“Beginnings are hard.” This is a phrase from a book by Chaim Potok. It has always stuck with me and given me comfort when facing a new challenge. I guess it makes me feel better to think that some wise person knew about life’s difficulties and warned me.
In my old life I was a big proponent of being outside my comfort zone and leaping when I couldn’t see the landing place, but my new life has made me wonder, sometimes mid-leap, what I was thinking. Sometimes in my new life, I feel like a butterfly who needs a lot of encouragement to break out of the cocoon, not realizing that on the other side of the cocoon is the ability to fly.
A little more than a year ago, was the beginning of my new life in Germany. The beginning and the end of the first year were marked by Forchheim’s Annafest. I moved to Germany on the Thursday before the fest began.
This fest is a big deal in Forchheim. I may have written about fests in the past but the Annafest is the region’s sweetheart. There are other big fests nearby, Erlangen’s Bergkirchweih and Bamberg’s Sandkerwa…but they don’t compare.
But what makes this fest special is that it takes place in the Forchheim Kellerwald under the shade of the trees, and if you grew up around Forchheim then it is like an 11 day reunion with everyone you ever knew. Best, you can always find a seat and enjoy the festivities. This year it attracted 500,000 visitors. But even with that many people, it still felt homey and during the day at least, it was never that crowded.
There is even a Franconian saying to go with it: Annafest alla dooch, Annafest. It basically means “Annafest, everyday, Annafest” and a lot of people from the area take vacation for the entire fest and make the statement true.
Anyway, getting back to last year. The Thursday before the fest is a special day because it’s Schlachtschüssel day. Schlachtschüssel literally translates to “Slaughter Bowl.” The term refers to the food prepared from the left overs after the pig is slaughtered for the upcoming fest. Last year we literally got off the plane and drove directly to our favorite keller so I could try it.
On Schlachtschüssel day, the locals meet at the fest grounds, visiting and eating together before all the tourists come to town for the fest. It’s the calm before the storm in a way–Very cozy and full of gemutlichkeit. Last year I ate the schlachtschüssel , which usually consists of liver sausage, blood sausage, and sauerkraut. There are other items on the menu but I can’t speak with authority about those because I only tried these. This year I only had a bite of Thorsten’s meal because it turns out that for me, schlachtschüssel is better as a novelty.
Last year I felt like a visitor who flew in for the occasion. But this year I was one of the locals and we celebrated schlachtschüssel with four people, who I can actually call friends now. It wasn’t crowded and the temperature was perfect for sitting under the trees and enjoying the eve of the fest. I was delighted to realize that my circle of friends and family has grown in a year’s time.
The story goes that 175 years ago, pilgrims were on their way to Anna’s Church and they stopped in the Kellerwald for refreshments on their journey. Now to celebrate them every year we have the Annafest.
Last year we probably went 6 or 7 days out of the 11. I invented something I named The Franconian Work-out. Walk one mile up hill to the kellerwald (cardio and leg work out) buy a Maß of beer in a ceramic beer krug and carry it around (arm work out–Make sure to switch hands sometimes.) Continue to tone arm muscles by repeatedly lifting beer krug to your mouth. After a few hours, walk a mile home. After 11 days of this, you should have a beer belly and very strong biceps. If you want to succeed you have to be consistent. Thus, Annafest, alla dooch, Annafest.
As I contemplate what has occurred over the past year, I can confirm that beginnings are hard, but so are middles. In life, our cocoons seem to break down a little at a time, sometimes with one step forward and two steps back and sometimes the other way around. In this sense, maybe we are more like birds than butterflies. Fledging takes time, first small flights and then big ones. Still, when I look back, measuring from schlachtschüssel to schlachtschüssel, I would take the same adventurous beginning every time.