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Message from afar – 2017 Review

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Spring

    Görlitz has a different weather system to West Europe. We are dominated by the land mass further east, so it often seems as if we only get cold Siberian winds. We went last week to the bottom end of our local lake, the Bertsdorfer See to see how the progress of our new Harbour was coming on. Before we had a Captain but no boat. Now we have a boat but the Captain has died. Everything moves in very slow circles, the boat is parked somewhere on land, and is being made fit for the water. All that we know is that it has come from Nordrhein-Westfallen where it plied its way on the Rhein river. When the old coal mine here was filled with water, they laid out the piers where a ship could dock and now at the south end of the lake they are working on the offices and tourist centre.

    Nearby is a Wasserschloss, a château surrounded by a moat. The main house is still awaiting repairs, but one of the barns has been restored, and a café opened inside. We went there last year with Alena’s friends from Munich. The cakes are not special, but the ‚ambient‘ excellent. This time we walked past and went on and over to the Polish border where there is another café on the polish side. There the cakes looked home made but we wanted beer and they only had it out of a bottle. Luckily around the corner was a Polish Restaurant with draught beer. Vegetarians in Poland have to make do with salads or sweet things like pancakes, so we often only drink beer, half the price of German beer. With our monthly Rail and Bus Card we can just jump on a train, or take a bus with a radius of about 100 miles, and so we are often on our travels.

    Being near to Poland and the Czech Republic, we drink a lot of foreign beer. The post is also much cheaper when it stays in its own country. We can get small parcels delivered to our nearest Czech post office, and then we have an excuse to go over to collect the post, and have a beer. Alena often goes and visits her cousins in Prague, and can get there with train and bus for just 7€. It is possible to be very economical when you take a little more time.

    Our first market is the weekend before Easter, so at the moment we are a bit under house arrest. We have invested in an Internet course, and are busy making the Internet side www.dilians.de top for the people looking for us. The next big step is sending advertisements to our future customers in Facebook, and we are looking forward to the part of the course that deals with this. Last year I went to a training school in Görlitz. My trainer in the JobCentre wanted to send me on a course to improve my applications for employment, but I persuaded her that a course on picture editing, and Computer languages would help me more as a pensioner. I sat in a room with a computer and headphones, and my trainers sat either in Bremen or in Würzburg in Bayern. The training industry has grown to a business of over 21 billion euros, and the JobCentre is happy to send their customers on a course to improve their unemployment statistics. So for 8 weeks I was a well-behaved student going to ‚work‘ at 8 and coming home at 4. It looks as though my JobCentre supervisor will now leave me in peace. The next job to do is a visit to the pension office.

    Our Bavarian family members are at the moment a bit frugal with their communications and so we can only hope that no news is good news. We assume that they are all just extremely busy. We have heard that Munich is going to grow another 400,000 habitants by 2025. Where they are all going to fit in, we have no idea. It is just very nice to live here in a town where you get a seat on one of the two trams, and just have to avoid the buses when the school children are on the move. On the third Thursday in the month we have a Jacob Böhme evening, when a lady reads an extract from his writings. He was a mystic that was born in 1575 in Görlitz and lived here till he died in 1624. He had visions that he then put into biblical explanations and thereby earned him the title of the first German Philosopher. The house in which he was born is on the polish side of Görlitz – Zgorzelek, but there is only a sparse interest in him there. His philosophy has no structure, and is more of a pot-pourri of ideas which he wrote down, and luckily his writings were then copied and printed first in Holland and the then King of England Charles I had them translated into English. His thoughts had an influence on later German thinking. They want to put a Museum of his works in a church that will be restored at the same time. A good way to get government funds to help restore an old building, but leaving his fans upset as the church wasn’t very friendly to him during his life. The same old problem – two people, two minds, two different ideas.

Summer

    We went, saw, and then went home, unfortunately we didn’t know that to see the Sorbisch Trächte in the farmsteads in Crostwitz you had to pay 18 € per head. We totally support the idea that handwork costs money, and that they put a lot of work in the festival and they need the money for future festivals, but unfortunately we didn’t have so much money with us. So we could only support our friends from the Nasch Allee (nibble alley) and drink a pint from their small brewery. The Nasch Allee was an attempt in Görlitz to show off small producers on a Saturday market where we had a stall last year when it didn’t cost anything. When the next Festival comes around in 2 years we will know to take more money with us, so that we can see the SorbischeTracht.

    About once a month we join a group of Lausatia business men and women who are all on the small business size. Each month we visit a different producer. We have been to a pottery maker, a bank for a course on pricing, and last month we went to the Pilzzauberer Design, (translates as mushroom wizard design). Three workers make little red mushrooms for flower decorations. This was in Kirschau in Lausatia. Like all of us, the biggest problem that all small producers have is to find the customers. They have moved into small premises that are part of an old textile factory in the town. Many of the old factories that were part of the textile industry have now been turned into enterprise zones where many different firms can rent just a part of the old buildings. Instead of one big firm, there are now many small firms together in the old buildings. The following week-end the Pilzzauber Design were going to take part in a Cultural Bus Event, where a bus takes visitors to six different enterprise zones, from Dresden to Bautzen to several in Lausatia. Again another attempt to introduce people to your products.

    Once a year in Görlitz there is the ViaThea, in short – the way of theatre. About 23 international groups perform in the parks and on the streets in Görlitz for three days. There are actors, dancers, drummers, performing on small stages built in the old squares in the old town. Using the historic buildings as a back drop, actors either play rolls, or describe historical stories. Buying the programme supports the society, and then you work out where to go, at what time so that you can see as many of the actions as possible. We are amazed at the time and effort that they all put into their shows, and all is free. This year we missed the Thursday performances in the park because we had just come home from the Bad Tölz market, and I thought it lasted till Sunday. We say sometimes that we have to go horizontal, that is, have a lie down just to recover from all our activities.

    After all our travels we were able to take part in the fortnightly Tea Conversation in Görlitz. The owner of a book shop in the old Middle Age tourist area of Görlitz, invites english speaking people to a few hours of english conversation in the evening. There is an Australian, an Irish man, a home grown music teacher, a Belgian, sometimes a couple where she is from Slovakia and he is a German, a schoolboy whose Mother also sells honey at the Nasch Allee, an Irish woman and her German-polish husband and the bookshop owner. Tony the Australian, is a photograph artist who also organizes Blues Jam Sessions, lives in an apartment where the owner lets it for free for a few months to artists. Tony has been on the road for about 6 years and at the moment is staying here in Görlitz. Trevor the Irish man, has bought a house here in Görlitz, and knows everything about building authorities and the problems one has restoring old houses. The bookshop owner is a scientist who worked in the Tübingen University with Germany’s only female Nobel prize winner. She worked as a freelancer and after 12 years your time is up, and the next scientist comes along. I think her father was born in Görlitz, and I am not sure if he started the book shop or she did. I see her often at the Philosophy Café.

    The Philosophy Café meets once a month from October till July, and is organized by the Belgian. His moderator now has a job as a schoolteacher, but studied Philosophy at University, and gives the debate some form of order. At the start anyone can propose a topic and from the three put forward one is chosen by a show of hands. The proposer then has 5 minutes to explain his thoughts behind the idea, and then everyone can comment, and these comments are then restricted to 2 minutes. Sometimes there as many as 40 people there, and it is interesting to hear their experiences. Opinions vary, some are remarkably good at summarising the discussion, some people know an awful lot, some people don’t really need to speak at all, but all are treated politely, and heard out. It splits into the over 80’s, the Flower Power 60’s to 80’s, the ones in a job and then mostly younger students and a few still at school.

    At the Tea Conversation we told them about our experience at the Roses Day Market in Bad Tölz, and the problems we have to raise the awareness of our hand printed textiles, and the resulting higher prices of our handbags. As the meeting is every fortnight we invited everyone to our flat on the Wednesday in between, to show them all of Alena’s Blaudruck products. On the following weekend, there was a pottery market being held in the street outside Jana’s bookshop were we meet. She offered Alena the opportunity to set up a small table in the bookshop over the weekend when the pottery market took place. In the two days there, we sold more than we sold in the four days in Bad Tölz, and we didn’t need any petrol. We heard later that the potterers at the market were also very pleased with the sales, with many people coming from Berlin for the weekend.

    The music teacher is a great cyclist fan, and Alena was telling them about her passion for picking fruit. We had been to Oybin picking bilberries. He told her about the woods north of Görlitz that are full of bilberries, so off we went. We have now been three times and each time come home with a bucket of berries. One big cake, several jars of jam and we still have a bucket of berries to work on. We are now waiting for the mushrooms to show their heads that we can pick them as well.

    Yesterday we visited the Irish lady and her husband in Zittau. We had taken Alena’s sewing machine to be repaired and had to pick it up. They have a really beautifully restored apartment in a house built around 1900. She had baked scones in her very modern kitchen, unfortunately one cannot buy clotted cream here. The last time we had clotted cream was in Munich in a small Tea Café there. As we were leaving they told us about a Stammtisch Café in Görlitz where new Görlitzers get together to meet one another, and they were meeting that evening. So off we went. Unfortunately it had started to rain so we weren’t able to sit in the small beautifully designed town garden. Because it was raining it was full, over twenty elderly people had come, mainly women but the odd man scattered among them. It was a bit like a forerunner of an old peoples home, the usual – „I don’t talk to him“, „this group is boring me“ and so on. These were all people who have recently moved to the Görlitz area and so were keen to meet others. It will probably be better when it is a smaller group that one can better communicate with.

    We also met one or two old girls that we had seen at the Salon we attend in the Augusta Straße. Once a month, an opera singer invites about 40 Görlitzers for an evening of music in her apartment that has the same layout as the Irish lady’s appartment in Zittau. This month was a Chopin evening, with a young polish pianist playing some of his works. I didn’t know that Chopin’s mother was French and his father was Polish. The opera singer is half Greek and half Polish and she then accompanied the pianist singing some polish songs with Chopin’s music. It is all very elegant and very posh but very enjoyable.

Autumn

    We enjoyed our visit to the south of the Czech Republic including a double day visit to Vienna. We visited our Blaudrucker producer in Strážnice, Moravia. The last time we went was over two years ago. The motorway between Prague and Brno is a disaster. It was built about 50 years ago using big concrete slabs. The result is a continuous budda, budda, budda, budda as the tires go over the connecting bumps. They have been promising to repair it for the last 5 years. The trouble is, that the local authorities use the money to repair their land roads first before the big road is repaired. We had hoped that it was finished, but unfortunately not. Arimo, the textil handprinter are always in the stall next to ours at the Gutau Blaudruck Market in May in Austria. We first visited them ten years ago, right at the start when Alena had the idea of supporting the local cottage industries. The whole idea of first clothes, then bags grew up from our visit then. Everytime we have visited, we have stayed in a different Pension. This time we were finally in the one with the wine cellar but unfortunately the cellar was only opened during the summer holidays. I think the town is smaller than Devizes, so there is not much of a choice on offer.

    The Blaudrucker is over 70 years old, and his older brother still keeps an eye on the business. It is a family business that employs about 20 people sewing shirts for the Austrian market. The shirts are the bread and butter, because although the Blaudruck side is enjoying a revival, it is not big enough to support the large family. We always bring the linen from Saxony and then choose the patterns that we want printed. The old man prefers to print on cotton. As the Czech food is mainly with meat, we had luck that a Döner shop had opened, where we could order Falafel rolls. These are small nuggets made of deepfried crushed Chic-peas, wrapped with salad in a fladen bread – very tasty. Now is the time of the Federweißer wine, the fresh wine, sometimes too sweet, and still fermenting. So it is on offer everywhere. As the rule is 0% Alcohol by driving, it is very important to have a place to sleep so that you can walk home after drinking the wine. We invited them to an evening meal.

    The next day we went to Vienna. On the way we moved to Břeclav on the border of Czech and Austria. Luckily we looked for the pension in the morning because it was hidden behind an icehockey stadium. If we had waited till we came back from Vienna we would never have found it. It is about 80 miles from Vienna, so we were in Vienna at midday where we delivered the bags. In a shopping center they had built a small October Festival with the Federweißer on offer and Dirndls, Lederhoßen, shawls and other decorations. Our bags passed very well to the choice of products. They were on offer till the end of September and then the week after they are in a shop. We will know next week how many have been sold. (Unfortunately not many) Alena was very happy to let other people sell her bags. The pressure is not there when you have designed the product, and you see the small mistakes, or where it could be improved.

    I haven’t been to Vienna for at least 20 years. When I first came to Germany, and was staying in Munich, I must have been there at least 10 times. Julia (my very first girlfriend) was the magnet, and I met with some of her friends there, took some of my friends, and just enjoyed it. This time we were not in the same price category as then, but it was just as enjoyable. Vienna has the most council houses of any big city in Europe. From the over 1,5 million residents at least 800,000 live in council appartments. On the sides of the appartment blocks are the name of the block with the message that it was built in such and such a year with the help of a house building tax. I think Vienna is one of the few cities that haven’t privatised their stock of state appartments. We bought a two day ticket so that we could travel around on the trams, buses, and the underground. We passed a quaint rustic old tavern and jumped off and had lunch. Inside old men were sitting at tables playing cards, room full of smoke, beer and wine on tap, Mutti over 80 still helping in the kitchen. Fortunately there was a non smokers area where I could write the postcards. The barkeeper came, saw the postcards and exclaimed ‚I thought nobody used those anymore‘ thinking of the digitilised world we live in now.

    The next day we parked on the outskirts took the tram and visited all the tourist attractions. We went to the Prater with the big observation wheel, and there was a small Vienna October Fest with beer tents, musicians, beer tables and banks. There was even a Champagne tent, typical Vienna. We went to Schloss Schönbrunn, Stephans Dom, the Peterskirche, the Hundertwasserhaus, the Spanish Hofreitschule, typical tourists. We wanted to have the famous Sachertorte and coffee in the Sacher Hotel, but there was a queue of 30 people waiting to go in, and we heard later that you have no time to enjoy yourself because they needed the table for the next customers. Alena had researched in internet and we ended up a bit offside in a lovely café with cakes that tasted, I am sure, just as nice. The tremendous buildings from the Austrian monarchs were breathtaking, the wide streets and the old trees, the parks. We were very impressed.

    On the way home, we went along the Austrian Wine Street. It runs parallel to the Czech border and we were looking for Sturm the name of the Austrian fresh wine. We had bought some the day before on the way to the Vienna. The farmer wanted that Alena try all his different grapes and then sold us a white and a red. He gave us a ten year old wine as a present, because he said he couldn’t guarantee if it was good. We wanted to buy the traditional Pumkin seed oil, but he had sold the last bottle of the last batch. He told us that we could get it at his neighbour’s farm. When the farmer asked if it was the first time I had bought the oil, she then gave me the bottle. Alena said I ought to have then bought a second bottle. In general we were impressed by the generous, friendly welcome that we experienced . We then visited the other Austrian Blaudrucker. It turned out that it was the wife that does the printing, and she is interested in our clutch bag using her linen. We will organize a couple of the bags with the next order in November. The first Blaudrucker is on the other side of Vienna, and we visited him 6 years ago.

    Now the summer holidays are finished, the autumn season of Salons, talks, debates and meetings here in Görlitz has started. On Sunday at the Augusta Straße Salon, there was a Polish piano player accompanied by a Russian Cossack. He sang songs from the Tatra mountains. Live music has a flavour that is different than when your hear it through a loudspeaker. Slowly we have got to know a group of about 50 people that often frequent these meetings. Mainly new Görlitzers but in between a few Irish, an Australian, a few Polish and so it goes on. We enjoy cooking and so we are able to get to know them better when we invite them home. When one has no money one always have something to eat. A very politically involved wood sculpter and his wife who organizes meetings of the Schlaraffenland Knights in Görlitz, similar to the Freemasons, has bought a house here which he and his son are slowly restoring. A Belgian who spent 5 years in a recluse, our Irishman who is also restoring a house. At the bottom of the barrel you come across a rich brew of well travelled people.

Winter

    Christmas is rapidly approaching and in the middle of our tranquil town the Christmas hectic is starting to turn the wheels a bit faster. At the end of October there were many different celebrations of Luther’s Reformation Year. One was in the Wichernhaus in Görlitz. There is a Jugendstil banquet hall with a raised stage. One of the music students that we had met at the different meetings, was playing the piano during the event. It turned out that our table neighbours used to live in our flat in Jauernicker Strasse before the war. Their father had a bakery and used to bake his bread in the cellar. Our work room used to be their shop. She came later with her cousin and we showed them our flat and they explained where they used to play and we also looked in the cellar. Sometimes it is a small world. I visited their Protestant church the Kreuzkirche which is now heated after it celebrated its 100 year anniversary.

    After a calm November, where Alena visited her granddaughter in Munich with a weekend in Switzerland with her son and future daughter and mother in law. The mother in law to be, lives in a farm house over 9000 feet. If you drive up, you need chains for the tyres, because there was already snow on the ground. Alena’s daughter is doing well with the twins getting bigger in her tummy, and granddaughter enjoying having another Granny slave to order around.

    Before she went to Munich we visited two weaving mills in Lusatia. The first one was an industrial factory where we buy our linen cloth. They have at least 10 machines on one level, another big one on the ground floor where they make the threads that they then use to make the cloth. It was exciting to stand at the start of the journey, that at the end is turned into our handbag. I believe there are only about five linen factories in Germany, and so they are fighting for their survival. We are very happy to support the home industry, and it was interesting to see and meet the employees. The other weaving mill, was a restored hand weaver mill. Every two or three months there is a gathering of Lusatia handworkers at one of the different workshops. In November we went to this hand weaver mill, where the daughter had taken over from her father. He started to repair the mill with the support of government funding twenty years ago. From the five projects then, his is the only one still going. He restored an old classic wooden half framed house, an ‚Umgebindehaus‘. They were built a lot in the 17th century and are typical for the area in Lusatia, with about 4000 still here. Upstairs they have two appartments and some pension bedrooms and I am sure that supports the mill, as the tourist industry is growing in the area.

    Alena is a big fan of Umgebindehäuser, because the mother of her Ex, who still visits in Prague (92 years old) bought one in the Czech Republic, and they often went there visiting. ‚They are based on a wooden support system, which runs around the living area of the house made of logs or boards, which has the job of freeing the frame of the living area from the weight of the roof (in single-storey houses) or the roof and upper storey (in two-storey houses)‘ [ English Wikipedia]. They were very much a part of the textile industry and the tradition of Lusatia. Every year there is a Umgebindehaus Open Day, where you are allowed to view restored, partly restored, or about to be restored houses. The principle is a house on top of a house, and was started in the 15th Century when workers moved into the area and built wooden houses on top of an existing house. Umgebinde is translated as binding around, which describes what happens when a house is bound around another house. I have put a Flyer from the hand weaver house and you can see that it is splendidly restored, and three times the size of the classical house. It is just another example of the involvement in history that we see here all around us in this quiet corner of Germany.

    The visit to the hand weaving mill was organised by a young group of Germans who support hand workers in Lusatia. We have visited a potter, a flower decoration factory, a bank, and we are always amazed how especially young handworkers despite fighting to survive, still manage to create jobs and work. All have the same problem, finding customers, paying employees, and improving sales.

    Next year we are planning to visit less markets and concentrate more on building sales over the internet. We have been selling shopping bags on the Servus Magazine online market. One of their employees bought one of our small round shoulder bags, showed it to her colleagues, and they decided to order 50 handtaschen. Servus magazine belongs to the Red Bull empire and so it helps our visibility online. Many of the handworkers we meet are keen to have a similar market place on the internet. They concentrate on their work, and would welcome support from someone to promote their products. It is called networking, gathering similar minded people together. We went to one of these network meetings in Dresden, in an old converted power station – the Kraftwerk Mitte – where the inside has been converted with three theatres, an art gallery, a museum, and a conference centre. The meeting was promoting cross border actions, with about five speakers, ranging from a floating art gallery, to an industrial plant conversions, and a textile museum on the Czech-Austrian border. The location was fascinating, we saw the theatres, we went on a tour of the areal, and at the end saw the doors with a bronze frieze being all that was left of a church destroyed in the fire during the war.

    Talking to the Austrians from the Museum, they recommended an Advent Market in Weitra . We promised to come if they could find a place for us inside, because it is very uncomfortable to be in a stall outside in the Marketplace. They were very enthusiastic, especially with Alena’s Czech connection, and found a place for us in an old long closed cake shop. So off we went. It is on the southern border of Czech Republic in the forest quarter of northern Austria. A small jewel among the hills of the forest quarter in Austria. Similar to Görlitz it is a walled middle age town with a castle on the hill, overlooking the surrounding land. There are many Renaissance buildings in the town and some very old middle age type of houses near the church. I didn’t walk up the steep hill to the castle, but Alena went and was enchanted by the market in the castle. Each had there own room, the castle was splendidly restored and if we could get a place in the castle next year, it looks as though we are going back. The Austrian couple have restored an old Herrenhaus where there Museum is located, and are total fans of the textile traditions. We hope to visit them next year. Like Görlitz, they also have their own Brewery, the only one left from over 33 that the town used to have. In the middle of the town is a cistern where the water for the breweries was collected. The history goes back to the 12th century. We stayed in an appartment on the Czech side of the border and had to drive through the snow to get to Weitra. Luckily this time, we avoided sliding off the road which happened once in the woods in Czech Republic. The owner of the appartment had lived in the USA and now teaches English on a Franchise principle started by an Englishman living in Liberec, the big Czech city near us. It was below freezing the whole time we were there.

    This weekend is the big Chistmas market in the Schloss Wackerbarth, the vinery near Dresden. So we are busy again, and then on Monday the Swiss connection are coming to visit, and we are off to Wroclow in Poland. Life goes on.

a Happy and Healthy

New Year

Grüße aus Sachsen


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