April 10, 2007

A German Easter

My Boston friends and I always made a big day of Easter Sunday: getting all dressed up in bright Easter dresses, waiting in line (yes, a line) for seats at Boston’s famous Trinity Cathedral, and then a big brunch afterwards. So it was a little sad to spend my first Easter halfway across the world without them; however, Easter Sunday with our adopted German family, the Fakhers, more than made up for it.

Since Bavarians celebrate Easter on Saturday night, we skipped the church service (besides, I don’t think there are any Protestant churches in these parts) and showed up at the Fakher’s house in a leafy suburb of Würzburg for the Family Easter Egg Hunt on Sunday at 11:30 a.m. I think this is a marvelous time to begin an Easter Egg Hunt. Growing up in rural Arkansas, my family always hunted Easter Eggs at the crack of dawn – six AM. I’m not sure if the ungodly hour of this occasion was due to our having to be fed and dressed in time for Sunday School at nine or because we children were too excited to waiting any longer to hunt eggs, but it must have been torture on our parents.

However, waiting until 11:30 to hunt Easter eggs, seemed to be torture on the Fakher children, because the second after we arrived they were off, racing through the garden, trampling over flowerbeds and freaking out the guinea pigs, all in order to capture the most eggs. The whole thing was over in less than five minutes. If only the children knew how much fun it was for the adults to watch their excitement, they might have gone a little slower.

Afterwards, we sat down on the terrace for a traditional German brunch: a little fresh salad, straight from the garden, and a huge slab of meat. It was truly delicious, but I’ll never grow accustomed to the amount of meat the Germans eat. Even Louise, the Fakher’s eight-year-old daughter, managed to clean her plate before I did. I’ve always maintained that my slow eating habits were a result of my having less teeth than most people (I lack the four back molars), but Louise lacks four front teeth, so there goes that theory.

After a customary visit from the Easter Bunny (an enormous brown rabbit on a leash being led door-to-door by some neighborhood children), we were off to Bamburg, “the most beautifully preserved small town in Europe,” according to my guidebook. Indeed, it was very beautiful and historic: With narrow, winding, cobblestone streets and tall half-timbered buildings lining the Main, it had more the feel of a Dutch or Belgian town than one situated in the heart of Bavaria. I particularly enjoyed our visit to Bamburg’s enormous Kaiserdom. Begun in 1012, the cathedral straddles both the Romanesque and early Gothic periods, and so it has the Gothic’s awe-inspiring vaulted ceiling and beautiful stained glass windows, yet the Romanesque’s stone simplicity. This came like a breath of fresh air after the gilded mustiness of Würzburg’s Baroque churches.

Yet, the most impressive aspect of the Dom was its reliquary, which contains not one but two nails from the One True Cross. I felt supremely lucky to spend Easter Sunday in the presence of such rare and valuable artifacts and was impressed that they are owned by such a low-profile, out-of-the-way church, for if my Sunday school education serves me correctly, there were only three nails hanging Jesus to the cross. No doubt much wealthier, tourist-hungry diocese are always trying to buy-off the Bamburgers: “I’ll trade you two saints’ skulls and splinters from the Manger for one of your nails.” But I implore them not to sell – one of those nails must be worth a Holy Grail at the very least!

It being Easter Sunday and all, you’d expect the city would lazy and quiet, but in fact, the downtown was buzzing like Market Day, except of course that all of the shops were closed. Kevin expressed disbelief that the shopkeepers would give up such lucrative business by staying closed on what appeared to be the most heavily-trafficked day of the year. But the Bavarians are a very religious people, and like in southeast Arkansas everything stays shuttered on Sunday -- by law.

... Except of course the cafés, which were so packed that we could hardly find a patio table for our merry party of six. Fortunately, while we waited, Leon, the Fakher’s 11-year old son, who’s hip-ness has been well-documented on this blog, practiced his skateboarding nearby. The racket of a skateboard on the winding cobblestone streets and rickety wooden bridges crossing the Main must have seemed irreverent to these observant people, for several of the best tables soon opened up, and we were able to spend the rest of the day as God himself intended it: eating ice cream on a sunny terrace over-looking all of Creation.

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