The Last Eighteen Months…
Forgive me for the lack of recent posts! It has been (blessedly) busy here, so I’ve neglected my blog. Below is a story I wrote during the first week of May, so the dates may be a bit off.
May 2nd, 2016
This past weekend was a relatively quiet one for Aaron and me, but it ended up being one of the most interesting we’ve spent here in Germany, and definitely one of the most “German.”
Since we picked our house, we’ve known about the village’s reputation as a center for international music. Müllenbach may not have a grocery store, but it has hosted musicians from the U.S., Ireland, Britain, and even the flautist who played for the Lord of the Rings soundtrack.
The concerts take place in the Alte Schulhaus (Old School House) in the village. Frans Somers and his wife, a couple from the village, bought the building a few years ago and renovated it, turning it into a gallery for Frans’ artwork and a music hall (complete with a bar, #germany) below and a small local museum upstairs. The concert didn’t start until 8:00pm, but our landlady told us that we should arrive an hour early at least – the room was always crowded.
We walked down to the Alte Schulhaus with our landlords, Ute and Rüdiger, well bundled up against the cold and wet weather. May was just around the corner, but the local weather forecast promised snow for the weekend. We entered the old building after five minutes walk, and were welcomed by the warm glow of a fire, and lots of happy-sounding voices.
We made our way to some fine seats, right at the front and near the fireplace – the warmth of which we were quite grateful for! Aaron and Rüdiger got up and ordered drinks, while Ute and I talked to her friends – she graciously introducing me to everyone who came by. Frans the proprietor came up and introduced himself. Originally from Switzerland, he married a German lady and settled down in Müllenbach some years ago. Frans perpetually calls the village by its English translation, Mill’s Creek. “I live in Lower Mill’s Creek,” he explained to me, “and you live in Upper Mill’s Creek.”
Frans didn’t talk for long – he was the host and quite busy making everyone comfortable. Soon a tall man with a grey beard came up, and introduced himself as Kevin, a man from Scotland who’d also married a German woman and settled in the village (that seems to be a popular thing hereabouts). I told Kevin about my own Scottish heritage, and before five minutes had passed we were happily quoting Robert Burns’ poetry back and forth, and discussing the merits of the kilt versus the trews. Aaron came back then with drinks, and we all found our seats as the band tuned up.
The band was called “Barrule” and was made up of a trio of excellent artists from the Isle of Man off the coast of England (http://www.barruletrio.com/about/). The band began to play after a short introduction by Frans, and we all held our breath as the ethereal music filled the hall.
I love Celtic music. It is a genre I never remember not hearing played in my house, but I became infatuated with it when I was a pre-teen and discovered a CD of Celtic Women hits. Aaron loves it too, and we were not disappointed in the quality of the music we heard that night. The hands of Jamie Smith, the accordion player, seemed to fairly fly over the keys as he pumped out deep bass notes or trilled high flights of soft music that seemed to float down from above our heads out of fairyland. The whole night was like that really – just sheer magic. The soft glow of the fireplace, the landscapes of the Irish coast hanging on the walls, the rich songs sung in the beautiful Gaelic language… the night sped by in an almost dream-like state of beauty.
The music ended around 11, and most of the audience left soon after. Frans told us we were welcome to stay as long as we liked, and so we chatted with the band for quite some time about the similarities between Celtic and Bluegrass music, the band’s history, their native land, etc. Soon Frans ushered us back to the fire where he had drawn up about twenty chairs. Ute and Rüdiger were there, as were Kevin and his wife, and several others. Aaron and I sat between Kevin and Jamie, and when we weren’t being plied with neat Scottish whisky by the one, we were talking with the other about Tolkien and his works (Jamie’s a big fan!).
Around 1:00am we finally broke away, making our excuses and heading out with Rüdiger and Ute. We left them still hard at it, and I am sure they talked until late into the night. We walked home down the quiet streets shimmering in the moonlight, with songs from the Isle of Man running through our minds.
Little did we know, our very Müllenbach weekend had just begun!
The next morning we woke to find the outside lawn dusted with snow! It was May first, and the temperatures were well below freezing. We were sitting at the kitchen table, drinking coffee and watching the flakes fall when Aaron suddenly said: “Oh! Did the neighborhood boys steal anything last night?”
I’d completely forgotten that the night before had been hexenacht; literally meaning “witches night” the celebration is a hold-over of the old pagan days, and is still celebrated in many of the villages here. Village boys sneak out at night and steal things from people’s yards: doormats, pots, trashcans, etc. and take them to the village Maypole (usually located somewhere in the center of the village) and put them there for the hapless owners to retrieve in the morning. Duly warned by our landlords, we’d carefully put anything portable in the garage, and hoped for the best. The one thing we didn’t pull in from the yard were some metal garden decorations Ute and Rüdiger had installed the week before. We figured they were too firmly embedded into the stones and dirt to be stealable. I was still a little worried though, so when Aaron asked, I looked to see if they were still there.
The poles were, but the metal balls that ornamented them were gone. “Darn it,” I said. “They took the garden decorations.” Aaron’s sense of personal privacy was justly outraged by the theft, but I thought it was a rather interesting bit of fun. “Well, let’s go find the Maypole!”
We grabbed our jackets and set out into the quiet village. It was a bank holiday, and everyone seemed to be celebrating that fact by staying quietly indoors. We headed toward the village church – I thought I remembered Ute telling me the Maypole was usually erected near the building. Upon arrival we saw no sign of the Maypole, but the door was ajar and the railings decorated with sprigs of boxwood, so we decided to try and peek in.
The inside of the church was beautiful. Romanesque, and able to house a large amount of people, the church must have hailed from the time when Müllenbach was a successful slate mining village. Ute said the village had four pubs back then, and was quite the center of local activity. We lingered a bit in the quiet and brightly lit sanctuary, then resumed our search for the missing decorations.
We headed down to the small soccer field behind the elementary school, in hopes of finding the Maypole there. As we neared, we heard loud music and people’s voices. Walking into the tree-ringed field, we saw a group of young men hanging out around a bonfire, and drinking beers. They nodded at us as we walked in, but didn’t offer any conversation. Later, Ute told me that they were there to guard the Maypole and the things beneath it from the neighboring village boys, who apparently could endeavor to cut it down and steal the items.
We found lots of interesting things beneath the Maypole, but alas! The garden decorations were not there.
As we walked back to the house, I had an idea. I texted Ute to see if they had perhaps put the decorations away to keep them safe from the village boys, or if perhaps the boys had stolen them. Soon after she texted back:
“That naughty boy was Ruediger. He hid the tops in the garage yesterday.”
With that, our very German weekend came to a close. It has been such a neat adventure to become part of a local village and enjoy its traditions. I look forward to getting further involved over the next three years.