascinating months in Germany that I will never, ever forget, but boy, am I now glad to be home! Before I start looking forward however, let me update you lovely readers on the last 3 weeks at Gasthof Stern, which were very, very busy.
My colleagues at the Gasthof always said that May was arguably the busiest month of the year in Göβweinstein, and to their credit they weren’t far off. To mark the arrival of May we witnessed the annual opening of the village’s outdoor swimming pool (not that I made it there!) and the re-instatement of the Riesenwindbeutel (a “cream puff” summery dessert) into Stern’s menu. Virtually every room in the hotel has been booked for a good few weeks now, meaning much longer opening hours, whilst thousands of Catholic pilgrims from different corners of Germany have steadily begun to make their ways towards the Fränkische Schweiz as part of their yearly pilgrimage. I’m going to be perfectly frank with you guys and say right now that I’m not too clued up on the history of German Catholicism, and, despite living on the edge of one of its focal points for almost one year, I didn’t make much effort to investigate the background behind German, Catholic pilgrimages. So, what I’m trying to say is, is that I can’t explain to you why there were a lot of pilgrims travelling through Göβweinstein this last month, rather I can tell you what goes on (as I was an eye-witness for a few weeks).
For a person who has lived his life in a rather modern and growingly secular country, watching hundreds of pilgrims marching through the streets of Göβweinstein with banners, flags, megaphones and numerous trumpets and other brass instruments came across as rather bizarre. Not that I’m not a religious person myself, it was just something that I’d never really witnessed before! Anyway, in a roundabout way, that’s what the pilgrims get up to in Göβweinstein throughout this month. There are about 5 or 6 set dates in May, all Feiertage (celebratory days), with special names like Fronleichnam and Goldener Sonntag, where thousands of these pilgrims meet in different villages within Franconian Switzerland, leading these processions. As I’ve already mentioned, there are a lot of trumpets and trombones involved, men dressed up in weird (medieval I think) outfits, religious banners being waved about, ancient hymns being sung in unison, and a guy for every procession of pilgrims reciting Christian texts through a loudspeaker. It’s a quite spectacular scene, and a very, very old tradition. There are a couple of catches however… Number one: The processions normally start around 5am. This, as you can imagine, for somebody who often finishes worked around 1am or even later, is very inconsiderate. Believe you me, the sound of trumpets (and sometimes very out of tune ones at that) waking you up, can be very irritating. Number two: The trumpet blowing, singing and marching goes on ALL. DAY. LONG. All you want to do during your break at times, is simply fall asleep. With a brass brand circling your house all day, that can be very hard to do.
So if it wasn’t the pilgrims keeping us busy at work, it was all the other guests who were visiting the region for climbing, biking, walking, or just general sight seeing. It’s definitely a lot more fun working when there’s more to do and more people around, even if it does mean longer hours! One of the busiest days I experienced, just days before I left to head home, was the 19th of May. Champions League FINAL day. Living in Bavaria, an hour and a half away from Munich, it’s hardly surprising that most people in these parts support Bayern Munich. And there was no way that people at the hotel (also big football fans), were going to miss the big match between Bayern and Chelsea, hence we set up a big projector screen in one of the suites which was reserved for just the football fans. It was a great atmosphere and a really interesting experiencing, serving all the fans their beer, trying to catch glimpses of the game myself. There was lots of banter, partly because quite a few of them knew that I was English already, and, rather unluckily, because they were so confident (almost to the point of arrogance!) that Bayern were going to win. The roar that erupted from the crowd when Mueller scored the first goal was almost deafening, and I almost dropped my tray of drinks with it. On the other hand, when Didier Drogba converted his penalty to win Chelsea the cup, the silence was surreal. Needless to say, as an English patriot, I was beaming with joy! ENGLAND 1, GERMANY 0.
The last few weeks then in Germany were busy, hectic, quick, but most of all, fun. There were lots of opportunities for me to go out with friends from work, which mainly consisted of heading to other restaurants for food and alcohol! The last two days were spent celebrating with friends and my newly acquired German family, having dinner round at people’s houses, and Stephan (the new boss) cooking the first BBQ of the year. It was such a nice send off from all of the Germans, and they genuinely convinced me that I am going to be missed there (despite not being half as strong or efficient as them!), so in a funny way that made me smile. I’m definitely going to miss all the Germans too, that is without doubt. I’ve spent virtually every day with most of my work colleagues; Christian, Stefan, Anka, because even on our days off we would normally hang out together. Family Vogl always treated me like a son, so it was touching saying goodbye to them, but I’m sure that it won’t be too long before they’re on the way to visit me in England. All in all, I’ve been treated like a true part of the team / family, and have learnt more during these 8 months than I probably have done in the two previous years at university (no offence intended!). I can’t wait to head back to Exeter soon, mind you :).
The journey back home was a bit lengthier than the normal trip, not that this was unexpected! I’d decided a few months back to take the train home rather than fly, mainly because I get all claustrophobic (with incredibly sweaty hands and armpits) on planes. By booking well in advance I’d saved myself an arm and a leg, so thank God for my mum nagging me to get it done. I took a taxi from Göβweinstein to Nuremberg, a train between Nuremberg and Frankfurt (approximately 2 hours), changed there and headed to Brussels, Belgium. I got a bit lost at this point when I changed in Brussels for the Eurostar, as I couldn’t read any of the signs (as they were in French), but after a brief moment of panic I found my way. After a short wait for the Eurostar to arrive, I boarded, headed for Lille in France, and then next stop was London St. Pancras! 8 hours later and I was back in England, with Grace and my Dad waiting to pick me up. My sister would have been there too, but for her train breaking down at Barking due to signal failure (that was when the penny dropped that I was truly back in England). After dinner at Pizza Express in London, we all headed back to Essex, where a big hug was in store from my sister and mum. Ahhhhhhh!
So yes, the year abroad is over. Fertig. I really, really can’t believe it! It feels like yesterday when I was sitting inside my house composing my first blog post, telling you guys what sort of a challenge I was about to embark upon, believing it was going to be the easiest year of my life ;). Man, how time flies and what lessons life can teach you in such a short space of time. I will NEVER forget these last 8 months.
The good news is, however, (apart from the fact that all my friends and family can see me again), is that I’m not going to simply stop writing this blog, take the site off-air, delete all living memory of the year-abroad. Oh no. I’ve decided that I’m going to keep on writing :). Why not eh! I lead a relatively interesting life (that’s if you don’t compare me to George Michael or Paul Gascoigne), I’ve still got a whole summer and final year of student life to tell you all about, and, besides, I enjoy writing this blog! So yes, it’s goodbye for a few days, but like I said, I’ll be back with more tales. Only this time, English tales.