A recent event, the arrest of former Catalan President Carles Puigdemont, of whom I will speak in due time, in the state of Schleswig-Holstein, in the extreme north of Germany, next to the border with Denmark, has reminded me of that part of German land —land and sea, I should say— especially dear to me and that perhaps I know better than the rest of the country, for which I profess, as a whole and for many reasons, an invincible affection. I enjoyed many times its beautiful landscapes and the civility of its people. The idea that Germans do not make much noise when they meet is one of the misconceptions that different peoples have of each other. It so happens that in Spain we may all speak at once and Germans do it more orderly, almost always one at a time. At the end, the laughter, the approval or disapproval, the jokes and the songs may be even noisier or louder than in Spain.
Serious and romantic at the same time
This marriage of land and sea is well embodied in Schleswig-Holstein, German Land that I visited many times, almost always in summer, in endless and unforgettable days, often in the last week of June, at the time of the Kieler Woche, an annual event famous worldwide, when hundreds of sailboats from different countries participate in races and competitions of various kinds in the Kiel fjord, more than one hundred kilometers from Hamburg.
In this latter city, unthinkable without its port, its river Elbe and its commercial and maritime vocation, another happening is also celebrated in summer, the Hamburg Festival Kreuzfahrt, in which at least seven major cruise lines arrive at the city in the same dates. The frolic takes place in the immense port, at night, among dozens of fireworks and with lovely games of light, led by renowned lighting designers (lichtkünstler), using spotlights and other lighting devices, which fill and sweep the total area where the event takes place.
The show is unforgettable. Buildings and boats shrouded in light, with overflowing masses of excited and happy people scattered everywhere, on the piers, on the open terraces, on the decks of the innumerable ships of all types and sizes, with their melancholic sirens shuddering the air and insistently calling to enjoy the moment and this unique opportunity, setting fire into the hearts in the warm night of the Nordic summer, so ephemeral. Wanting to capture the fleeting beauty of the moment, which will not return until after two years or until God knows when. With the need and the urgency to profit the good weather season, the beautiful mallow sunsets, eternal in the summer in those latitudes. United all in the innocent observance of the Latin Carpe diem; unknowingly following the ancestral and happy Dionysian rites, which underlie all cultures. Trying to fix forever the fairy atmosphere of the moment, to be able to remember it later.
Schleswig Holstein: sea and land and life
Events like this inevitably engender nostalgia, the fatal feeling that everything splendid ends too soon, the realization that happiness occupies only a small part of our lives. According to a chronicle of the event in 2014, six hundred thousand souls from all over the world were there, looking astonished and incredulous to the Elbe, transformed by magic into an enormous, beautiful and fugitive stage. Similar festivals exist in other countries. Perhaps in northern Europe, with limited summers that flee fast, people tend to take advantage of them with greater vehemence, with more pressing desires. It is beautiful to see them so determined not to let the elusive happiness escape.
These are countries of land and sea, I said. Life on land cannot be conceived without reference to the sea and many local songs tell us about it. One of the most popular, Wo die Nordseewellen, is sung in plattdeutsch (a West Germanic language spoken mainly in northern Germany and the eastern part of the Netherlands and that has some variants).
Can someone not expert have an idea of the subject? Wikipedia serves, at least, so that daring fools, who believe that the world is simple and four ideas are enough to understand it, may stop a little and meditate. With so many different languages and dialects, can any of them be used as argument to justify a disintegration or separation? The process would never end and could atomize any community, no matter its antiquity, its birth process, its history.
I cannot speak with authority about the musical taste of the Germans. But I have been able to appreciate that soft songs, sometimes melancholic or sad, are cherished in that country. I believe that German people, with the caution due in any generalization, are serious, honest and romantic. As one of my goals is to disclose realities that I have had the fortune of knowing, I will refer to some typical or popular German songs, that my readers can even listen to with the links that I show; they may be new for some of them. Of North Germany, to be more precise, of the seafaring Germany, turned over to the sea for centuries.
How German songs foster patriotism
One of them is the aforementioned Wo die Nordseewellen. I give the link to Youtube and translate some words of the beginning: Where the waves of the North Sea bathe the beach, / where the yellow flowers bloom on the green earth, / where seagulls scream in the storm. / That is my home (Heimat is the word used in German), there I feel at home.
One’s home lies in very different places and can therefore be in the sea. Heimat, the German word in this song, designates the terroir, the homeland, in a deep and kindly sense. The world is full of such gentle homelands, intimate, welcoming, small and definite spaces anchored in a preterit time that is often that of childhood. There is so much beauty in our world that we all receive some of it and I have always thought that excessive and exclusive love to homelands are unjustified and vacuous. Exacerbated nationalisms are perverse. When I run into one of those extreme nationalists, I want to laugh, then I feel like crying. In the end, I want to run away. Not because they are dangerous, although they may be so —they have been, infinitely, throughout history— but because I fear them. I’m afraid because they bore me, they bore the sheep.
Another song is Seemann, deine Heimat ist das Meer (Sailor, your home is the sea) and was composed by Werner Scharfenberger. I translate the initial words: Sailor, forget your dreams, / do not think about your house. / Sailor, the wind and the waves / call you. / Your home is the sea, / your friends are the stars. / Your love is your ship, / your nostalgia is distance. / Only to them you have to be faithful / your whole life.
Another song, very sad and that does not come from the regional area that I’m sticking to, is Abba Heidschi Bumbaidschi (I have seen the title written in various ways). It is a very old song of Austro-German origin, perhaps dating back to the fifteenth century, with a text that speaks of a mother who dies and leaves her little son alone. It was originally a lullaby, but it has become a Christmas theme, without the words having changed. The title is untranslatable and this is the link for the version of Plácido Domingo. I offer in Spanish only a few words, very simple: Abba Heidschi Bumbaidschi, sleep peacefully, / your mother has left / and will be out / for a long time.
Germans from Schleswig Holstein
These Germans from Schleswig-Holstein, of whom I am speaking now, are serious and yet warm people, show honesty, restraint, consideration for the law, the institutions and the servants of order. It is not fear, I know it very well, it is respect, as if they understood without effort that their work is necessary and important for any society. I will briefly tell an event, which happened while I was there.
A rather elderly lady fell at home and broke the bone of her elbow, the olecranon, a part of the ulna. Only by lightly exploring the injury could you hear the crackle of the fracture. Almost in front of the house there was a traumatology clinic and I wanted to take her there, although there was no urgency in fact. It was impossible, because the lady argued that she had to go first to her family doctor, who also lived very close, so that he could write the pertinent request to the specialist.
Perhaps these Germans are even somewhat different from those of the South of the Country. They themselves joke a little about the latter and consider them less formal people, of more erratic behavior. In the north, for example, it is not usual in restaurants and breweries to share a table with strangers, what is, in contrast, very common and almost obligatory in Bavaria. It is a minor detail. In Schleswig-Holstein, I met people of very diverse condition, from university professors to workers of varied trades. I never had any problem with these people of simple and unsophisticated likings, who have fun in a calm and placid way.
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