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.

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Burn Baby, Burn

A lot has been going on this week and it is difficult to pick out one thing to write about, and not be an absolutely boring with the details. 

This has been the first week for Anke being at work in a Roman Catholic Kindergarten in Weingarten; a predominately immigrant area in Freiburg.  The children have had some friends over for a sleepover, and other friends from school have stopped by for an afternoon.  I have been enjoying the opportunities to get to know people in the parish on a more personal basis as I visit them in their homes, or places of work. 

Now it seems that my train rides into the city are filled with familiar faces of those who are regular commuters, and those who are from the church.  It feels like home.  On one occasion while seated with a neighbour on the train and speaking English to each other a young man seated nearby seemed to be listening to our conversation.  After a while the fellow asked us where we were from and if he could speak English with us.  As it turned out he was from Gambia and was surprised to hear from me that I knew where it was in Africa.  I had to explain that I have lots of friends from different African nations and presented him with my business card hoping to make it clear that I am a minister in the Anglican Church of Freiburg.  What happened next was interesting, as the young man’s reaction felt a bit hostile.  As he got angry I understood that he was a Muslim and that he was not interested at all in my Christian religion.  We spent the train ride talking about family, differences in culture and things we miss from our home countries.  As we departed the train together, the young student told me that he would be happy to give my card to friends who are Christian and are searching for a church in the area.  Now, the student and I see each other on a regular basis as we commute into the city and we greet each other as friends. 

Just a few stops away from the main train station in Freiburg there are areas which recall in name only the ancient history of the place like Hexental, or Witch Valley.  In the past there were witch hunts and burnings because of the religious ideas, the xenophobia, and many other reasons.  Glad to say that we are not doing the same in today in Germany. 

Most of my Friday was spent with a couple of familiar faces from the church as we participated in what I would call a fire safety course, but the German sounds more sophisticated as a, Teilnahmebestätigung Brandschutz. 

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Wolfgang igniting the fire victim for our fire blanket exercise.

Being held in one of the University lecture rooms with 15 other people that ranged from students to professors we were taught, both the theory, and the practical aspects of fire safety.  The reason for my venture into this area is that the parish is planning their yearly weekend away at a French retreat centre and the French laws require someone in the group to have such a fire safety qualification.  The class was taught in English by a parishioner, Wolfgang, (who is also a professor and volunteer fireman). 

Several things really impressed me about the day, of which I will mention a few here.  One was the level of commitment of the faculty to their personal role of safety to the building and those who work and study in the building.  Another aspect which I enjoyed was the way in which we all were able to learn the material through lecture, short practices, written exam, and practical application.  One part of the process that I learned more about over lunch with Wolfgang and one of the post-doctoral students, Xi, was that the volunteer fire department made sure to include some Arabic speaking Syrian born members to the class as part of a system of training those who are in refugee encampments.  Great effort was made to translate the German to English, and hence the English to Arabic so that the classes can be of practical use to those Arabic speakers in the refugee housing in the local areas. 

There is a particular welcome and pride in Germany that I see every once in a while which gives me great hope for the people and the nation.  That there are people who want to immigrate to Germany, live, work and have families in Germany is taken very seriously by natural Germans.  Even the small acts of including people, like me and people from other countries, into the care and concern of others through First-Aid and Fire Safety are steps along the way to a more generous society. 

A Death in the Family – also interpreted from One came Two

Christmas Eve and Christmas Day were splendid occasions.  As a family we were able to go to our first village Weihnachtsmarkt in Bad Krozingen to sample some of the local Gluwein and cast our eyes on the three story high Christmas Pyramide (usually a small wooden windmill-like structure that is turned by the heat of candles).  We had family visitors stay with us for four days.  Anke’s parents, Helmut and Eva brought with them a couple of tins of homemade Christmas cookies which we are still able to enjoy.  They also brought with them gifts, and a bird named Hansel.  Hansel, a yellow canary, made the journey down from Stuttgart and sang for us through Christmas. Hansel was the bird of Anke’s Aunt Gretel, who sadly died several years ago.  You see the theme already with the names of the owner and the small bird. The day that Helmut and Eva left to return to Stuttgart, our new house mate sung his final song.  While changing water and food and giving his cage a tidy Hansel died.  We were upset to say the least.  It was difficult to see that Hansel had large tumours under his wings and had managed to service with cancer for a few years.

A few days since, we have had an empty and well-scrubbed bird cage sitting in the corner of the room.  An empty tomb in Christmas made things feel more like Good Friday.  I have always enjoyed birds, both wild and as pets, so it did not take long to find some new house mates.  Out of the death of one elderly and ill canary has come two Zebra Finches named…yes, you guessed it – Hansel and Gretel.  Now with each new day we are pleasantly woken with tiny trumpet like chirps from this lovely pair of small birds. (We have been informed that as long as nothing nest-like is available to them, it will stay as two birds chirping, rather than a flock squawking).20151228_132213

For some of us it seems like death should play no part in our Christmas celebrations, but in my past ministry it often seemed that as the cold wind blew and the days were dark and icy that it was then that some of the more fragile community members did die.  As we approach Epiphany the gifts that were given to the infant Christ were significant and symbolic of the Messiah’s birth, life and death.  Within this season we also remember in the church the Holy Innocents’ killed because of Herod’s fears that one would usurp him in his power and reign.  Christmas is the birth of Jesus, but it is also a reminder of God incarnate being with us, suffering for us, and rising to save us.