After a quiet weekend having the apartment to myself, for which there’s even a fitting German idiom: sturmfrei[e Bude] haben (“to have a storm-free den”), I took a train from Nuremberg northwards along the eastern edge of Franconian Switzerland to the quaint village of Schnabelwaid, just south of Bayreuth. The scenery from the train was quite impressive; I’ve ventured into the Franconian Switzerland before but the scenery really did resemble Switzerland with its numerous valleys and mountains.
Since it was my first Xmas outside of Australia and I have no family here to celebrate with, my friend, Mirj, who lives in Nuremberg, invited me to her family’s Xmas celebrations, which was super nice of her. So I was not only having my first German Xmas but my first Franconian one, and it should be very obvious already that Franconia is my favourite region in Germany.
Anyhow, I arrived in Schnabelwaid at lunchtime and was treated to a very typical lunch of Bratwurst. After that, Mirj, her sisters and 2 year old nephew gave me a small tour of their village and showed me their tiny village castle. After a small session of coffee and cake, which at this time of year means Plätzchen (“assorted Xmas sweets and biscuits”), we went to the church service which was a first for me as it was the first time in my life I attended to a religious service that wasn’t a wedding or funeral.
In Germany it is quite normal to go to church on Xmas Eve even for non-religious people, whereas in Australia you’d have to be really religious to go to church for Xmas. The church service was basically a nativity play performed by children punctuated with some hymns and fortunately it only lasted half an hour because I was fighting to stay awake.
After dinner, everyone went upstairs because, in this part of Germany, the Christkind, a kind of baby Jesus slash angel creature, comes during the evening and delivers the presents. I was lucky enough to receive a book about Franconia and some beer from the Franconian Switzerland from Mirj’s family. After being offered a couple of shots of apricot schnapps I headed to bed.
The next morning, after an ample German breakfast, Mirj took me to the city of Bayreuth. She showed me Wagner’s festival theatre which hosts the Bayreuth Festival every year which is so revered that there is a 5-10 year waiting list for tickets. We ventured into the inner city and I was shocked that there were free (and, surprisingly, clean) public toilets near the opera house. It is basically impossible to find free public toilets in Germany, even in train stations you’ll have to pay around 1 Euro to relieve yourself.
Combine this with the fact that beer is cheaper than water here and you really have to plan your toilet breaks well in advance. Of course sometimes it’s possible to sneak into a bar or restaurant just to use their toilets. This is probably the biggest nuisance an Australian will face in Germany.
Since it was Xmas Day, Bayreuth was as dead as Adelaide is after 5pm on a weekday, even though there was a single tour group of Germans wandering its streets. She also showed Eremitage, a court hermitage, built in the 1700s featuring an Old and New Palace with an absolutely massive court garden, which I’m sure would’ve looked beautiful in summer.
Back at Schnabelwaid, we had roast goose, potato dumplings with gravy, pickled red cabbage, baked apples and lingonberry sauce for lunch. Roast goose is the traditional Xmas food and surprisingly it was my time trying it. Needless to say, it was delicious and I stuffed myself. Afterwards, I journeyed back to Erlangen to spend the rest of the week in my storm-free den. In preparation for New Year’s, supermarkets are stocked up with fireworks, another cultural peculiarity for me since fireworks are not easy to obtain in Australia (for obvious reasons).
My housemates are throwing a New Year’s Eve Party, into which they’ve put a frightening amount of effort and organisation, and I’m very curious to take part in some of the bizarre German New Year’s rituals. So this will be my last blog post for the year and what a year it was.