- There is nothing the eye perceives that is unpleasant
to behold. I look out over my balcony to a polka-dot sky of sculptured,
puffy- white clouds sailing gracefully in the heat of the evening sun
through a yonder of brilliantly nuanced shades of purple and blue.
- It is an unusually warm Friday evening in the sleepy
village of Burgholzhausen. My neighbours are attempting to erect a tent,
for they have visitors from Austria. But they've already imbibed too
much beer, and the proceedings are farcical. The canopy takes the shape
of a theatrical backdrop and everyone cheers. Then it tips sideways and
rightwards and a general moan accompanies twelve square feet of canvass
crawling off in the direction of the washing line.
- I watch the ravens fight for the upper perch of a fir
tree I have known as my nearest friend these last ten years. It is the
tallest fir tree in my neighbourhood. It is unshakeably still this evening,
yet I have seen it bend like a defiant warrior in winds that have swept
tiles from roofs and cars from streets. In the winter months, she clothes
herself in frosty snow like a bride awaiting a distant groom; and yet
she is perennially alone.
- Below her branches, two little boys and a girl are cavorting
with a puppy dog. This way he goes, that ways he goes; but none of the
children can catch him. He yelps in delight. It's a game, with no winners,
no losers. The children are lost in a world of giggles and silliness and
the puppy dog is in love with the little people he can outrun, but will
never run out on.
- Across the way, Christoph, an old piano teacher is entertaining
the friends of his daughter, who has just finished her first semester
as a ballet dancer and singer at Frankfurt's Academy of Arts. Is it Johann
Sebastian Bach, Strauss, or Mozart? Nobody knows and all the girls are
laughing because Christoph has drunk too much wine and he's having fun,
shifting from one concerto to another at a whim.
- Here is the fulsomeness of a midsummer German evening,
and nature delights in herself. She is a woman in full bloom and she fills
the air with the scent of her own romance. There is no shame to be had
in the nakedness of her bosom, for here we are all children; and this
is paradise; an idyll in the heart of Germany.
- On evenings such as this, I can stand at the uppermost
breach of the Old Village and track the ascent of eagles to their lair
on the Feldberg Mountain. Near the old watchtower, now a church, warriors
would keep watch on predators, Roman legions or Frankish invaders. These
were the people who could talk to wolves and read runes in the trees;
and in the eyes of their descendants, I can still catch a glimpse of this
- Beyond the strawberry fields and the orchards lies Friedrichsdorf,
the refuge of the Huguenots and non-conformists, and the birthplace of
Philipp Reis, the man who invented the telephone. This elderly sister
of Burgholzhausen is still a very beautiful lady and has gracefully accepted
unto herself a vibrant community of folks from every corner of the Taunus;
and not a few French, Italians, Chinese and Turks besides.
- Her people love her, but her old glory is gone. The Milupa
factory, once famed for producing the world's greatest output of skimmed,
powdered milk is closed, shuttered, and bare. It was purchased, downsized
and resold on a bank fraud by an Israeli hedge-fund operator. Tools, equipment
and trucks remain in place, rusted and frozen in time as if caught in
an Hiroshima of financial Armageddon. The men are gone, turned to beer
or part time jobs, or even suicide.
- They are not alone. In the years of cheap, freewheeling
finance, men with crooked noses made crooked deals; and the blue-eyed,
strawberry-eating citizens of Friedrichsdorf trusted them, for it was
a crime not to. Traditional businesses that had thrived for generations
are now no more. Gone forever.
- The men and women who were the proud, hard-working great-
grandchildren of the Huguenots moved out of town and into the cloisters
of public housing and onto prescription drugs while the speculators moved
in and purchased defunct property for pennies on the pound, building offices
for foreign lawyers and American and Israeli money men.
- In Burgholzhausen, the children are still playing. Christoph's
wife is cooking chicken with ginger sauce and I can smell it from my
balcony. The girls are beyond mirth, and I can hear them laughing. In
fact, the whole street is laughing; even my neighbours who have managed
to make a drunken tepee out of a sheet of canvas.
- The sun is setting beyond the distant hills and the clouds
that remain nearest are suffused with a reddish glow, while those closest
to the village hang low and heavy like spoiled treacle candyfloss. The
ravens have pitched their fight to even squares and have set themselves
apart atop of the fir tree.
- A silence descends on the village as darkness draws close,
and I can hear the televised voice of an American in the distance talk
of war and his undying loyalty to Israel. The children are no longer
playing and the puppy dog yelps for joy no more. The girls have taken
their leave and Christoph is playing a sad, pianist soliloquy.
- I've been working late, wrapped in thoughts and have
lost all fashion of time. I step out onto my balcony to spy the church
clock, and I sigh a breath of relief.
- It's still this side of midnight.
- Mike James, an Englishman, is a former freelance journalist
resident in Germany since 1992 with additional long-haul stays in East
Africa, Poland and Switzerland.