I had spread a word around at work that I was looking to buy a Christmas tree. This aspect of Germany was completely new to me. Eight years had gone by in Germany. With every passing day I am still learning something new and inching towards my integration or being normal in this society. In this context there came another challenge to tackle. I did not know how or where to buy Christmas trees. I checked at a kitsch store in Heidelberg – BUTLERS. They had only a plastic version, 180 cm tall and had cost 120€. It was costly and plastic did not appeal pleasant. Moreover my wife, Ines, also preferred a proper tree. At such occasions on not knowing how to proceed, spreading a word around usually helps.
It turned out that my colleague sitting in the same room as me had his own farm. We have been located that way since 2014 when I began with this work, but Germany being Germany, private affairs at work place remain really private. The word had to come from the receptionist lady saying “Ramesh, your colleague Marty himself has a farm, ask him”. I asked Marty and he was glad to show his farm. We made an appointment right away for me to visit his farm and pick a tree. It was a Sunday in the last week of November 2017.
Ines and I lived in a village along the Neckar river 15km away from Marty’s farm. Marty lived up the hills in the Oden Forest. Sunday 10AM and minus two degrees: it was the first real cold day in the winter of 2017. I had totally underestimated the weather and went with just a pullover to cover the top and luckily had chosen jeans and hiking shoes for no reason. My wife was prepared well. We drove to his village. Marty had informed that his land is just before the round-about to his village. He was waiting for us on time and was waving his green umbrella at us. His land was up above on the slope. Only then I noticed that we had to go up a mud road. The sudden right I made to turn upwards to the mud road freaked out the car behind and he honked loud. I waved him peace through the mirror and as always was never sure if a person can see such gestures. I approached Marty. I assume, he got an impression that an Indian has entered the town given that hardly anyone honks in Germany. Either the Indian honks or makes the others honk.
Marty and his wife were waiting at the farm. There were other customers on the move to select their trees as well. The farm was located on a slant and was about two grounds big. There were just his farm and a neighbour’s considerably big farm on the vast green field. His field could hold around 100 trees and was fenced from his neighbours’field. There were trees from a metre height to about 5 metres and the majority were in the range of 2 metres. Given the size of our apartment, we saw right away that a two metres tree would be the apt choice.
Marty had earlier mentioned that when it comes to a decorative Christmas tree there were four varieties of trees commercially available in Germany,: Spruce, Silver fir, Nordmann fir and Blue fir. Spruce is the cheapest of all and it’s more a bush than a tree. Silver fir is a decent pick, but the needles on the branch apparently fall out soon. Nordmann’s fir is the most sold tree as the branches are very dense, green and the needles hold for long. Our villages are located in the Oden forest. As Nordmann’s fir has a high growth in this area, it is believed that this tree brings the flavour of the forest in the home too. Blue fir in the costly version as the tree has a blue tint, giving it a rich look. My wife was learning German then and Marty’s Oden forest dialect was totally incomprehensible to her. He realized her struggles and offered to simplify his statements saying that there are four types of Trees in order of price and quality: Blue fir, Nordmann fir, Silver fir and Spruce equivalent in the same order to Rolls Royce, Mercedes, Dacia and Renault. He being German said that he prefers and sells only Mercedes. It can’t be clearer to her and all of us agreed on Mercedes!
Bang on explanation! It was clear to both of us that it was a Nordmann’s that we wanted. Ines hasted to hunt for the right sized tree before the other customers would choose it. Paradox of choices or like a kid left with too many toys, for her, every other tree looked better than the one before. With my bad attire, I was freezing with every passing second. At one point, I couldn’t feel my fingers anymore and she was still jumping from one tree to the other. As much as I loved her, I realized that love does not protect one from nature’s hardships and I just grunted this cheesy line at her in a simplified format saying “Just Hurry upppppppppp!!!!!” She was considerate and in an unexpected move she came back to the first ever tree that she saw in the farm and selected that one. She analyzed about 20 other trees before coming to the first tree again. Marty, his wife and I gave a blank shivering stare at each other in unison. He marked the tree with a red tape with my name scribbled on it. We thanked him and rushed out to the car.
Later at work, I was inquisitive to Marty on his hobby on how he decided to have a farm, whether it was profitable etc. Apparently he does it just as a hobby and without any seriousness attached to it. He priced the two metre tall Mercedes at 23€. With around 100 trees of different sizes in is farm, the small scale business seems to bring him a very marginal profit, but hobby is a hobby. He works like me, a desk job for 40 hours in a week and doing something physical after work as long as it is relieving and not having much burden on the finances is very rewarding.
Our pick up day was December 16th, a Saturday. Ines and I made a plan to invite small group of friends in the evening and celebrate the arrival of the tree as an appetizer to Christmas. Meanwhile in the morning I would pick up the tree. On Marty’s recommendation, we had already bought an iron tree holder for 14€ from a local supermarket. At 10AM I told Ines to cleanup a space in the apartment to place the tree and I drove to Marty’s village to pick it up. It was a rainy day. As Christmas was just a week away, this was the usual time people would buy a tree. The trees normally would last for three weeks, if the stem is soaked in water. The tree holder does this part.
On the way to his farm, I saw many cars lined up in front of all the farms. Everyone was waiting or loading their tree in their car or onto their trucks and trolleys. A huge metal cone shaped device, set horizontally on a stand, was to be found. It was like a base of rocket and was used to pack the Christmas trees. It had a net inside. One person pushed the stem of the tree from the big circle and other pulls the tip from the side of the small circle. The cone squeezes the tree and magically weaves a net around it. It was a weird pleasure watching two people pushing and pulling from either side with meanwhile a magic happening in the middle. It reminded me of the Finnish comics “Fingerpori” where one veterinarian for a regular checkup, puts his hand through the ass of a cow and a thief steals his golden ring by inserting his hand through the mouth of the cow. A glorious settlement always lies in the middle!
I was eager to get my own tree and approached Marty’s farm. There were many customers at his place too. The rainy day had made the mud road into sludge. I drove upwards slowly and parked the car in front of his farm. A Grandma was making a mess in reversing her car to leave back to the main road. She went down the road without noticing another car coming up towards her and with a trolley. Goats on the wooden bridge, neither of them were willing to back out and started shouting at each other. Eventually it had to be the Grandma who had to move the car, as for the guy with the trolley it would be difficult. My car was parked along the sides on the same mud road. Even though there was space for the Grandma to reverse, suddenly I grew suspicious over the Grandma’s skills and drove my car a bit to the front to avoid any sort of collision with her. A metre further, my car tires got stuck in the sludge. Perfect!
I showed this tragedy to Marty. Being the nice guy he is, putting up with chaotic Indian drivers, he suggested that we shall first have the tree cut, load it and pull the car back with his tractor. The 2 metre tree perfectly fit in my Opel Corsa, as if my car was custom made for it. Marty went to bring the tractor and asked me to find a metal hook from the car to put the chains on to it and pull. The Indian me had never used these kinds of things. There was a mechanic or a pulling service for these situations and who will simply be available on a call. In the middle of nowhere village like this, there was no such people. Now, here I was in a gruesome situation to find a hook to my car. I was like “Really? Do cars have hooks inside? I have never seen them”. Marty gave a huge sigh and turns out that my car has a secret compartment in the trunk which has all the emergency tools including an aluminum hook! He took the hook and tried to screw it to the hole near the exhaust. By this time, some few people had gathered to watch the theatrics! He couldn’t screw it. He gave it to me and it didn’t work for me too. Push and screw, tilt and screw, wedge and screw, stare and screw: none of the combinations were working. It simply wouldn’t go in. Marty and I, two engineers couldn’t screw a hook to a hole. Our IQ; experience, titles, status and everything was at stake in front of this village audience. Suddenly Marty found the trick. Unlike a normal screw which has to be screwed in clockwise, this hook had to be screwed in anti-clockwise for whatever genius idea the designer had. That dumb moment and the look we had at each other! He pulled the car out soon with his tractor like a superman and made a friendly nudge at me saying now I know how to drive in a village!
The tree arrived in place. Ines was happy to see the tree. As much as how Ines was excited to celebrate Christmas, I was excited to hang my Batman Toy upside down on the tree. Boy fun! A longtime friend of mine from university times in Berlin rescued this toy while she was disposing garbage in her student’s hostel. She brought it to me, as she knew that I loved Batman and that I would be a safe house for him. This was 7 years ago. Since then I treasured this toy like some legacy passed on to me. Of all the objects I had, this one toy had moved with me wherever I had re-located since then.
We named the party as “Decorating the tree with a bad taste” party and asked our friends to bring something utterly kitschy or distastefully funny to hang on to the tree. The first two guests brought something kitschy, although it was not for the tree. Richard brought a pretty Christmas kitsch plate. Stefanie and John were the best. They brought an useless metal cabbage and carrot to hang on the tree. It was pointlessly funny that we hanged them to the tree in a constellation as if Batman is diving down to save the cabbage from falling. Perfect ploy! The party went great. We took pictures and shared to friends. On Christmas day, friends came over and Ines had fun in packing presents for them and putting them under the tree. We hosted friends, visited church, Ines cooked mulled wine, we visited Christmas markets, tried hot winter snacks and lit up advent candles every Sunday. Christmas time was joy.
*Names mentioned in the Texts are not their actual names. Exceptions are my wife and I.
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One thought on “Part 2: Christmas adventures in Europe”
Thanks for sharing another great story, Ramesh! Your posts are always engaging and entertaining, and it’s always interesting to hear a different perspective on certain traditions, like Christmas celebrations in this case. I look forward to your next post!
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