Besides, giving me a lift meant that we could spend our last day together companionably – and I could go to church (!). Yes, the heathen, non-believing me went to a Lutheran (Protestant) church for the first time since going to Midnight Mass at Christmas after the pub closed, several years ago. (I’m disregarding weddings and funerals when I’m there on behalf of a person rather than the service itself). It was a special service celebrating the ‘Jubilee’ of church members. Most people are confirmed as full church members when they are 14yrs or so – as happened to Beate’s son Patrick’s friend and also Juliana – it’s a big family event and represents a coming of age, rite of passage and also means lots of presents! The church invites anyone who has been a full member of the church for 25, 50, 60 and 65 (and then every 5) years to return to the church for a commemorative service and communion – THAT was what this service was all about. There is a brass band outside and the church members celebrating meet on the hill behind the church and parade down and up the central aisle. The celebrants were all blessed by the vicar during the service.
I estimated there were over 280 people in the church. It was a very pretty and light-filled church, with balconies like a theatre and painted white and pinky-beige with gold leaf. Ornate plasterwork representing a sun with a dove of peace soared over the altar. There were also cherubim in corners and swirls of plasterwork on panels around the walls – lots to look at. It was very different to the old English churches I have visited in the past. Of course, I couldn’t understand a word of the service though Susanne gave me a synopsis afterwards.
We sung hymns in German – only one tune of which I recognised vaguely. There was a rather good organ player and a choir (depleted due to members on holiday so the vicar had to come down to join in on one song, to increase the number of bass singers). I found it all fascinating and we made a getaway before the end – when everyone went up for communion.
We went back for one of Roswitha’s home made lunches – schnitzel, asparagus with hollandaise, potatoes and salad with pineapple and vienetta for pudding. Then off to see Susanne’s father Rainer in hospital (to say goodbye, on my part). Rainer looks much more happy and nearly back to normal – hoping to escape after the ward round the next morning. I feel like one of the family now! I am an honorary Schlesinger.
Once back at the house, it was time to pack up. Then it only took half an hour to drive what would have taken me 5hours I’m sure (bearing in mind that it’s steadily uphill from Schönheide). Susanne told my story to Mario and lily (Norman the Warmshower cyclist’s parents)– though she could have said ANYTHING! (I can understand why folk who can’t speak the language or are deaf can get paranoid – though I fancy I can detect some of the content from context, facial expression etc). It’s great that Susanne has met Lily and Mario as it sounds like they have several friends in common – and Lily is pleased to have met Susanne as she can join the knitting group. She is also converted to Ravelry by the two of us.
Lily speaks great English, but doesn’t think she does. Lily and Mario seem the epitome of a happy family – they have three children, the oldest daughter married and working as a Primary School teacher, Norman in Amsterdam (and a brewer) and the youngest still away at University training to be a teacher. They obviously love the area and want to show it off – so I get a guided tour (which is brilliant - seeing places I would never have found myself). First we cross the border (via ‘Hong Kong’ city where you can buy ANYTHING) and go to a log cabin with a grass roof – built on the remains of a house in the middle of the forest. Sadly, it’s closed. So we go to a more conventional beer garden/pub and have bread, cheese and a beer – Lily having lemonade as the Czech Republic have zero tolerance to drink/driving. There, Lily and Mario run into an old friend – a veterinarian called Ernst out walking with his friend Michael. Lily last saw him 8 years ago so this is a pleasant surprise. Sad news though – as Ernst’s wife died only last Tuesday from complications of diabetes, it sounds like and he looks close to tears as he tells the story.
From there (feeling slightly tipsy after the first beer in several days!) – we go to a local viewpoint – where there is a radar for the airport and a hotel. From this place one can see Schönheide, close to reservoirs, and far away on the horizon, Dresden. I forget that we are so far inland – we are over 400km away from the sea! We watch the sunset and Mario has some binoculars and scans the sky and forest for birds – these are the largest forests in the whole of Germany and the fir and sprce trees stretch into the distance.
Mario is a carpenter, but in his spare time he enjoys nature. He maintains over 500 nest boxes in the forest – it is his hobby. He has two ancient small motorbikes with which he pulls a trailer and a ladder (I’d love to see that!) and puts up the boxes. They are not just for birds – they are for hibernating dormice/field mice too (designed slightly differently and set 3 metres above the ground).
Mario was born is this area and is keen to tell me its history – Johanngeorgestadt was a mining town – tin, iron, silver and it is where uranium was first discovered (these are the ‘Ore Mountains’). Pre war – it had ten times the population that it has now. The second world war saw a resurgence of the mining that had been abandoned and beginning in 1945, uranium mining underwent growth that was both rapid and without much regard to the effects on either human beings or on the environment. A great deal of the Old Town had to be torn down between 1953 and 1960 owing to mining damage, and new residential areas were built. Mario and Lily live in an apartment block built for the miners.
Flossenbürg Concentration Camp was built here, housing Jews, Gypsies, POW etc – and many inmates died. It was emptied on 13th April, 1945 and the inmates set on a ‘death march’ to Theresienstadt.
Johanngeorgestadt is the home of the ‘Schwiboggen’ – and has the largest one in Germany. This is an arc (to represent the sun, which the miners would rarely see) housing two miners and two women making gloves and lace (on the distinctive round pillow) which were local industries in the 19th century. The miners would make those beautiful, handcarved, wooden Christmas tree decorations and these are still a local speciality and are handed down through generations.
Enough history! Back at the apartment, Lily shared photographs of the family and showed off her knitting prowess (loved the jacket that took her a year!). We had more beer (some of Norman’s) and sat talking until gone 11pm (despite the fact that Mario had to get up at 5am for work the next day). Lily works shifts in a cafe down by Potucky and didn’t have to start until midday the next day, so we spent a little more time together in the morning, which was lovely. We also phoned Norman in Amsterdam – since it was through him (and Warm Showers) that I was staying with Lily and Mario in the first place. Since he’s a brewer by trade, I said he would HAVE to meet up with Seth to discuss brewing, next time he went to Bristol – he’s only a few years younger. He agreed this would be ‘cool’. Norman also agreed to remove the word ‘boring’ from his description of Johanngeorgestadt on Warm Showers.
We’d crammed a lot into a short evening. Time for bed!