Home away from home; Or how it was no problem
There was a man in the barn with his arm in cow, up to his shoulder.
And this was only the first day with family #5, the Glüßing-Lüerßen family in the state of Niedersachsen.
In many ways, the landscape around their farm reminded me of home in Ohio. It was a little flatter, but it was green with fields dotted by cows.
Except for the one that had the man’s arm inside it.
The cow, it must be said, was taking this in stride. I watched, from a distance. Took pictures, from a distance. And asked questions, from a distance. It was an operation by a vet on one of the cow’s stomachs. He really had to reach to get to it. But no, I didn’t need to come closer. Thanks.
The Glüßing-Lüerßens owned a large dairy farm with a lot of cows. I mean a lot. And there were more popping out every day.
Carsten, my host dad, Anke, host mom, and their two boys, Arndt (6 at the time) and Jan Eicke (3), had welcomed me into their home on the last day of August, 1992. I became part of a family that was, in some ways, busier than the city of Berlin. And I loved it.
The farm work itself was pretty straightforward, although I was still not getting that “up at 5 a.m. to milk the cows” thing. I fed cows, moved cows between fields, loaded cows into a wagon, unloaded cows out of a wagon, and helped to deliver calves.
Yeah. You read that right. During my three weeks with the Glüßing-Lüerßens, over 20 calves were born. It was hectic, let me tell you. Most were delivered without any issues. But a few required assistance, which included me pitching in. Or pulling out, actually.
I was learning about German farm life. No doubt about that.
I did get to see sights around the area other than calves being born, though I saw a lot of that, too. My first tour was a leisure bike ride through the small town of Elsfleth, over the bridge, around and back to the farm.
There was a horse market, complete with parade and festival.
We took a day trip to Bremerhaven, a large port city near the North Sea, which included a drive along the coast.
We also spent a day at what is my favorite museum in the world – Museumdorf Cloppenburg, an open air museum with German barns and farm houses from the mid-1500s to the mid-1800s. The barns and homes had been moved from across the country and rebuilt. It was a tour of Germany, through its barns and farm houses, in a single day.
Not for the first time during my stay, the Glüßing-Lüerßens apologized that this wasn’t as exciting as Berlin. Surely, they figured, after the thrill of the big city, Elsfleth must seem so sleepy. Boring, even.
It was anything but boring, as I had Arndt and Jan Eicke to keep things hopping.
Looking back, I see my time there as a sort of test run, a trial, of when I would eventually become a father. I had two kids there, one in Kindergarten, the other a couple years away, who followed me everywhere and always wanted to play.
This included pushing them on the swing in the barn. It meant tossing them onto hay bales – this was Jan Eicke’s favorite, as I recall. Or building something out of Legos with Arndt.
I must admit on the cow-milking thing that I felt bad I wasn’t able to help. They had a modern milking parlor that worked like a finely tuned watch and I thought I might have a chance to figure it out here as well as anywhere. Instead, I ended up being a mobile playground for the boys.
And there is nothing like two boys at that age to wear you out more than farm work could. Shortly after dinner each evening, the two boys would be sent off to bed. I question, now, the logic of letting them sleep longer than the rest of us, as that only gave them the opportunity to have more energy in the morning.
At some point, assuming there weren’t any calves popping out that evening, Carsten, Anke and I would end up in the living room, talking, playing games, and relaxing. It became the routine for the evening.
It didn’t hurt that my German was coming along little by little. I was picking up new words and phrases. The phrase that I was stuck on with the Glüßing-Lüerßens was “keine problem.” Or – no problem (my equivalent of no worries.)
Watch the boys for the afternoon while Carsten and Anke took care of something out on the farm? Keine problem. Take the car and pick Arndt up from school? Keine problem. Paint the fence? Pull weeds? Move cows? Keine problem.
Time to leave them? Ah. Großes problem. (Big problem.)
To be honest, it had been easier leaving Berlin, even with the wonderful Plutas and the break that had come at just the right time. But I was not a “city” guy.
I was a country guy. Niedersachsen was a close reflection of home. And the Glüßing-Lüerßens could have been family friends back in Ohio. We didn’t go to a lot places. And we didn’t have to.
I realized that the “newness” of Germany was wearing off. I was writing less in my journal, as the things I did from day to day seemed ordinary. During the first weeks in Germany, I was focused on seeing the sights, and my first families were great at making sure I did, and we had a great time doing all of that.
Early highlights had been seeing a particular castle or going to a festival. Now, it was an evening going to a friend’s home to celebrate the birth of their first child and sitting around for hours talking, joking, laughing, and teaching them a new card game.
It was only the schedule that was set before I arrived that made me move on. We had to meet with the administrator of the Landjügen program before heading into a big, blank spot on our schedule. Free time. With a rail pass and 11 days on our own, Europe was open to us. Anywhere the train went, we could go.
But really, I was thinking why it couldn’t have been 11 more days on the farm in Niedersachsen.