Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Gardening in Germany

3 weeks and my first WWOOFing experience is over - I have dirt imbedded in my nails, am unshaved, have a few cuts and scrapes up my arms, some bruises from falling from the bike and feel stronger and fitter after working in the fields and biking trips in the afternoons. I marvel at the fortune of having found this farm and find delight in the diversity of people I meet and new friends I made in my time in Dogern, Germany.

I arrived in Waldshut a small town not far from Dogern and attempted to look like a lost tourist on the arriving train so the WWOOFers sent to pick me up could recognise me. It worked. Towards me walked a friendly face asking if I was Sarah, this was the Chief WWOOFer sent to greet the new arrival. We went straight to the main house and was again greeted by friendly faces and welcoming feeling. This was to be the house where I would have breakfast, afternoon coffees with a never-ending supply of chocolate and eventually stay. Wondering if I would be put straight to work I was pleasantly surprised that the first call of duty was an afternoon laying at the pool side, using the cool water to revitalise after a morning on the train and arriving to extreme temperatures. Then it was time to be introduced to “The Villa”, the house on the farm where the WWOOFers and other interns stayed. The driveway lead to a large barn, and the double garage filled with eggs to be sorted and a cooler filled with fruit and vegetables available for consumption whenever desired. The Villa across from the garage was an old farm house with gumboots laying outside and racks of shoes covered in soil having been used on the fields. As I was shown my room up in the attic I felt comfortable in this rustic setting. At the Villa we shared communal dinners of colourful salads, homemade bread and a selection of delicious cheeses in the outdoor patio, in the afternoons I  relaxed on the hammock while enjoying an organic beer after a tiring hot morning in the fields harvesting, pruning and weeding. 

It was then time to meet the 500 chickens that I would be visiting daily for “Huhn (Chicken) duty”. The smell was something that I would get used to but was not pleasant to the senses. The areas of laying boxes were to be checked for hens and the eggs removed. Getting right into it I had my first attempt at moving a hen only to be bitten and introduced to the grumpy ladies of this coop. As time went on I quite enjoyed my afternoon visit to the chickens where I could take time to collect the 400 eggs per day, feed the masses outside under the sun and speak any language to them (they weren’t going to judge my failing German words slowly learnt, or think strangely of my foreign accent or my spanish phrases). Later on when the daylight faded we would put them to bed - the last chicken would look around and hop off to its place in the hierarchy of the chicken “beds”. They were then disturbed from drifting into sleep by a kiwi with her head torch on, gumboots, shorts from afternoons adventures and her strange attempts to call them sweethearts and gently move them from the laying boxes to their sleeping spots. Some retaliate with more noise than bite but most are calm and only semi-responsive to the relocation. The roosters, however, are best to stay clear of as their purpose is on the higher end of the hierarchy - they create the “Hansel” side to the story of these Hansel and Gretel eggs. In Germany each year millions of roosters are slaughtered to reduce losses from feeding and housing them. At this farm they have made a conscience decision to find breeders that would raise and then sell on the roosters to the farm so they can pass their days with the hens until there laying days were over. They stay together and avoid the “fire” like Hansel and Gretel in the depth of the Black Forest. 

During the week after 8am (on the dot) breakfasts of fruits, muesli yogurt and homemade hazelnut bread with a fine selection of organic spreads - it was off to the fields or the green houses to harvest peas, lettuces, zucchini, and cucumbers - so many cucumbers. We also pruned the plants, weeded the herbs, and planted seedlings on the back of the planting machine where shade is appreciated and conversations continue. Tales, methods and the history of the farm was shared with interested WWOOFers ready to hear about and learn from life on the farm. The farm was first owned by a large company across the road, the project was created by a well respected women of the community, to feed good produce to the workers of the factory. One worker was distraught, after working there 20 years, when the farm was going to be closed - an agreement was reached and he was offered the opportunity to run the farm himself. After 4 hard years and almost at the point to abort the project he meet someone, and these two hardworking and friendly farmers are those that now run it. There is a love in the making of what the farm is today, the current couple came together to continue the farm and both bring strong attributes of passion and hard work to make the farm an enjoyable experience for all that cross its path. They have had the gardens certified organic and have extended the farm to have produce for the markets, the farm shop, deliveries to the local area and still to the kitchen of the founding company. This is where we go for lunch at 1pm (on the dot), looking out over a small village of in Switzerland, to be fed a large selection of top quality salads prepared with the vegetables we harvested from the farm. My favourite was the cucumber yogurt salad (meant to be had as a soup) with dill, raisins and walnut. To be followed by a hot dish that left you very full but completely satisfied. 

One day we decided to bike to this little village that we looked over from our lunch spot, the quaintness of this town is somewhat hindered by it being home to a nuclear power plant. A foreign concept to me. I had the pleasure of its view from my bedroom window for the first week, I awoke in the mornings with the sunrise creating a unique image of nuclear power vs the power of the sun. We regularly biked from Germany to Switzerland to swim in the Rhine on the Swiss side and enjoy picnics, wines and discussions with the other WWOOFers and interns on the farm. One day we decided to attempt to swim from Switzerland to Germany but as a large group we abandoned the mission as the strong currents were a struggle. Unsatisfied I made it a goal to achieve before departure - 10 days later the opportunity arose with a fellow French adventurer. We swam upstream from our favourite “beach” spot at the riverside. Then we powered across the Rhine when the current began to pick up, on the other side we touched German soil and caught our breathe before the return trip. This was more of an effort and I thought for a moment that we would drift down the river and have a long walk back… but there was wine and chocolate waiting for us and we pushed through and made our way to the other side just 50 meters from our picnic spot. Afterwards I sat by the riverside feeling accomplished and enjoying a wine I admired the skies reflection on the still water and the intensity and diversity of the green trees in the German side of the Rhine opposite us. The simple sounds of insects and birds celebrating a summers day. The gentle sun ending its day here and fading behind the clouds and off into the horizon to wake up New Zealand.

My first weekend spent in Dogern was filled with adventure and relaxation. Earlier in the week an invitation to the Swiss Alps for a walk was offered. Even if I was a “no” person, I think this opportunity would be hard to refuse. After three 6am starts on the farm the 5.30am start on a Sunday morning was no problem, I was going to the Swiss Alps. A big breakfast with the Eulenhof farm crew and cheese sandwiches prepared we began the hour and a half drive our starting point. We arrived to a picturesque Swiss town where we were immediately exposed to the cliche traditional dresses on a couple of girls heading up towards the church on this romantic Sunday morning. We rode the Gondola up the hill side and then set off for some steep climbs, surreal scenery and to enjoy the company of a lot of cows with bells creating a soundtrack to the hike. 7 hours later after some detours, large stops to admire the surrounding hills, villages and lake we found our way back to the village - refreshed, rejuvenated and at peace after a day spent wandering the paths of the Swiss Alps.  

A week later it was time to go for another adventure through the Schwarzwald (Black Forest) with a fellow WWOOFer. Driving an hour from the farm (being very cautious of being on the right side of the road), we set off into the valley to walk along the riverside - climbing up and down the surrounding cliffs. Half way throughout the walk we decided to stop for lunch. We scampered down an uneven grounding with a hope (/ fear) that trip back up would be possible. A hour by the riverside enjoying cheese sandwiches, placing feet in the cold cold river flowing down from the valley - and enjoying the serenity and space for thoughts to wander. After walking in the river, sitting in the sun absorbing its heat, it was time to see whether it was possible to return up the bank. Crossing the river with water to our thighs and a few slippery moments on the uneven rocks beneath our feet we made it to the other side. As I began to scamper up the bank grabbing for life a branch fallen but still strongly rooted into the ground I felt the soil and rocks beneath me fall away, not too high but half way up and with a fear that the drop could cause a bit of injury I hugged the tree branch and had a moments thought that maybe should have kept to the kind tracks that offered an easy alternative to the riverside, that moment passed, strength regained and final stage in sight. I carefully placed my feet on stable ground and had one last push up the branch and back on to the track. A bit dusty but unharmed and ready to set of on the final 2 hours of our hike through a valley in the South of Germany, which ended with a Rothaus bier produced in the area. 

To end my stay at Dogern I had a action packed weekend starting with croissant day. Friday is the day the farm shop is open which for us means croissants for breakfast and a selection of any fruit desired from the shop - which is beautifully prepared filled with a diversity of colours from fruit and vegetable, impressive to any eye passing by. After a day harvesting and then an afternoon preparing for departure, I was fortunate to be in Dogern to experience the evenings summer festival with traditional German brass bands, bratwurst sausages, beers and good company. After a few beers, a laugh with the playful band and a chat with some local Germans it was time to bike home under the starlit sky. The next morning was a 6am start for the markets in Waldshut. A little distracted after limited sleep I helped set up the stall, then got ready to serve the people slowly wandering down the cobble-stoned streets filled with fruit and vegetable stalls and delicious food to be enjoyed on a Saturday morning stroll. After a few moments of confusion and my repeated phrase “Kien Deutsch”, I found that even in a small town in Southern Germany most people spoke English. Feeling a little bad, as I was in their country not speaking their language, I made sure that my smile was always present. “Ich bin eine kiwi” and “Gib mir das Wasser, bitte” was the extent of my German speaking ability. After packing down the markets and enjoying an ice-cream of lemon with basil and strawberry jam I returned to the farm to quickly get ready for an afternoon playing at the local volleyball tournament (I wasn't really much help but had a good time). After a but of fun and avoiding the sudden down pour it was time to leave with a TV Dogern T-shirt gifted as a souvenir - sehr gut!

Finally the active side to the day was over and my tired body was ready for my farewell sauna in the beautiful natural settings, with the freedom to be openly you in Germany. The towel treatment in the 90 degree sauna with herbal infused water was extreme but a truly relaxing experience. After hours of walking around and baring all to see I returned to the house and saw my previous companion was walking around in her underwear, awkward I thought I should leave then realised that I had seen a lot more in the previous hours and was amazed at how quickly I returned to my set of thinking so far from the beauty of being content and relaxed about the human body in all its shapes and forms - as they seem to be here in Germany. After packing up, my day ended with a rich and luscious slice of Black Forest cake. Cherry liquor and rich dark chocolate throughly enjoyed. A grand and delicious way to end my time at the side of the Black Forest which offered nice beers, beautiful walks, a history of an organic farm and lots of cake. 

Ready for the next stage of my adventure: Budapest, Hungary. 

Dedicated to the Eulenof farm, especially Ulrike and Marcus. Thank you for your generosity, your openness and for growing a desire in me to cultivate own organic goodies back home. Also, a huge thanks to all the WWOOFers and to interns for your kindness and friendship.

1 comment:

  1. Amazing Bear, love the smiling photos and the smiling tone in your writing. So much happiness!!