Last year I spent 5 months in a tiny village in Germany, working as an au pair for three small boys. The village in question lies just outside the city of Burghausen, home to twenty something thousand inhabitants and their terrible tattoos, a giant lake, and the longest castle in the world (prestigious!). As an urban lady getting a first taster of seriously small town living I wrote a blog so sarcastic that when my host family discovered it a few months after my departure I was filled with horror and dread – fortunately they found it funny and not deeply offensive, but asked I make the photographic and personal element private. I’m going to publish a few of my favourite posts on here for posterity and nostalgia.
Here is my post following our trip to Sylt, where the fam holidays every year. It was not the one.
So we’re back from our 9 day sojourn in Sylt, after 14 hours of travelling on five different trains. Sylt is a strangely-shaped island in between Germany and Denmark, and would have become a modern day Atlantis decades ago were it not for everyone’s tireless efforts in bolstering the coast up with sand to stop it being eaten by the waves. Unfortunately we were impeded by terrible weather and communal illness for much of the trip, but the boys are still very sad to be home. There is not much to write about as there was so little to do that I managed to read nine books and the entire back catalogue of The New Inquiry, so here I shall present to you a flavour of our week at the seaside in the form of some snippets from my diary. Aren’t you lucky? Most of the photos were taken on the mere one and half days that were free from blanket cloud and pouring rain.
Trudged into town to find myself some medication for my various ailments. Forgot it was a Sunday and all pharmacies closed. Consoled self in purchase of chocolate and postcards, and the lighting of an extravagant 20 cent candle in the island church. Sylt is grey and windy, full of excited dogs and picturesque garden gates.
We played Scharfkopf today, and I finally understand why T’s explanations seem to make no sense. Because German cards make no sense. Firstly, all the suits are different and in an entirely nonsensical hierarchy – in what world are ACORNS better than HEARTS? In the same world that a 10 is higher than a king, as are “Unter” and “Ober”, which are also suit-less trumps. I felt that M became unnecessarily exasperated with my admittedly slow grasp of the rules, and took my affront at the lowliness of the king card as a national offence: “In Germany we do not have a monarchy, Alex.” He snapped a particularly harsh reprimand after I lost a hand over confusion that all hearts are also trumps and therefore suitless (what), and I found myself snapping back that it is only a card game. “IN BAVARIA IT IS FAR MORE THAN A GAME, ALEX.” Had to check myself to avoid sulkily returning that we are not in Bavaria, that Bavaria is silly, that cards are SILLY. I have been spending too much time around children.
(ed. C later informed me that all these silly rules are not universal in German cards – only in Scharfkopf, national game of Bavaria. Silly.)
Not much change here on Sylt. Starting to feel like Jonathan Harker documenting his descent into insanity, except that instead of a vampire and an isolated castle I am faced with five targets of potential infection and an island buffeted by gale-force winds. In the midst of fever and raging thirst I grazed my nose on the slope of my ceiling last night, and now look like I have been in a fight.
Today it is very windy. When we went down to the beach in our seven hundred layers we were greeted by a sandstorm of Pokemon Gold proportions, and waves so violent that they sent T screaming from the surf. Nevertheless enjoyed a pleasant if windswept stroll by the sea, topped off by gigantic ice-creams which we ate crowded into a windproof corner by a bin. Stared at the self-conscious youth whose sole job seemed to be making the waffles for the cones, and looking so miserable that T’s question as to whether he was allowed to go home in the evening or it was a 24 hour job seemed rather plausible.
This evening M and C have rewarded themselves with the luxury of an hour’s alone time in town – “so long as you’re not planning to go out of course, Alex?”. The boys were outraged at being left behind, but I have to say that if my bedtime was 2 hours before sundown I too would find lights out a distressing time.
Everyone went off to meet T’s little friend Lotta and her family at a nearby playground, and I wandered along the sand snapping a few pictures and critically appraising the quality of the seashells. Snuck off to McDonalds to gobble up an hour’s worth of free internet under the guise of lengthy enjoyment of a fruit tea. The woman who served me showed undisguised consternation when I refused the standard German peppermint (yuck) and asked to see the full selection. Sylt is clearly not frequented by English tourists.
Spent some time watching dogs having fun in the sea, before returning home to fish fingers because food routine must not vary even on holiday. I felt guilty interrupting and declined joining in; C joked that English people always need to be asked 3 times if we would like food as we are so excessively polite, so she repeated the offer as I laughed. Unfortunately she left it at that and so I was forced to sit with a glass of water watching Noah polish of the last of the fish fingers. Curse my cultural courtesy.
Shared a prolonged glance with a good-looking man in a van. That’s about as racy as things are going to get on this island of average age sixty slash seven, permanently clad in my D of E anorak and a scowl. Wandered into town and endured an extended and infuriating battle with the stamp machine to send off my woe-filled postcards. Ultimately unsuccessful; retreated to McDonalds to moan to everyone over Snapchat. My grumblings were interrupted by a police chase, truly thrilling for all except the beyond stoned sk8er bois opposite me who did not look up from their burgers.
Today we took a daytrip up the coast to List, a town on Sylt’s northernmost curve that boasts a harbour, a museum, and a very expensive interior design shop in which we spent over 40 minutes. The word “museum” fills me with enthusiasm, conjuring images of slimy things in jars, giant skeletons, and badly preserved stuffed animals. Some displays of rocks at the very least. Unfortunately this museum was devoted entirely to Sylt’s environment and wildlife, devoid of any physical exhibits and swamped in interactive displays and small children. We spent four hours there. The family are the sort of museum-goers that demand to get their money’s worth: every sign must be read in full, every video watched through to the end, every audio track listened to at least once. I became hypnotised by the one jellyfish in the glow in the dark section, then stood alone in the storm simulator for 20 minutes.
Whilst eating our bread roll lunch an elderly couple passed us walking one of those ridiculous dogs with so much hair that it falls into curls and dreadlocks. T stared at it very hard, and then said wisely, “Sylt must be a strange place indeed if people take their sheeps for walks.”
So there you have it. Sylt. Chugging back towards Burghausen yesterday evening I watched the landscape transform into that comfortable pattern of lush hills and sprawling villages, and thought about how familiar Bavaria has become to feel over the last few months. These days painted spire capped hilltops and may poles sagging under a month of rain have become as certain a sign of home-coming as the sight of the GlaxoSmithKline building looming over the A4.
Simpler times indeed.