Our next stop is only a hour’s drive from Anthony’s place, and we’re still in the deepest and most conservative Bavaria. The landscape is utterly beautiful, picture postcard Germany, with hills and forests and cows and beautiful traditional houses. We visit one of my aunts who I haven’t seen in a number of years. She wants us to park right in front of her house, but we chicken out when we see the size of the streets and park on the edge of the village instead. My aunt Kathrin awaits us with an enormous, delicious brunch and while we tuck in, we catch up on our news. I’ve always felt a nice connection to her, liked her humour and her zest for life. The locals think of her as the mad woman who, armed with flippers, does an hour’s back stroke crossing the local lake and back, every day for most of the year. When it really gets too cold, she goes to the swimming pool instead where she has special dispensation to bring her flippers with her. Kathrin lives on her own and is happy with her own company. She has no internet connection, she doesn’t like what she sees it doing to other people. She prefers to knit, read a book or listen to the radio in the evenings, rather than sitting in front of a computer or television. I can relate to that too – we deliberately don’t have a dongle and need to find an internet point for our computer work. This means that we read or play cards in the evenings, or I practice my violin. Computers really can take over your life, and it’s nice to be able to limit the time spent in front of the screen.
Our next stop is quite a bit further up, just north of Frankfurt, where we stop for a couple of nights to visit my uncle Friedrich. Those who came to our wedding might remember him – a beautiful, smiling octagenarian who plays the viola. At the wedding, he helped in the kitchen, helped with decorating the space and after the wedding stayed on for a couple of days to help me with putting shelves into the van.
I pluck up courage to suggest playing duets with Friedrich. I am not at all confident on the violin yet, and have to stop myself from thinking about it too much and getting all nervous in advance. When it comes to it, it’s really lovely. We find some early baroque duets that are easy enough technically and at the same time fascinatingly interesting in their harmonies. We spend the best part of the day lost in the sounds we create together. Friedrich is so encouraging and, buoyed by the beauty of his sound and by his supportive comments, I play better than I have ever played before. In just one long session, my skill and my confidence take a huge leap forward.
At dinner, we stroll into the old town centre of Oberursel for a traditional meal in an old pub. Three of us have the seasonal traditional dish ‘Grüne Sosse’ (a dish that includes the use of 7 particular herbs) while Frank goes for a meaty option, a steak covered with goats chees, tomato, bacon and mushrooms, accompanied by a baked potato.
The next day, we wake up early and take advantage of empty motorways to drive up to Köln, arriving at my sister’s place just in time for breakfast. It is always nice being there, catching up with news, connecting with the three lovely children and spending a bit of time in the house I grew up in.
In Köln, just as everywhere else in Germany, conversation turns within 20 minutes to the plight of the refugees. I know of a German doctor who decideded to go to Idomeni off his own back to help where help is needed, and I receive his daily posts on Facebook. The situation there is dire, people in utter desolation, many people starving, respiratory illnesses and diarrhoea are widespread. Breastfeeding mothers cannot get enough food for themselves to produce breast milk, severely sick people cannot be transported to hospitals due to an 80 000 Euro fine being imposed on anyone transporting a refugee without permission from the authorities. Doctors like Ijos work long hours sometimes out of the back of a van, with insufficient medical equipment and medicines. Often they cannot help but only give empathy.
Children get born and old people sit in the damp under tarpaulins, waiting for death. It is unimaginable that this should be happening in Europe. We sit in front of full tables, we have food whenever we want, we have peace and shelter, and we can go and see a doctor when we feel ill. Why can we not share this with those who so desperately need it?
It’s a mass media hysteria that governs the news – an ‘avalanche’ of refugees is such an exaggeration! Maybe people in the Lebanon could say so, as they now have 25% refugees but for any European country it’s a tiny percentage. Some months ago, Germany received 12 000 refugees just in one weekend, so why are there now 12 000 refugees stuck and slowly dying on the Macedonian border, most of them women and children?
Another part of the hysteria concerns the idea that muslim radicals find their way into Europe via the route of the refugees. In fact, there have been many more terrorist attacks on muslims than on christians, and even with all the horrible attacks that have happened in Europe in recent months, it is still far more likely to die crossing the road than be the victim of an attack. To bar people from entering europe as part of the ‘war on terrorism’ is just a false pretence. I wish governments would put their energy into adressing the things that really threaten our lives, like the plastic pollution of our oceans, for example, instead of bombing countries and then refusing their refugees. Remember, the refugees in Greece now are mostly women and children. Why do we feel threatened by women and children??? Why have we left Greece alone with this, already on its knees due to its own economical problems, and what on earth is this shady deal with Turkey going to do with the plight of all these people on the move? After the second world war, there were many more people on the move in Europe than now. If Europe was able to deal with it when it was ravaged by war, how much easier must it be now that we are so much better off?
How can we continue to enjoy our wealth, health and freedom, knowing that we actively deny this joy to others? What price do we pay in our psyche if we don’t open our countries to take these people in?
I feel helpless and powerless in the face of this injustice – how much worse must this feeling be for the people at the receiving end?
If anyone feels moved to support Ijos’s work with a donation, you can send them to an account in Germany:
IBAN DE 62258619900088557600, BIC: GENODEF1CLZ, Account name Ottavio, Reference: Spende Flüchtlingshilfe Joost
If it is easier for you to donate to an English account, below are details for an account I am going to use exclusively for this purpose and I will get the money to Ijos asap:
Ruth Rozelaar, Lloyds bank 30-98-69, Account number 25969768, reference IDOMENI
All funds go 100% towards supporting the refugees at Idomeni. Your money will buy food and medicines in Greece for the refugees. Kill two birds with one stone – help the refugees and the greek economy!
Here is a link to a recent post by Ijos. He writes his posts in German but often someone translates them into English (this one has an English translation below the German text), and there are plenty of photos too that will give you an impression of the situation there.
After a couple of days in the arms of my sister’s family, Frank and I prepare for the last leg of our journey home – we print various tickets, buy a new gas bottle, tuck everything tight inside Emma and we’re off into the sunset. The reality of returning to the UK feels really close now and a chapter of travel is coming to an end…
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