Letter from Germany


guy and trufflesBy Guy Burns in Bavaria

I’m been now back in Bavaria for most of August and three things I’d like to talk about: firewood; cemeteries; and mushrooming.

I’m living in a rural area not far from Amberg, in the province of Oberpfalz. Here most people use wood to heat their houses, often in conjunction with a central heating system using oil. Though, what is quite different here is the way people cut and store the wood. After a tree has been felled it is cut and split into one metre lengths, then neatly stacked to dry. These lengths are used for the basis of buying and selling of firewood based on the ‘stere’ measurement—much in the same way we in NZ use a ‘cord’ of wood. A stere of wood is equivalent to one square metre of wood.

When the wood gets delivered, normally from a local farmer, it is one metre lengths.tractor and wood This is way too long to fit in the wood burner, so it has to be cut on a large bench saw—a job I’ve just finished—then stacked away. We cut 10 stere—most households use between 5 to 10 stere of wood per season.

The area here is low rolling, foothill type country with heaps of forest—two thirds—you don’t see any clear felling; only large trees are harvested. People are predominately Catholic and there are dozens of small villages scattered around, all within several kilometres of each other—this pattern is found over the whole of north Germany. Each village will have one or two churches and sometimes on the outskirts you see a few private chapels.

What I have found interesting are the cemeteries that are always connected to the churches. All graves are extremely well maintained, with heaps of flowers, small shrubs and occasional nick knacks—go past at night and you will see a candle burning at about 25 percent of the graves. The headstones are highly polished marble or sometimes ornate steelwork. You never see an unattended grave.

graves in long lineThe main reason for the care and love present in the cemeteries is the fact that families have to pay a yearly fee to keep the grave—ranging from $10 per year in a small village to $100 for those in cities. If families stop paying the rental the remains will be lifted by the church—stored in a crypt—and someone else will use the space.

Autumn is here, the rains have arrived and it is mushrooming season. When people go mushrooming, they enter their local forest and special State laws exist to allow people the right to access forests for their ‘fruit’. I’ve been mushrooming a few times and it always amazes me how many types of mushrooms are in the forest and how many bizarre colours, shapes and sizes there are—but only about 5-10 percent are edible. Sounds dangerous, but, I’ve been going with a younger mushroomer and once finished we get them checked by an ‘old’ mushroomer—someone who has had their knowledge handed down to them from many generations past. So I’m still alive and haven’t had any vivid dreams.

I’m soon off touring to the west of North Germany and will report back soon.