I first discovered the term “Gemütlicheit” years before I ever traveled to Germany. A German restaurant owner tried to explain it to me while I was painting a small project for him. It was during a hard time when I was between jobs and I was doing some decorative art work and custom wood carving for restauranteurs or whoever would buy them. It wasn’t much, but it put some food on the table and helped pay the mortgage. In this restaurant, I had carved some small barrel ends with grape vines, ribbons etc. to hang on the wall. I then continued, painting a small mural with grapevines, grapes, welcome signs, etc. and in this melange was the term “gemutlicheit”. As this was not included in my limited first year German, I was interested in his explanation. As it turned out, this is one of those words that does not translate easily into English, as we have no direct comparison. It translates more as a feeling, a sense of comfort, a relaxed atmosphere, an ambience of fun and enjoyment. Combine all of these and you get the idea. This is the kind of atmosphere one experiences in a small festival, an intimate party or celebration, one which makes you feel at ease and fills you with enjoyment.
Such was the case years ago when we were traveling with another couple through Germany. We were staying in a little village on the Romantic Road (the subject of many other stories) and were out driving one weekend, looking for a “Flöhmarkt” or local Flea market. As we neared the village of Ochsenfurt, we came across a large one, spread out for several hundred yards outside the town. After parking the car, we enjoyed browsing around the site for about an hour, amazed by the quantity and variety of goods, items both the same and different from what we see at home. (Same junk, different flavour)
At one end of the flea market was the main entrance to the village, the old original gate which was part of the walled enclosure. It was blocked off for regular vehicle traffic with a large banner announcing that the local fall festival was on today. We wandered into the village, celebrations now in full swing.
A local train enthusiast had laid some narrow gauge train rails up the main street for a block or two to accommodate a small scale miniature steam locomotive and some rail-cars. Smoke belching and steam hissing, the little puffer made its way up the street with several small cars loaded with screaming and yelling children, while the engine’s whistle was blowing and bells ringing. Many of the local businesses had tables set up on the sidewalks and streets in front of their shops, taking advantage of the sunny fall day to attract the people passing by. Further down the street, a humorous anachronism brought peals of laughter to our group. A local dance group were out in the street, all dressed up in western garb, doing a line dance to some western music. We laughed to see this crazy juxtaposition of a very “western” scene strutting down the cobblestone street of a very typical German village. Apparently, the country and western theme/music was very popular in Germany at that time . . . maybe still is.
As we continued, a little band-stand in front of a restaurant sported a small “oompah” band, loudly tooting out festive German drinking songs. We continued to wander, enjoying the ambience of a small harvest festival, with all the displays of local crafts, baked goods, and farm produce. The aroma of home cooking caught our attention, and as it was past our lunch time, we were eager for something to eat. A few people were lining up at a table where some rosy cheeked ladies were serving up plates of something that looked interesting. As we approached, we discovered the women were ladling out large portions of schupfnudels, a kind of German pasta made like small rods, pointed at each end. According to what one of the Germans told us, the old way to make them was to roll a small piece of dough with the palm of the hand on the thigh. This pointed each end of the pieces, which were then thrown into a pot of boiling water, something like cooking fresh pasta. Later, if desired, they could be added to other dishes, garnished with fried onions or whatever. After finding these German “noodles” in the supermarket, I’m sure they have machines to do the job nowadays, rather than a lot of German ladies rolling pieces of dough on their thighs.
As we watched them fill the plates, we found that others were also serving meat portions behind them in a small, private beer garden. We ordered for all of us, paid for it, and took our plates of schlupfnudels into the small back yard. Several tables had been set up, half already occupied by both locals and visitors, all enjoying the gemütlicheit of the moment, flavoured by some familiar tunes cranked out by a group of local musicians at one side of the garden. Two large fire-pits were burning, one with a huge hind-quarter of beef on a spit, the other with a good sized pig turning away, already crispy on the outside and smelling delicious! As we entered the beer garden area, we were handed a large beer and asked which of the meat choices we would like. An expert butcher would then slice off some pieces of meat and skillfully drop them on our plates.
After collecting our food, we picked a table with some space left, and sat down to enjoy our meal. Once again, fortune smiled upon us, as we heard in the conversations several English words! Once we started talking and comparing notes, we discovered that one of the visitors sitting at the table had once lived in our town at home and was quite familiar with it. Another example of “it’s a small world”.
This was enough to get the conversation rolling, and as the meal continued, and the beer and wine was consumed, the entire table was involved in our travel tales and plans for our next destination. We have found over the years, that this is an excellent way to pick up travel tips, local knowledge, and some invaluable suggestions for sights to see, places to stay and recommended restaurants.
After a few hours of this great example of “Gemütlicheit”, we finally dragged ourselves out of there to head back to our own village and little hotel for a nap.
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