Monday, May 17, 2010

My German Life: May

I always remember the weather in May. It's my birth month, so I have lots of memories of warm weather parties that revolved around picnics, swimming pools or my grandparents' pond. I've been looking forward to May, it represents a milestone in my life. I turn 30 this month which I have been dreading for the last two years, I think, but I decided to make it better by having a great party as a consolation. The other reason I've been looking forward to May is a change in weather. I thought surely it would warm up and feel somewhat summery. Wrong.

On April 30, the Germans in our state of Baden-Würtemburg celebrate Walpurgisnächt, which is a farewell to the evil winter spirits and a way of welcoming in the summer days. May Day has become a socialist rallying holiday, and we found this is still the tradition, when we wandered into a rally downtown, replete with heavily pierced fringe groups and an odd banner showing people chasing Nazis out with bloody knives. Don't ask. I don't know. Back to Walpurgisnächt...we decided to do the traditional drunken hike up the Philosopher's walk to the top of the hill at Neuenheim. This is a crazy event that is actually detailed on wikipedia: Check out the link to see a photo of the actual Heidelberg event. Basically, after passing around a wine bottle while making the long vertical hike up to an ex-Nazi amphitheatre, we sat around with tons of people camped around fires, watching fire jugglers and fireworks. Being the orderly people that they are, the Germans had a fleet of polizei and krankenwagens (ambulances) poised right below the amphitheatre, in case anyone caught fire, I suppose. The feeling in the stone theatre that night was a bit eerie, it's a strange place even by daylight, standing in a large semi-circle of stone bleachers imagining them filled with Nazis screaming "Heil, Hitler!" is a bit disturbing to my over-active imagination. Being there on this night, the mood was obviously more chill and I felt like the Germans are doing a good job chasing away the evils of the past. Walpurgisnächt is a leftover festival from early druidic and pagan celebrations, and the feeling is certainly mystical as you hike up the Neuenheim hill in the light of a full moon to find people gathered around a bonfire.

Another fun local event we attended this month was Spargelfest in Schwetzingen, a town south of Heidelberg. Spargel is the Deutsch word for asparagus, but in this case it specifically refers to the plump white variety so highly prized in this region. I first saw these veggies in the paintings of the Dutch artist, Adrien Coorte, years ago. I remember feeling deeply revolted by the thick pale stalks in his still lifes. Go ahead, let the phallophobia jokes ensue...I probably was phobic back then. It's all good, I'm over it now, I enjoy my spargelsuppe with gusto now. The Spargelfest is filled with tents selling spargel recipes and typical Deutsch cuisine, plus wine-tastings and loads of Welde bier, from their local brewing company. Spargelfest even has a Spargel Queen, since they claim to be the asparagus capital of the world. I must add that Schwetzingen's schlossgarten is the most beautiful I've ever been to, and could possibly rival famous gardens like Schönbrun in Vienna and maybe even Versailles. After a gorgeous afternoon wandering these idyllic gardens we headed back to Heidelberg, stopping on our way out at a farm selling spargel. We bought our own bunch and carried it home to enjoy with grilled salmon and local Riesling. Bliss.

After too many cold and rainy days to count, summer seems to have finally found us in Heidelberg. This weekend was sunny and temperate, we are on our third straight day of sunshine today, and that's enough to cause widespread euphoria here. We've enjoyed biergartens and cafes this weekend, reveling in the outdoor life of both countryside and city, something Europe does well. I think the art of sitting at a cafe for hours and doing nothing is the epitome of what it means to be European, and it makes me never want to go back to America!


  1. I enjoyed your post as usual. I remember from my trip to visit a friend who lives in Schwedelbach six years ago that warm weather takes a long time to arrive in Germany (it used to take a long time in Wisconsin, too, when I lived there). I remember the absolute intoxication on the very first warmer day (when the temperature rose to as little as 55 or 60 degrees); it felt like being drunk on not a drop. Here's to warm weather and for sitting in open-air cafes. Here's to your birthday. Thanks for the fuller description of the Walpurgisnacht and Spargelfest.

    John G. Morris

  2. I do love Europe in the spring when cafes pull out into the street and the old of winter is swept away, shaken out, and dusted off. And three years later, I too love asparagi bianco. Happy Birthday!