After a lovely weekend of Tango workshops in Lohne hosted by Gertrud, we set off eastwards in the direction of Dresden. The weather last week was stunningly beautiful in the day, with the autumnal sun bringing out the colours in the turning leaves, but now rain is settling in and in addition to it being cold it’s now also turned wet. Luckily we have our wood store stacked full of wood and kindling, so we should be nice and warm for a while. Along the way, we pick up autumnal produce – large walnuts, juicy pears, red-cheeked apples – often sharing the public trees with several other collectors. Nothing goes to waste here; in fact, people drive for miles to get to their favourite walnut tree or take a bus to pick up ripe pears from the communal orchard. The houses are surrounded by stacks of wood, and the smell of ripe quince wafts over garden walls. We come past some farms that are aglow with stacks of orange pumpkins. We drive through beautiful forests for miles and miles, interspersed by further miles of maize fields and bio-gas processing plants.
In the evening, we stop in Rodewald, a little roadside village that time forgot, but nevertheless it has a parking place for campervans. We meet a man collecting fruit in a cloth bag. He tells us that he was born in East Prussia in ’31, was 14 when the war finished and he got taken prisoner by the Russians and condemned to forced labour for 3 years. The war had already taken its toll on him, so he was 5foot tall and only weighed 70lb! This was not to change for three years, he tells us. The Russians took away all the animals and drove them to the Caucasus – not a single chicken was left – leaving a whole area to feed themselves on potatoes and cabbage only.
When he was released, he emigrated to Rodewald, where he found work with a farmer and grew 20 cm in two years. Life was hard here too, he said, but he managed to go to school and integrate into his new surroundings and start a family. ‘They want to put Syrian refugees in every empty house here, but that’s a bad idea, there is no work here. It was difficult enough for us after the war, when there still was work to be had on the farms, in the local oil industry and the VW factory. But now, the farms are dead, the oil has stopped and we have so many cars, we can sell them to Timbuktu. What are those people going to do here?’ Another mistake, he says, is to grow maize for fuel. ‘You’d only need to plant half of the amount and feed it to animals, you’d have more profit’.
Rodewald is a rainy shit hole, he says, and he envies his grandson who has gone to live in Australia. Maybe I’ll join him, says the 84 years old, who insists that we take his cloth bag full of fallen pears. ‘I come here every day, I’ve got lots of them at home’, and he waves us good-bye as he goes to catch his bus home.
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