This blog collects notes from Höfen, a small village in Southern
Germany, where Kathrin from public works was living and working for
The costs for utilities in the UK are low, and by comparison
they seem quite high here. Talking countryside, where
ordering/making/storing/firing wood is not a problem, the wood
fuelled heating concept has had a massive revival in recent years -
also thanks to raising oil prices. To keep our monthly bill down we
are also almost exlusively using wood to heat our place. It's
delivered in fireable chunks by a local farmer. Others around here
still have their own woods, or commoner's righst which allow them a
certain amount of free timber per year from the national forest.
The forester marks the trees which can be cut by the "commoners",
and they have to negotiate amongst themselves who gets to cut what
and when; and because it's such an ancient give-and-take system it
seems to work pretty well. The Forestry Commission gets lots of
medium size trees cleared out for free, which are in the way for
the really big ones to grow even bigger. This time for commercial
Assemblage. Slightly posh sounding word which only to art
students might be very familiar. When we brainstorm new ideas here
for the "Höfer
Goods", we often use material collage to simply get ideas
going. And because the concept of the "Wolpertinger" is
common knowledge around here, it's easy to explain: stick unrelated
things together and see what happens. I found a very good example
in the Forestry Museum nearby.
A stammtisch can exist as a group of people who meet for a drink
on a regular basis, but it is also a particular table in every
local pub - the one for the regulars. The word
"Stammtischpolitik"has entered German as a description for narrow
minded, male dominated opinions. I find the "Stammtisch"table
intriguing for its firm but informal sociability - and it is
actually an open space. If you come to a pub on your own, and you
want some company and a chat - the Stammtisch is the place to go.
Some would never ever as a stanger sit at the regular's table, but
I know from regular users that they quite appreciate new people and
stories coming in. And then there is of course the "Stammkrug" -
the special beer jug for those who come often, and get beer served
in their very own private mug.
Gregor who lives in Freudeneck* on a farm much closer to the
meadows which get regularly flooded, has a small wooden stick on
the fields just behind his barn. When flood water starts to reach
that stick, he knows that the road between Höfen and Rattelsdorf is
fully flooded, and he has to take a different route to work.
* The next village up the valley, transleted the "Corner of
... for a few days. None of this is threatening, with serious
live threatening floods going on elsewhere, but it's still rather
spectacular and fortunately more exiting than worrying.
The village shop went in 1974. It didn't have a name as such. It
was simply called the shop and remembered as a true "Tante Emma
Laden" (Ant Emma's Shop). My grandparents ran it from the ground
floor corner room in their house. It was one of those amazing shops
with dark wooden shelves up to the ceiling, where most goods were
kept in drawers, and you could get everything from pickled herrings
to a zipper. They had to close it because their weekly orders were
below the minimum set by the distributor. And without a car it was
simply not possible to get the goods in. By then the shop was
mainly used by the villagers outside of "opening hours", to quickly
get those things they had forgotten to buy at the supermarket.
There are still plenty of things to buy in the village - or to
swap for other things - depending on whom you know. You can buy
apples, eggs, beer, soft drinks and honey. Timber, game, pork
sausages and meet, milk,
seasonal fruit, craft, liquor and conserve of course. You can
borrow most tools from a sauerkraut grater to pig tab, ... and you
can get cloths fixed, curtains made and your pets looked after.
Talking to agrosociologists a few weeks ago at a conference, I
found out that "Village Shops" are the new hot topic for rural
regeneration - and there is a whole wave of research and
initiatives going on. Most new shops are run as co-operatives and
are trying to establish their status as non-for-profit commercial
and social entities.
And there is of course the annual
International Village Shop happening here!
Höfen (which literally means hamlets) lies on a hill juts above
the plains of the river Itz. The plains flood a few times a year,
mostly after the big snowmelt further North. Temperatures went from
-13 to +8 a few days ago and made the vast amounts of snow
disappear in no time, and now everyone is watching the road slowly
disappear below the floods. This normally means excitement amongst
the kids because there is no way to go to school, and the adult
population either still tries to drive through the floods/finds the
nearest crossing to the other side/philosophises about floods.
Visitors to the village are often surprised that the life
stock/cows are kept inside and not on the lovely meadows in the
valley - which as it's obvious now - have this sponge function. The
farms around here were all too small (mainly small holdings with
less the 20 ha) to use flood free fields for grazing.