Friday night started off slowly and innocently at the Schützenhaus, a sort of clubhouse bungalow with a bar and a hall for shooting. The weather was gray and cool; the atmosphere was a bit awkward as many Germans are before they reach their pleasure plateau six beers in.
About 40 people were there for shooting and grilling, ages ranging from two to 70+. The kids romped and played football/soccer on the adjacent fields, only yowling once in a while when the parent would look in the direction and decide that the kid wasn’t in danger. Under a pavillion, which the village teen boys built out of wood and bricks, the same boys grilled sausages and marinated pork steaks. On a table nearby were sauerkraut, carrot salad, potato salad with ham and pickles, and bread with herbed butter that had been stuffed into bell peppers for decoration. Traditional German picnic benches and tables were set up in the parking lot and we all crowded around – aside from the few who felt it more important to have a few beers inside instead.
Starting at 6pm, the kids were allowed to try their hand and shoot for the kids’ shooting festival crown – Kinder Schützenkönig or königin. The target set up is just as it always is and how it was back in September when I got some target practice.
Starting at 8pm, adults could give it a shot. From the secretary’s table you purchased as many small paper slides as you wanted for 1€ each. You could choose different categories, somewhat like lottery tickets. Different tickets had different prizes. One guy, Bernd, always buys 20€ worth of slides.
After you shoot, you tap the plastic recall button and the slide with the hole in it comes whizzing back to you. The slides that are obvious 10s are then run through a machine where they are measured and stamped with their millimeters of accuracy. The ones that are very good are kept by the secretaries and not given right back – then you know you might be in the running for the crown.
The winners and king or queen are announced at breakfast the next day; everyone walked around after shooting asking each other how it went and speculating who might be crowned. Because no one knows who will win, everyone mows their lawn and tends their gardens the days leading up to Schützenfest because the crowned hosts the village for drinks after breakfast.
Friday night dragged on, people left, more beers were poured, others left. I was ready to go home around 11 because it was so quiet. But no, then the Germans were loosened up and ready to buy everyone drinks. So I stayed for one beer. And then before I could finish it, another one was set in front of me. And so it goes.
They love to joke with me about the US, how I can’t leave, how they’re going to come visit me. They really have taken me in as part of their community. When you feel that kind of appreciation reinforced by a constant flow of beer, it’s hard to call it a night.
By 1am, most of the “adults” were gone and those who were left in charge wanted to leave and kicked us younger ones out the door – but not without some Jägermeister. But we weren’t done, so we called a taxi and went into The City two kilometers away for some music and dancing. By 4am we were most certainly done and took my host sister, who works at the bar we were at, up on her offer for a ride home. The sun was rising just as I fell into bed and set my alarm – for four hours later.
Saturday morning I hauled myself out of bed, left my hair in a ponytail (after all, I was just going as an onlooker to this festival) and got dressed. I stumbled downstairs and drank a giant pot of black tea. If you haven’t experienced so little sleep and such festivity before, I don’t recommend it – unless it is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
Exactly when she said she would, Traute, our neighbor rang the doorbell to collect us and walk to the community house. Along with Traute’s husband Tommy, we stopped on our way to collect her brother and another neighbor Gerd. They were all dressed up in their club uniform – white button down, black pants, and green blazer – and hat with feather for the men who hadn’t lost or misplaced it over the years.
At the community house, which used to be more of a restaurant before it was sold and deemed unfit, the hall was filled with long tables for about 80 people. The secretaries, two men who dedicate a large chunk of their time to the community and this club, welcomed us and made a special announcement for their special guest from Boston before asking me to stand so everyone could see me. When the surprise faded and I was sufficiently red, they started announcing the winners from Friday’s shooting.
Waitresses brought soup tureens to every table, delivering the most delicious (and interesting) “wedding soup.” Like Italian wedding soup in the States, this soup had small meatballs; unlike in the States, this soup had little cubes of scrambled eggs and chunks of white asparagus. It was so incredibly delicious I am going to make it. After soup, a club member bought everyone a round and the waitresses came around with trays of shots of three traditional village alcohols – “Rot” (just meaning red, a thick cherry liquor), “Stein” (some mystery clear alcohol that I keep an arm’s length from), and “Korn” (a clear grain alcohol that supposedly makes you go a little crazy, but I didn’t find that to be true).
Next, the secretaries lined up the contenders for Schützenkönig and königin (literally: shooting king and queen) and slowly whittled the group down to the last one, first place winner and king, Bernd. Berndie, as I have come to know him as, is boisterous and jovial, mumbling and speaking quickly but I have gotten much better at understanding him over the months.
As king, you get a necklace to wear at club events that has medallions from every winner ever since 1914 on it. You also get a wooden sign, hand painted, to hang on your house. Not only is there a king, but there’s a junior king (or queen). Bernd came back to sit with us and the breakfast buffet was opened. Traditional German breakfast is bread or rolls (“Brötchen” – literally meaning small bread) with all kinds of meat, cheese, jam, and especially here in the north, fish. Waitresses came by with more shots and there was also coffee, water, and soft drinks. What a tasty brunch and a great way to get some of my energy back that I lost dancing Friday night away.
After brunch was finished about 2pm, we gathered outside. At this point, I was still just a guest and onlooker. But that changed quickly. The secretary’s daughter came running up to me, grabbed me by the hand, gave me a sash, and said, ‘We need to take a photo.’ Confused, I followed her as I put on the green and white sash and we headed to the neighbor’s garden where all the appointed “cabinet members” of the club were assembled around the king and the junior king.
From the photo in the garden I was escorted by the king out into the street where the whole club lined up. On my way to line up, the secretary’s daughter approached me. ‘Can you dance?’ she asked. I laughed nervously and said no, unfortunately taking ballroom lessons isn’t something too popular in the US. I headed to line up and no fewer than four people told me I was going to have to waltz with the king later. Great. ‘But don’t worry, he’s a great dancer and so big he’ll just sweep you along.’ Oh, I feel so much better.
The caller stood to the side and had everyone look straight ahead, turn to our left, and march together in time to the music. The first stop was a few yards down the street at he memorial for all the past members where a wreath was placed and there was a moment of silence. Then we marched on, through the fields, under the blistering sun and to the junior king’s house where the sign was hung and junior club members passed out candy, beer, and shots. I was going to have to waltz. I couldn’t believe it, all of it was so surreal.
After the time that it takes for a German man to casually drink two beers (maybe 30
minutes?), we got back in formation and marched up the street where three giant John Deere (!!!) tractors and trailers were waiting to carry all 80 people to the king’s house on the other side of the village. I was treated like true village royalty: First up the step ladder to get into the trailer, choice seat, offered drinks, and oogled at by many who were tickled at the fact of having their first and only honorary queen from Boston.
We arrived at the king’s house, climbed off the trailers, got into formation, and marched into his (freshly mown) yard where chairs and cases of beer waited. There are many variations on such a shooting festival tradition, but Fulde has arranged it so that the club sets up the drinks and yard and lets the king enjoy his day. Other clubs have shooting the week before and the king or queen has a whole week to prepare – too much headache they say.
First, the sign was hung. Two men volunteered and, as the band played, they walked up the ladder together and hung the beautiful, hand painted sign. Next, while still on the ladder one poured some water over the sign while the other took a giant swig or two of Korn (see above) before they traded, dropped the empty glass water bottle on the cement below. I laughed as they did but the guy next to me said it ‘has to be done – like christening a ship.’
Next we continued drinking and lounged in the shade. I was ready to fall asleep on the grass but stuck to my duties as queen and kept drinking. Again after two beers we got into formation and marched the 100 yards back to the tractors and paraded back to the community house. Where I was expected to waltz. Upon arrival, we got back into formation to march into the community house. But low and behold out of nowhere the king’s girlfriend appeared and joined us in formation. PFEW PFEW PFEW. No more waltzing for me. ‘You would’ve done fine’ everyone said. ‘I would’ve bothered the crap out of you’ said the flag bearing jester.
We paraded back into the community house, the junior king (who is only about 10, mind you) and king waltzed with their ladies before we sat down for cake and coffee… and beer and shots.
By this point it was almost 6pm and I was so tired I couldn’t even eat any cake. So we took our leave to go home and nap, only missing out on kid’s activities and leaving the men to continue their drinking.
I took a glorious four hour nap and awoke later than planned to a total lack of motivation to go to the party. But I had a snack and some caffeine, got on my bike, and headed back on my own as my host mom had to tend to other things in the next town over. I knew almost everyone there so I was quite fine going on my own.
You can imagine what I found there. DJ playing, teenagers from every surrounding village spilling into the street, village men crowded around the bar and tables outside. Some were dancing already, mostly the typical “discofox” that is popular here. Done in pairs, it is a simple dance that everyone from age 10 to 90 seems to know and do. It also fits with pretty much any type of music – I’ve seen couples in their 50s dancing the discofox to top 100 songs, but most popular is the German “Schlager” music. Here are some examples of the tunes played:
I arrived with 5€ and left with 4, six hours later. This doesn’t quite mean I didn’t drink anything, but rather that the king and all of the guys, once again, maintained a steady flow of beverages for everyone.
We sung and danced the night away and as the crowd slowly thinned out, I never had a reason to leave and stayed until the very end – at 5am. But when they closed up and I got on my bike, it was already light out and I was still full of adrenaline and took a nice bike ride around the village and through the fields, stopping to say hi to the ponies.
It’s hard to convey what a crazy, cool, and intense experience this all was, but I hope you can start to see what it was like and why I will miss this crazy little village in Northern Germany.
Here’s a video compilation of some clips I took throughout Saturday’s festivities: