Bee Eaters

Gazing in one direction the prominent hills of the Black-forest take up a commanding scene, but if I cast my eyes westward, toward France, the Kaisersthul is the one clear hill on the horizon before the Rhine.  The Kaisersthul, or ‘Emperors chair’, is a little over 500 metres at the summit and is an old volcano.  It is known worldwide for the wines that come from its terraced slopes, and for some interesting flora and fauna.

In what is a micro-climate of Mediterranean temperatures it is possible to find sand lizards, praying mantis, and breeding colonies of the European Bee Eater.  Having journeyed with a friend from church I was surprised that we were able to spot the Bee Eaters so quickly.  Driving up a narrow road with the only traffic being narrow bodied farm tractors that are built to pass between the row upon row of grape vines, and the occasional cyclist, we stopped the car and sat on a wooden bench and within moments graceful birds glided above and below our vantage point.

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It was the warmest day of the year, with the temperature hovering around 30 C and the air heavily scented with the perfume of flowering trees.  All very exciting stuff for those who like to birdwatch.  Meanwhile in Scotland, one of my favourite birds species from Canada, the Red-winged Blackbird, was grabbing the attention of those on the hunt for rare birds.  After my own outing, I heard reports of birdwatcher flocking to a remote part of Scotland to see the first time visitor of a female Red-winged Blackbird.

I was glad that my trip was not so frantic, a lot warmer, and spent in good company.  To end the birdwatching trip and toast my first sighting of a Bee Eater at the Kaiserstuhl – like most outdoor hikes in Germany – we were able to find a nice local restaurant where we could put down the binoculars and lift another set of glasses to end our day.

Thermal Bath

With the conclusion of the churches hosting of the German Synod, and later the congregations own annual general meeting my wife and I went to the Vita Classica.  The town of Bad Krozingen has the designation ‘Bad’ meaning bath and one of these baths is the thermal bath/spa of the Vita Classica.  A whole range of spa treatments are available, but we went for a swim in the several different pools.

The pools are warm, but not as hot as I was expecting from my experience of a Canadian outdoor natural hot spring.  However, what was nice was the ‘gong’ system.  The Gong works like this: each part of some of the pools has bubbles blasting away, and you get a nice massage as you go from one part of the pool to the next.  There is always a movement of people around the edge of the pool as a gong sounds signalling to those in the water that it is time to move to the next station.  If you have ever done a circuit training workout at a gym, going from different weightlifting machinery and cardio equipment, then you have some idea of what goes on in the pool.  Moving slowly from one blast of warm water to the next leaves you feeling like you have done a workout without really going anywhere.

Another interesting pool was the music room.  A large indoor pool with clusters of people floating about on their backs with the help of the Styrofoam ‘pool noodle’.  The water is almost at body temperature and nobody really talks beyond that of a whisper.  What is really great is once you relax and begin to float, and as your ears go under the water; you are serenaded by classical music which can only be heard underwater.

One more feature that I enjoyed about the pools were the changing lights.  My wife and I had hoped that the night sky would be full of bright stars to gaze at while we floated on our backs in the hot water, but the cloudy sky blocked out that hope.  The runner-up to the stars was the changing lights in the pools, or of the whole rooms if we were inside.  Deep blue lights signified the temperature of the pool was cool, or that the lights cycled around the pool like a visual gong, reminding swimmers to move on to the next active pool.

The basic pools were plenty to leave my wife and I more rested and relaxed.

 

 

Held up at Gunpoint

The other day as I got of the train nearby our home, hands in my pockets, I rounded the corner and walked right into a standoff.

Two boys, around 7 years old, approached with bandana’s covering their mouths, and hands at their sides.  They were too fast for me, and drew their guns out of their holsters, and blasted me.  The smell of gunpowder was on the air as the midday sun shone down on all of us.

I had no chance.  The children during the Fasnet celebrations had got me.  The boys laughed and laughed, as their cap guns clacked away.  No horses to ride off on, but I was left alone and I soon heard in the distance the next unsuspecting victim being shot to smithereens.

I can’t remember the last time I saw a child’s toy cap gun in a store, but they flood the shelves at the department stores and village toy shops.  Costumes for young and old are for sale, and so begins the regional celebrations.  While Shrove Tuesday is a few days away still, the spirit of Mardi Gras is alive and well in some shape and form here in Freiburg.  Children take over their schools, groups of children raid the village and city halls.  The Roman Catholic priest wasn’t able to attend a recent meeting as he was detained by the children in his congregation as fun and havoc rules for a short time every year.

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Each village has a particular style of clothing, and costume.  Some are expensive carved wooden masks depicting witches, or furred animals. The suits are old pieces of stitched on cloth,  pottery shards, or tiles. The partying can shut down offices, trains and trams as parades, and mockery take hold.  The spirit of carnival lasts for about a week, and then there is another celebration in Basel, Switzerland with its own customs and traditions.  And then there is the Alemannisch Fastnacht which offers another set of customs.  Some photos of the costumes can be found at the Black Forest Tourism Office.

I couldn’t possibly go into details about the richness of the various traditions, as many of the villages, groups and people have their own stories to tell.  It is however, an exciting time, full of fun, tradition and celebration.  There’s always a surprise waiting around the corner.

Do Farmers go on Holiday?

A very thick fog has settled in our area.  I’m not used to so much fog, and neither is the dog.  Early morning walks and especially the late evening walks through the farmer fields make the dog a little anxious.  Now that it has rained throughout the night the fog has cleared, but I am sure it will return soon.  I appreciate the fog when the temperature drops and it appears that the fog is freezing and falling from sky, or it attaches itself to skeletal shapes of leafless trees and bushes.  Even ones own breath blows out and looks to freeze and drop to the ground to join the swirl of fog.

The light from street lamps are fuzzy blurs at worst, and at best the light beams highlight the swirls of fog that blow around like a Canadian snowdrift.  In just a dozen or so steps into one of the many surrounding farm fields you can easily loose all sense of direction as any directional lights start to disappear with every step away from buildings and roads.  While your vision subsides the noises seem to grow more intense.

The other night as I walked with the dog through this soupy fog we were both suddenly shocked to see a huge farm tractor appear beside us in one of the fields with a large plow lowered to turn over the soil.  With only lights on in the front of the tractor we felt the effects of the rumbling machine before we had the chance to see it clearly.

Truly the farmer never seems to take a break.  A field recently harvested is quickly turned over and reseeded with the next crop.  Over the year it seems that the cycle goes something like this: grain, maize, feldsalat (a tiny little lettuce that is harvested by many workers on their hands and knees).  Then there is some kind of root, or tuber vegetable that is simply mixed into the soil as a natural fertilizer.  There are other food crops and non-food crops, but the same thing applies…they are always doing something in the fields.

Most of the local farmers are people with ‘regular’ jobs on top of their family farm so that when work is done in a 9 to 5 job, the evenings are spent either sowing, or harvesting.

One of the only fields around our house that is still sitting (as far as I can tell) fallow with a fertilizer crop waiting to be plowed into the ground is home to a pair of Ring Neck Pheasants.  The dog usually keeps off the fields as there are plenty of field mice to catch on the edges and borders of the fields, yet the other day in the misty evening fog the dog ran back along the dirt road looking like someone who has realized they’ve just missed an item in the last aisle they passed in the grocery store.  A new sound, or smell has directed him to the edge of the field and on instinct he plunges into the frost covered greenery and bounds like a dolphin would at sea.  Then, Whoosh! a pheasant hen takes to the air and skims the plants with a zigzag flight only to disappear into the fog at the other end of the field.  With determination the dog keeps looking and soon a large male pheasant complete with a beautiful long tail shoots out of the plants a few metres away from where I am standing on the roadside.  Along with the zigzag flight he adds his own scolding clucking as he too disappears the same way his mate did a few seconds earlier.

Winter fog has obscured my vision, but it has also helped to make some things clear.  The farmer never stops, and nature will always surprise.

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Ghostly horses graze in a frost covered field.

Light

People often tell me that they enjoy the light of Freiburg.  That there is a unique quality to the light that is distinctive to the place.  Usually I just see light without the uniqueness that others enjoy.  Perhaps I am simple.

I now run around 5 kilometres three to four times a week as part of my wellbeing.  It was the other day, perhaps from a ‘runners high’ that I noticed the light.  My running routes purposely take me away from the busy roads and I find myself running through fields and vineyards.  The weather is getting cooler and I usually am the only person walking, or running outside.  In the evenings the gym near the train station is aglow with neon lights and the bobbing silhouette of men and women jogging on treadmills.  Even when it is raining the grey clouds don’t always seal up the sun.  Particularly in the evenings towards sun-set the light is wonderful and majestic for a few moments.  There are times on my runs when I want to stop and dig out my phone so that I can snap a quick photo, but the light is so perfect for just a short time that the moment has passed before I can untangle my headphones and retrieve my phone.  The photos never do any justice to the overall view.

Now the sun provides such a contrast to the grey clouds, the flocks of birds that scavenge the spilt corn, and the multi coloured vines that make the hills into a patchwork quilt of colour.

Is it from the time spent being in one place that I can now see the light in the way that others have tried to express? Or is it the pumping heart, the working legs and the distance that is more than just kilometres that has worked to open my eyes to the etherial light of Freiburg?

 

Framing the Picture

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View from within the Rathaus, Freiburg.

Typically this view shows tourists, people enjoying a coffee, and wedding parties.  The Rathaus is the place to see couples marry as they sign the necessary paperwork at the City Hall and then have small gatherings in the square to celebrate.  On a busy day you can see dozens of couples coming and going for their appointed meeting times.

While not the greatest of photographs with a phone camera I wanted to frame the shot that is the image of many couples when they leave the building.  The ironwork gate, the patterned cobblestones, and the birds both of iron and feather fill the scene.

Framing the scene is often a photographic technique to focus the eye and can create some interesting images.  When I sit down to do a puzzle it is often easiest for me to search through the box for the flat-edged pieces so that I may build the frame that will contain the picture, or the finished puzzle. What are those flat edged pieces in our own lives, in our marriages, and in our Church?  I think that in discovering the boundaries of our relationships we often set a ‘frame of reference’ that helps us to make sense, gather meaning and become purposeful.

It has been ten months time since moving to Germany with my family to begin ministry with an Anglican Church.  These ten months have been a time spent in setting the frame.  Getting to know people.  Searching out the flat bits from the puzzle box.  The community of the church represents a picture and there are many personalities that piece together.  Occasionally I find that one piece can link to several others if I’m not too careful and in doing so the puzzle doesn’t get done, or the picture is distorted.  The hard work of building the picture is set to begin.  Some of the Sisters of St. John the Divine in Toronto and British Columbia, Canada have an interest in a particular type of puzzle that seems challenging.  The puzzle is called a ‘Wasgij’, or Jigsaw written backwards.  The image on the box top is not the image that you need to piece together.  Rather, it is an image that when you look at it, you must imagine what it is the people in the picture are looking at, and it is that ‘imagined’ picture that is what one sets on building.  To use this example in the life of the Church now that some time has been spent on referencing the framework is both challenging and exciting.  We listen and pray about what God’s purpose is, but we have no solid blueprint, or box top design to follow.  In this way, each community and its parts have an aim, or a goal which we are trying to piece together.  What is the image of our church community that we are helping to bring about?

Alas, the picture will have many people, activities, events and occasions that I will perhaps get a glimpse of as I work away on things.  However, puzzles are best left done together as a family event.  The picture grows in an organic way as community members add to a section, or focus on a particular area.

The final product (that of building and of enjoying the picture) is also something less like a photograph, or puzzle picture and more akin to a painting.  A work of Art.

Make Hay while the Sun Shines

I am trying to utilize all my time to the best of my abilities as I have a lot to do and deadlines are looming.  Train rides are now filled reading and writing.  I have been asked to write a sermon on Psalm 133 in German for an area wide church magazine and my sermon is to be sandwiched between the sermons of two former bishops of the area for this short publication.  The morning commute is taken up quickly with reading, underlining and note taking.  The pressure seems immense.

The train back is the same, but the sermon is not for publication, rather it is for Sunday morning worship.  Along with meetings, visiting, and family life things are pretty busy.  This morning the news was all about the violence in Nice, France.  It was difficult to read and reflect about any scriptures without the thoughts of those who have suffered great violence coming to mind.  Psalm 133 is especially potent as unity is a theme.  A Psalm to repeat as a hope, a way forward, and of a remembrance of better times.

Psalm 133. 1 “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!”

Life is always on a razors edge and so we make the best of what we can, when we can.

IMG_20160715_124730The weather last week was hot and humid and it seems the corn and grain had sprouted up higher, but then came the cool weather and some heavy rain.  While taking the train I get to know more and more of the scenery.  Some famers have cut and balled their hay already, and other fields now lay a bit flattened like some giant has danced poorly across the ground leaving scattered footprints in the fields.

Lately in France, and other countries, it feels like when it rains it pours.  All the more reason to ball up some of our hay, our Scriptural ‘food for thought’ and nourishment so that we can get through the hard times with the eternal hope of new life in Christ.

Hedgehog – not the chocolate kind.

01_11_2_webChocolate makers in Canada often sold ‘Hedgehogs’ which are delicious and often the first chocolates in a box to be eaten.  When we lived in Canada, it took my German wife close to 15 years to finally see a bear in the wild despite the rest of the family seeing Black Bear on an almost yearly basis.  Although nowhere near the size of a bear, the Hedgehog is an animal that has remained elusive to me for years.  In all my trips to Germany I was told about the Hedgehog being a common sight in gardens, but I had never glimpsed one…until now.  Walking the dog at dusk I spotted some small creature timidly investigating the garden of a neighbouring house.  It turned out to be a Hedgehog!  I feel like I can complete the check-list of German animals as I have seen a family of wild Boar, and tiny Deer in previous visits.  I have been up close to Storks which are raising a brood on a chimney top nest, and I have seen a few Red Fox whilst driving home in the evening.  I wonder if this recent sighting of a Hedgehog completes the ‘Big Five’ of Germany.

Occasionally while traveling in the car and using the GPS system, or Navi as they say Germany, I am still thrown a bit when I hear announced from automated voice “bear right” as a directional point.  Instinct is to look out the passenger side window and see a Black Bear meandering into the woods.

 

Bare more than one’s soul

I’ve debated whether or not to post this blog update under ‘Freiburg Sights’ and figured that since the University Hospital is the one, if not, the biggest, employer in the city that I should include it.  I just wasn’t planning on a view from the inside. ukl-logo

After visiting my doctor last week and getting an injection to protect me from some of the nasty illnesses that are transmitted by the plentiful Ticks in the area I went to bed very tired and feeling unwell.  I woke up strapped to specially designed wheel-chair that can take you down stairs. Needless to say that I was not aware of my condition and I am thankful for a caring wife and a visiting friend who helped in the situation.

Visiting the Emergency ward of the hospital was fast and efficient as I was already wired for heart, pulse, blood pressure and had a somewhat painful IV tube sticking out of the back of one hand. Amazing stuff happens when you’re unconscious!  I was to see that head doctor of the Emergency ward in the morning to decide what route my treatment would take and to discover what-on-earth-happened.

After some discussion against my desire to get back to work the doctor strongly suggested I stay in hospital for a few days to do some tests. I was suppose to lead the church Weekend Away in France as well as be the person on site with the firefighting training certificate and I felt like I was going to severely disappoint a lot of people, especially those who had made some many of the plans to make the weekend event happen.  In short, I felt like I was letting everyone down.  I would soon realize that it would be an exhausting few days undergoing tests for my heart and my brain.

In the late morning I was transferred to another part of the hospital, the Neurology Department, which has its own modern building.  Short distance transfers in the hospital meant travelling by taxi much to my surprise.  I was probably not the only one surprised, as the first taxi drive came to pick me up and took a long look up and down at his next customer.   I was wearing an ill-fitting hospital gown which, yes of course, has not been tied up at the back, and had a large spray of my blood over the front of it (from a tube of the IV being disconnected).  Fortunately the kind nurse gave me a huge blanket/towel in which to wrap myself.  It was with this attire that I jumped into the immaculately clean and shining black Mercedes taxi to be transfer to my new room.  I had three trips the first morning via taxi with my fashionable outfit and it is perhaps more than Freiburg wanted to see of me.

My single room was a bright room with an amazing view over part of Freiburg and off in the distance were mountains situated in France where I knew a lot of the congregation would be staying, and I prayed they would have a fruitful time together.  My experience of hospitals in Canada have usually been long waits in Emergency followed by a brief encounter with a doctor – then sent off home again to make arrangements with my own doctor to follow-up with a variety of tests if required.  My first trial of the German medical system was far different in that I was required to stay a few days while tests, and more tests…and even more tests where performed until I was finally discharged.  The food was fantastic, the staff were friendly, the nurses were caring, efficient, kind; the doctors spoke English clearly; the fellow patients were friendly and at times chatty while we ate meals together.  Not that I wanted to be the secret shopper, but the experience, from a personal medical view was Sehr Gut.

What was also very special for me was the knowledge that folks from the church were praying my family and I. Several people came for short visits and the phone calls from my wardens, Archdeacon and fellow colleagues were important to me. I was left alone to recuperate and mend whatever needed mending and even now I still get letters in the post from friends from Canada who have learned of my brief adventures.  I am grateful for those that rallied to pull off the Weekend Away and make it successful and for the continued help while I recover from some strange storm where terms of “epileptic episode” are batted about, and I have learned how to explain symptoms in German, as well as, make a very series looking doctor grimace after my MRI scan of my head:

     the doctor reported “that the test came up negative”,

and I replied that “on the positive side we can confirm that I have a brain.”

 

 

Around the Area

Monday is a day off, and after school was finished the girls and I took the local train to the end of the line in Münstertal a small village in a southern valley of the Black Forest. We ate lunch there in the park whilst watching a couple of Mallards defend their small pond and tiny nesting box from other ducks looking for a place to call home.

I had the feeling that when we got off the train and everyone ran over to a bus and we were left all alone at the small train station that if this was a Western a tumble weed should have blown past.  Despite the loneliness of the village it still offered some quant surprises.  A small playground with a stream nearby and the sound of cowbells from the animals grazing on the hillsides.

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A One Horse Town

Needless to say, we didn’t stay too much longer in town, but decided to skip over to the next town of Staufen where we could me Anke after her work in the kindergarten had finished.  Even on the short ride back towards Bad Krozingen we were asked to see our tickets and the girls got to see what happens when you board the train without paying your fare. Don’t worry, it wasn’t us, as we had paid, but a young woman had to hand over a 60 Euro fine.

In Staufen, it is a small town which is famous for a number of things, but most recently for the large cracks on some of the buildings in and around the town hall.  Several years ago there was the idea to use Geo-Thermal heating in the Town Hall, but when the water was forced into the ground, the chalk expanded and created localized earthquakes which did a lot of damage to many of the historic buildings.  It is still a problem for the town council and citizens, but it has created a fascination with others.  One of the girls noticed that even a small motorcycle which was parked along side the town hall had a bad crack running down the outer plastic surrounding the engine; it fit perfectly with its surroundings.

In the midst of a wine growing region, Staufen offers magnificent views from the ruins that are situated on top of a small hill.  Family owned vineyards with ecological and organic practices in agriculture being highlighted in informative signs that led us to the top of the hill.  Unfortunately the brisk wind was pushing the clouds in quickly (as soon it would snow later that evening), however, the view was great and we all had a chance to explore the old castle ruins.