|Written by:||Nancy J. Kopp (bio, link, contact, other stories)|
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|Written by:||Nancy J. Kopp (bio, link, contact, other stories)|
Wine Cellar Dinner
Nancy Julien Kopp
Excitement is the emotion of the moment when Ken and I step off a tour bus in Eidiger-Eller, Germany on a summer evening. Our group is composed of nearly one hundred American and British citizens of the senior variety. An opportunity to meet and
mingle with the German people is an added plus to our river cruise. Only minutes earlier we left our ship, The River Melody, ready for this new adventure. The short bus ride keeps our anticipation level acceptable.
Local villagers mill around us, many holding a sign announcing a family name. I check the slip of paper in my hand to find a match. "There he is," I tell my husband, and we head toward a tall, red-headed teen-ager, who holds a cardboard sign with Thiessen printed on it. We greet him, and he grins and says hello so softly that I must strain to hear him. "My name is Markus," he adds.
Before we can set out for Markus' home, a marching band heads down the street in our direction. The brass instruments are played with gusto, and exhilarating music fills the
air. The men's feet march forcefully down the road, and we clap our hands to the beat. It's an oom-pah-pah band most of the Americans have only read about, or seen at Octoberfest performances. Smiles light up the listeners' faces when the band comes to a halt in front of us. The men wear vests, embroidered with brightly hued flowers, over their white shirts and dark green trousers
"What a wonderful welcome," one American man shouts.
Word soon travels through our group that the band is not for our benefit but to honor the village mayor who has joined us, dressed in medieval garb. His silver hair gleams
under a beret-type hat, feather sweeping his cheek. We all laugh at our error, and the mayor bows to us. We set off to walk to the various homes of fifteen local vintners.
After a short stroll through the village, Markus directs us to a wine cellar below his family home. We savor the cool air of the cellar dining area as we leave the heavy warmth of the summer night. Wine bottles line one wall, and another is filled with signatures of visitors. "Guten tag!" Herr and Frau Thiessen greet us in German and gesture for us to sit at the polished wooden tables set with cheerful place-mats and flatware. Markus translates his father's words. The speech is a gracious welcome, and despite the need for translation, we feel the warmth of his words.
Minutes later, father and mother begin pouring a selection of wines, and Markus describes each one --the dry Reisling, semi-dry, and the sweet wine. We each select our favorite. Markus tells us that his family has made wine for many generations from grapes grown on steep hills directly above their home. The family raises the grapes and
processes them into wine, but harvest crews from Poland come to pick the grapes each autumn, since the harsh elevation prohibits harvesting with machinery.
Markus and his father continue to teach and entertain us with talk of the vineyards, the wine-making and their family while dinner is served. We feast on a delectable beef stew made with wine gravy, a dish renowned in this region. Fluffy, boiled potatoes and cooked apples accompany the meat, along with heavy European bread. Herr Thiessen refills our glasses with more wine. To top off the fine meal, Markus' mother serves a sweet wine custard in cut glass bowls.
After we are filled to satisfaction, Markus tells us that he is the youngest of four children. He learned English in school, and he has only recently started practicing it on the tourists. Several of the diners praise his efforts, which brings a blush to his cheeks. There are moments when he struggles for the correct English word, and we all lean forward to help. Once, Frau Thiessen comes to his rescue with a German-English dictionary. Markus looks up the word while we wait, each of us hoping he can find it and save himself further embarrassment. We know he's succeeded when a broad smile crosses his face. He tells us his two sisters and a brother all left home for other kinds of work. Markus will stay and learn the family business like his father and grandfathers before him. Herr Thiessen nods his head and smiles. He understands much of what Markus is saying but cannot express himself in our language.
We ask questions while Frau Thiessen clears the table. We learn Markus is sixteen and has completed his public school education only two days earlier. The next day he will
begin attending a vocational school forty-five kilometers (about thirty miles) from home, to learn how to become a vintner like his father. He will ride his motorbike every day and spend his evenings studying. The following year he will be apprenticed to a vintner nearby and will live and work with him. After these two years, he will be ready to work with his father and take over the business when Herr Thiessen retires. Besides raising grapes and turning them into good wine, Markus must also learn marketing and accounting.
"We will take you to the vineyards now," Markus says. A subtle way to let us know dinner is over.
Back in the warm summer air, we climb the high hill behind the stone house. Grapevines, lush and green, dominate the countryside along the Mosel River. We learn that each acre will produce enough grapes to make 2000 bottles of wine. The vineyards in this area are relatively small--comparable to six or seven American acres. In his quiet way, Markus shows us the equipment used to make the wine. His face lights up, when he proudly shows us his shiny motorbike. Frau Thiessen lifts Markus' arm and points to a long scrape from elbow to wrist. Markus grins and says, "I had a small accident with my motorbike."
We wave to Herr and Frau Thiessen as Markus leads us back to our waiting bus. In the center of the village we meet others in our group and compare notes. Everyone, it seems, is leaving Ediger-Eller with a full stomach and fond memories, some photos and a few bottles of wine. The mayor, still dressed in his costume of yesteryear, waves as we board
our bus. I turn for one last look, and I see Markus laughing and chattering with other teen-agers from the village, more at ease with his peers.
"A bright future lies ahead for him," I say to my husband.
As the bus returns us to our river cruiser, someone a few seats ahead sums up what I am feeling. “This evening turned out to be a gold star event.”