Friday, December 20, 2019

Cracking the Code: Making Friends with Germans

I have read on many expat groups and forums that it is very difficult to make friends with Germans and I have heard the same from my students here over the years. Germans have the reputation for being distant, stand-off-ish, not warm, and even unfriendly or rude. For my readers who don't believe me, there are chapters written about this in books about Germans, and I just yesterday asked two Germans during the office English lesson if they think there's anything behind this idea. They both agreed that's a pretty common impression, as did M. Yes, I know Germans - even Swabians - who defy this stereotype, but that doesn't mean it isn't based in reality.

Ok, so how do you make friends with Germans? 

Ask them for help with something you need/want to learn that they are already good at.

Seriously, that is all.

Well, not quite all. You have to mean it. If you're faking it, don't bother because they will see through that in a New York minute. Be sincere.

Friends for nearly 30 years (old photo).
No one in the world has ever understood me like he does.
Here's where I'm coming from:

As you know if you've read my blog during the last year, I have embarked on a crazy journey - to become a Falknerin. This would not be crazy in the US or the UK because there all I'd need to do is start volunteering with a falconer, learn about the birds and how to care for them, gain some confidence, and buy a bird. But this is Germany. I must first become a hunter, and in order to do that, I need to really want to become a hunter because of the time and money it requires.

When I started this quest I also started reaching out to everyone I could find who had something to do with hunting and Falknerei. While listening to a radio report about Falknerei and Vergrämen (chasing pigeons away from airports or towns using birds of prey) in Baden-Württemberg, I heard the name Wulf K. How many "Wulf Ks" could there be in B-W?? I contacted a family friend who has a son of that name, and sure enough, he's a Falkner. I asked if I could contact him, and he spent more than an hour with me on the phone talking about Falknerei and giving me advice how to pursue this goal. Among other things, he told me not to go for the "kleiner Jagdschein", which is valid for Falkner but doesn't include the shooting bit. He said if I'm going for my Jagdschein, I should go for the Full Monty. That was the first, but not the last, time I heard that advice.

Another family friend who is a hunter took me down to the Landesjagdschule for a short visit because I had said I was considering a different school near Stuttgart. He thought the Landesjagdschule would be a better choice. There I met the director and sat in on a class, and decided I would indeed attend that school instead.

M and I have visited the Garuda Falknerei several times and always seek them out when they are at the Horber Weihnachtsmarkt. Last year and this year the Falknerin has spotted us at the start of her show and waved with a friendly, "Hi! I know you!" Last year when she did this I turned to see who was behind us, but there was no one. She was greeting us! Haha!

I have known for several years that my Frauenarzt (Ob/Gyn) is a hunter and organizes each year a Treibjagd in his Revier. So in the Spring I sent him a letter saying I am pursuing my Falknerjagdschein, am therefore interested in learning what I need to learn about hunting, and if he would be willing to help me I'd be grateful. 

While chatting with the chef at our favorite local restaurant one evening this summer, he told us there is a Falkner who lives in the village just on the other side of the valley! He told me his name, I googled him and sent him an email. A few weeks later he was sitting in our Wintergarten talking with us about hunting, learning to shoot well (I was having a real problem with that at the Jagdschule), and Falknerei. He spent two hours with us!

Not long after that I got a phone call from my Frauenarzt. He told me he'd received my letter and thought that he would ask JM, a friend of his and local Falkner, to get in touch with me, but when he did JM told him he'd already been at our house for a 2-hour chat!  I think this is what proved to him that I was serious and this wasn't just a whim. He and his wife invited M and me to his house for Kaffee und Kuchen and a drive through his Revier.

A former student (friend by now - a Scot!) told me her boyfriend's father is a hunter, and I practically begged for an introduction. He called me up one evening from his Hochsitz and invited me over to watch him gut the deer he'd just shot. I dropped everything and dashed over. He also took me out with him the next evening when he went to his Hochsitz again, and 25 minutes later I was watching him gut another roe buck.

Several weeks ago M and I met with a group from my summer Jagdkurs, and it was so good to see them again! My Tischnachbar (the man who sat next to me in class) was there, and I was glad to introduce him to M. He often helped me with words or phrases in class when I felt lost and frustrated. Many of my other classmates who offered me encouragement at the Schießstand or help translating now and then were there as well. We've agreed to try to arrange a get-together once or twice a year.

A classmate and friend from my Jagdkurs introduced me to a Schießlehrer (shooting instructor) in Stuttgart who has been a godsend. For the past two months M and I have been going nearly every Wednesday afternoon and Sunday morning to the Schießstand (shooting range) in Stuttgart for lessons. I never wanted to shoot or even touch a gun. I had serious problems during the Jagdkurs and dreaded our days at the Schießstand. Zip forward to today, and it's a whole different world for me. This Schießlehrer has done wonders for me - even when I shoot badly, which has been often, he stays cool and tells me I'll get it eventually. On Wednesday (2 days ago), I finally saw that day.

Datenschutz-approved photo of my very patient Schießlehrer
coaching me on the damn Kipphasen
Every "regular" at the Schießstand has been helpful, friendly and welcoming. We recognize each other and everyone is per du (we use the informal "you" and first names with each other). The ones who are working volunteering as Aufsicht (supervisors) offer tips even when we don't ask, and we appreciate everyone's input and help! We are improving and it is because of their help. I have exchanged emails with some of the other students there. One of them sent me 35 pages of potential questions for the oral test of the Jägerprüfung that she and her classmates had created!

Are all of the above-mentioned Germans my friends? No, not yet. At least not in the German sense. They wouldn't refer to me as their friend either (Germans frequently use the word Bekannte - acquaintance - and that's a good thing to be!). But I have gotten to know a whole lot of wonderful people this year who are willing to work with me and help me reach my goal. I genuinely enjoy spending time with them and learning from them. 

Ok, so what if you don't know German well enough to carry on a conversation yet? Same tactic: Ask a German for help! One of my closest friends here is a woman I met at our second Kochkurs five years ago. We exchanged emails so I could share our photos with her, and I asked her to be my Sprachpartnerin (language partner). I'd help her with English, and she could help me with German. She agreed, we met a few times, she invited me to a Kaffeekränzchen at her house, and since then we meet every few weeks or months whenever we have time. And she continues to help me with my German during our conversations!

Several times recently I have struck up a chat with a total stranger on the train which has led to a genuinely interesting talk! We did not exchange contact information, which I find really cool as well - if the fates align, we'll meet again. If not, I enjoyed the time chatting with a stranger about topics that interested us both.

I've made acquaintances and friends with Germans by volunteering, teaching, taking cooking classes, joining a Verein (club) and through my pursuit of the Jagdschein. We've made friends with our neighbors as well. None of this was instantaneous, though.

Making friends with Germans takes time and effort. The only things worth doing take time and effort. If you sit around waiting for them to come to you, it's not going to happen. Tell them you want to learn something they can teach, and prove to them that you mean it.

Trust me.

White-tailed Eagle, Isle of Mull, Scotland
Just because.

I guess in a way this blog post is my effort to throw out into the universe a heartfelt THANK YOU to all those who have been willing to help me. This is the most difficult thing I have ever tried to do, and without these folks I could never have made as much progress as I have.

Saturday, December 7, 2019

My Second Treibjagd

M and I went on another Treibjagd today, and it was quite an experience! This one was in a huge Revier (hunting territory) and the neighboring one as well, and the organizer is my Frauenarzt. We had the feeling a lot of people - hunters, Treiber and helpers - would be here, and we assumed we would know no one. Turns out we were wrong about the latter!

Friendly warning: There will be at least one photo of the "Strecke" near the end of this post, which is the deceased animals laid out on pine branches to honor them and the hunters who shot them.

If I understood correctly, there were 75 Schützen (hunter-shooters), who were taken to their assigned Hochsitze to spend 2.5 hours sitting in the rainy cold hoping that we Treiber would drive a wild boar, Reh (roe deer) or fox past them. I don't know how many Treiber there were, but I think there were ten groups, and we were six in our group.

(Not all are enclosed with a roof)
M's former landlord appeared out of nowhere holding the leash of a dog he doesn't own, and we were surprised and pleased to see someone we knew. Afterwards I saw our acquaintance JM, who is a Falkner in a village not far from us, and had a quick chat. He was one of the Schütze, got a Reh today,* and he is also in the Jagdhornbläser group. Another of the Jagdhornbläser popped over to greet us - he is our former neighbor from over the hedge!

*JM, if you read this, Waidmannsheil!!

The day after our first Treibjagd, we each ordered a new set of outdoor clothes: hardy orange hunting pants and hunter-orange jackets that were at least water resistant. I missed a great opportunity to have our neighbor take a photo of us suited up for tromping through the forest in our as-yet unused hunting gear and bright orange baseball caps. Damn.

We packed up our gear last night, and having learned from our last experience the entire car was loaded full with an extra set of clean, dry clothes and socks, towels, hand and foot warmers, two extra jackets, a spare set of boots, and Snickers bars. The weather forecast claimed the rain would stop around 6:00am and it would be warmer than it had been the past few days (around 10 °C). Liar.

The temperature was fine, actually. Ok we got cold standing around before the hunt actually began, but that's to be expected. But I don't think it ever stopped raining. It only changed from annoying to light to misty to steady rain. However, the fact that I made it to the end (2.5 hours later) with mostly dry feet means it was a damn sight better than last time.

And as a bonus, I also didn't lose my eyesight from the branches slapping me in the face, I didn't break an ankle tripping over moss-covered rocks, I didn't fall down the steep hill I had to walk along sideways, and I didn't get permanently stuck trying to fight my way through blackberry patches. All of those things almost happened, but didn't. I cursed like a drunken sailor again, using all the expletives I'm familiar with, but that was mostly near the end when I was getting tired.

Jagdleiter Rudi is welcoming and giving instructions to the
hunters and Treiber. It is his Revier, and this Treibjagd should help him
meet his quota of Reh and Wildschweine for the year.
"Quota" isn't really the right word, but hunters who own or lease Reviere here are responsible for shooting a certain number of roe deer and wild boars each year to keep the numbers managable and to fend off the ever-threatening Afrikanische Schweinepest (pig plague). If he does not fulfill the written goal, there may be serious consequences including - if he misses the goal several years in a row - losing his hunting ground. I just wanted to point out that this type of hunt isn't just for fun. The herds need to be culled because we humans keep reproducing and needing more and more fields for growing crops, and herds of deer and wild sows with their Frischlinge do horrible damage to crop fields, which the hunters have to pay for because it's their job to keep the wild animals out of the crop fields! We also killed all their predators (wolves), so nature can't regulate things on her own. I've learned about all of this during the Jagdkurs.

The job of the Treiber is to tromp through the forest making enough noise to convince the wild game to abandon their cozy shelter from the rain and dash away from the stupid noisy human. The Schützen need to be on alert with all their senses, being ready to shoot a sow or deer passing by but watching out for - and not shooting - the hunting dogs and the Treiber. They listen for the Treiber shouting out their location, the animals running or strolling through the forest, the dogs barking to indicate they've flushed something out... And their noses can tell them if a rauschiger Keiler (boar lookin' for love) is anywhere near.

staying warm before the hunt
The dogs' job is to wait patiently and quietly until they are let off the leash (punctually at Jagdbeginn, 10:00), and then run willy-nilly through the forest, barking and unsettling the game so they move to where the Schützen can get them. Their barks have a different tone, usually more frantic, when they're on the trail of a fleeing deer or Wildsau. The dogs I saw here today were several Teckel (Dachshunds), a Deutsch Drahthaar, a Brandlbracke, at least three Slovensky Kopovs*, and a black lab or two.

*I had to ask the handler for this breed because I didn't recognize it and it's not on my list to study for the Jägerprüfung. They had the look and coloring of Brandlbracken (black-and-tan hounds) but were too small and yet clearly not puppies.

Shortly before 10:00 our group set off from the shelter of Rudi's Jagdhütte and headed toward the forest. The terrain here was much more challenging than that of our first Treibjagd, being very hilly and full of blackberry patches. Treiben is a great (volunteer) job for people who like being out in nature. You're not restricted to paths - in fact you're really supposed to avoid the paths and stick to the rough, and you might get to see some wild animals. I only saw three dashing Reh, but M also saw a few foxes as well as a Wildschwein (wild boar).

We fought our way through thick forest undergrowth, up steep hillsides, down into valleys, and over ditches. The blackberry branches bit through our pants but couldn't tear them, the tree branches did their best to poke out our eyes, and everything on the forest floor gave its best effort to trip us and throw us on our asses. But in the end we prevailed - we made it out unbroken and unshot, as did everyone else.

After the hunt the organizers provided us all with delicious and warm Gulaschsuppe, good German bread, tea, coffee, or Glühwein, beer and water. There were two firepits burning to help us thaw the cold bits, and three Metzger (butchers) were on hand to do the Aufbrechen (gutting). One of the Metzger had a crowd around him and didn't just gut the boar - he talked about what he was doing, teaching how it's done and what to look out for (abnormalities in the organs). Several of us were clearly students who will have to identify internal organs for our test, and he showed us each of the important steps and parts.

I'll spare you those photos, but I have them and was not the only one taking pictures. All in the name of learning!

The traditional Strecke legen followed, where the animals are laid on pine branches to be counted and also honored along with the hunters who shot them. Rudi's wife thanked everyone for the good and safe hunt and called up each hunter who'd shot an animal (or three in one case!). Following custom she took a pine branch, stroked it against the animal the hunter had killed, and handed it to her or him to put in the band of his (or her - there were at least two women who were successful hunters today) hat with a "Waidmannsheil!"

12 Sauen, 22 Rehe, 9 Fuchse
After that the Jagdhornbläser performed several traditional tunes including Sau tot, Reh tot, and Fuchs tot."

This brought the hunt to its official end. The Metzger still had a lot of work to do, but the Treiber und hunter-shooters could slowly make their way to the pub/restaurant where Rudi said they are welcome to celebrate "bis zum Erbrechen."

One of my many questions was answered when I heard one hunter say he was going to drive his "Kanone" (gun) home and then come back to the pub. I've always wondered what a hunter does between a Treibjagd and the Schüsseltrieb afterwards - the social celebration. In Germany if one is caught in possession of a gun AND has more than 0.0% blood-alcohol level, he faces stiff penalties including likely the loss of his hunting license and gun license. I know what the hunter is supposed to do - not drink any alcohol as long as he still has his gun with him, or drive her gun home, lock it in her Waffenschrank (gun cabinet), and return to the party. A relative can't just come, pick up the gun and take it home because one is not allowed to transport a gun without a gun license.
Anyway, I was glad to hear this hunter's answer to the situation, which reflects the law.

This was our last planned Treibjagd for the season, and after I hit "publish" on this post I'm going to drag my tired Kadaver to the sofa for an evening nap. But we will very likely do this again next year. After all, we now have the proper outdoor clothing, so it would be a shame to just let it hang in a closet.

To all of today's successful hunters: Waidmannsheil!!