(Part 3 of my experience as an IFYE to Germany in 1992.)
How long does it take to become part of a family? Well, that depends on a variety of factors, but for me, 20 years ago in Germany, it was less than the three weeks I got to spend with each family.
It didn’t seem like three weeks had passed before I had to pack up and leave the Gaths in Weilburg. It was like leaving family.
Once again, I was off into the unknown. No knowledge of my next family or what sort of farm they had. Only an idea of where the next town, Großostheim, Bayern (Bavaria) was located.
An hour on another train, another timeless struggle pitting me against my inanimate entourage of luggage and the train station’s clock, and I was at a train station, awaiting the Höflichs.
Now, at this point, I want to point out that I don’t really drink. I’ve established that I have never liked beer (and I don’t intend to start anytime soon.) I bring this up because you may not believe me by the end of this column.
Honestly, up to my first meeting with the Höflichs, my entire consumption of alcohol wouldn’t have filled a single wine glass.
That was about to change.
The Höflichs own and operate a vineyard – Weingut Höflich.
Now, had I had more experience in different alcohols, I would have known that the very first thing my host dad, Peter Höflich, was wanting me to try was not, in fact, something that I thought could be used to strip paint. That was my first thought as I took a tentative sniff of the clear liquid in a very small glass that Peter had just handed me, moments after arriving at their home and vineyard.
Then he wanted me to taste it.
I must have shown something on my face that said I wasn’t sure this was a good idea from my point of view. He was intent that I try. So I did.
Turns out, it was Mirabelle Schnapps. It sort of burned on the way down. A lot.
The next glass held a sampling of one of the vineyard’s wines. After that schnapps, it was a lot smoother.
A short time later, I was unpacking my suitcases in the guest room and then we were off into town to join friends for dinner – and wine. Their wine, of course. And by drinking half a glass that evening, I nearly doubled my lifetime consumption.
The next day, I was given a tour of the vineyard, which had only started producing wine four years earlier. It was modern, with steel tanks and equipment all stored in a barn that smelled like one giant wine bottle that had just been opened.
They produced mainly white wines, with a few red varieties. I would end up trying all of them at one time or another.
Within a couple of days I was working alongside Peter, my host mom Gisela, host brother Frank, and host sister Eva. We labeled bottles. Put corks in. Moved tanks around. Helped to build a new carport. I was another member of the family, putting my back into it to make sure the family business kept moving ahead.
In the middle of this, I had a birthday. Peter and Gisela kept me up late on the night before, talking, asking me questions about home – stalling as it turned out. As soon as the clock struck midnight, Peter brought out a bottle of sekt (sparkling wine, equivalent to champagne) and we toasted my birthday.
One of the biggest events of the year for the Höflichs was quickly approaching. Every July they hold a winefest at the vineyard. And yes, that’s exactly what it sounds like. It’s a long weekend of festivities at the vineyard, all centered on wine.
Over three days, hundreds of folks from the area came to try the wines, visit, eat, and have a good time.
I was, for reasons unknown to me, put on cooking duty. It wasn’t as hard as that might sound at first. The main dish was a combination of mushrooms, onions, a spice mix, and a lot of white wine. It required me to stand over the large pan and stir.
While I was slowly getting the hang of the taste of wine, I still detested mushrooms and onions. And standing over a pan of those two ingredients all day wasn’t changing my mind any. Looking back, I suspect that I was asked to do that job because they knew I certainly wasn’t going to eat any of the product.
During the festival, with “It’s a Small World” playing softly in the background (okay, that’s not exactly true), I met an American who was visiting Germany and whose family had hosted IFYE exchangees that came to the U.S. from other countries. And while it was very cool to meet a fellow American, and one with a connection to the IFYE program, it didn’t suddenly make me homesick, as you might expect.
Ask my family about me when I was younger and they’ll tell you I was born with a suitcase in my hand. I’d stay with a cousin or aunt and uncle or grandparent at the drop of a hat. To me, this trip was a continuation of that desire to meet and experience how others live. This just happened to be in a different country.
I can honestly say I never got homesick at any point during the six months. That’s not to say I didn’t miss friends and family. I did, and sometimes more than others.
One such evening was while I lived with the Höflichs.
We took a wine tasting cruise that had been set up by the producers in the Franken region of Bavaria. The boat was set up for dinners and parties, of which this was both. The three of us – Peter, Gisela and myself – met up with friends for an evening that included a five-course dinner and at least two types of wine with each course.
It was a pristine July evening. Warm, but comfortable. The cruise went from evening into night, allowing the sky to change overhead for our enjoyment. We cruised past steep hills that lined the Main (pronounced “mine”) River that were stacked with vineyards. We slipped past small towns that begged to be photographed for postcards. And I learned more about the different kinds of wine in one evening than I had ever thought possible.
But there was just a hint of melancholy that tinged the delightful evening. Don’t get me wrong, I was still having a good time. It was just one of those moments that I really wished someone from home was there to share this with me.
I couldn’t dwell on that, or let it take over the experience, as I still had nearly five months to go before I would be back home. And there were still five families that I would yet become a part of, three weeks at a time.
I would be homesick a few times, as it turned out. Homesick for the family I had become a part of and now had to leave as I once more jumped onto a Deutsche Bahn train that was taking me and my luggage back into the unknown.
You can find links to the Höflich’s vineyard and information on Großostheim at www. lagrangepublishing.com.
http://www.weingut-hoeflich.de/ (Site is in German.)