‘Einmal ist keinmal’

John Lennon wall, Lesser Town (Prague)

John Lennon wall, Lesser Town (Prague)

It’s like the Germans are all on some schedule here that we’re not getting. In February, everyone was pruning on the same day, stacking limbs in neat piles to dry and burn. Last week Dawn went to a bonfire where they brought dried Christmas trees and for some reason burned a witch in effigy, and when I asked Eberhard what it meant and why, he said it’s something they do in the mountains, in the Alps, loosely related to the equinox, sounds Pagan, and explains some of Charlotte’s art projects at school and the fact they’re making paper witches in March.

I drove Eberhard to Frankfurt to meet his son who’s down from Sweden, and friends from the music business here for a trade-show. He explained how a stretch of the A6 was intended as a landing strip during WWII in case the airports were destroyed; they’d just remove the dividers in the middle and land their planes right there on the road, that’s how you have to think in war.

And when we got back from Frankfurt, it was time to change the tires from winter to summer. In fact, we were late since everyone else was doing it last Saturday: mom’s neighbor Berndt, a former project manager, was out there with his hands on his hips and his wire brush scrubbing the insides of the rims clean, methodically rubbing, drying, stacking.

And for whatever reason we couldn’t pinpoint and got tired talking about, we got ourselves in a funk yesterday and the only way we could get out was to clean the area outside my mom’s barn, called a Hof, where she parks her car and still has space for a bistro, where I wheel out the grill and cook chicken breasts and each time mom says it’s better than the last.

It’s unusual to have a Hof like my mom’s in the village since no one really has parking in the old town, and mom’s area is so big and well cared for it’s often confused as a public space — she’ll come home to find people taking wedding photos there, or the occasional odd guy sitting at her table smoking, like he’s waiting for a menu.

After the Christmas markets are over in December, the townsfolk collect the pine branches used to decorate the booths and repurpose them in their gardens to cover fragile plants from frost. Dawn and I cleared the branches and stacked them off to the side, behind the Gemuse area off the barn, where a local organic co-op stores vegetables for its members to collect their weekly allotment, and our cat Roxy hunts mice.

Pine boughs protecting plants, mom's Hof

Pine boughs protecting plants, mom’s Hof

The lawn furniture was bundled under a tarp with the pieces interconnected like a puzzle, a glimpse into Eberhard’s mind who likely did it all by himself for my mom, then wrapped it carefully with chord and tied it down just right.

Eberhard, whose surname translates to Dungeon Master in English and sounds like what he really is, a carer, has an apartment he keeps 15 minutes from my mom’s but is never there; he spends most of his time with his 87-year-old mom in a mountain village an hour away, who’s recovering from a stroke, was told she can’t be trusted to cook for herself or really live on her own, so he bounces back and forth between her house and my mom’s taking care of things, changing tires, light bulbs, batteries.

And for all he does for others and what seems like a lot of pain and suffering that surrounds him, he never complains about anyone or anything — and the bundle of furniture that’s locked together under the tightly-bound tarp reminds us of what it must be like for him inside, he never seems to let anything out.

With just a few more weeks left here now, my walks are wistful through the town and past the cemetery, and I know it’s good, it should be over, and yet I still feel the loss for all we had and did, to recognize no matter where you are it all goes by too fast.

I started reading The Unbearable Lightness of Being by the Czech writer Milan Kundera, set in Prague, and in the opening pages he puts forth the idea of an eternal return, the notion we have only one life to live, and the German adage einmal ist keinmal, “what happens but once might well as not have happened at all.”

And if he’s right, that we only get one life and no chance to prepare for it, we’re constantly making it up: to call life a sketch is even an overstatement as we have nothing to study from or copy when we render it. We’re like portrait artists with no subject, we see our lives most clearly looking back, at what’s already passed.

Dawn and I had a glass of wine in the Hof and admired the barn as if for the first time, the way the light was hitting the brown-gray stone and the moss-mottled roof, and it looked like someone had made marks in the timber with a tool that probably meant something to someone at one time, but was lost on us.

Mannequins taking selfies, Amsterdam storefront

Mannequins taking selfies, Amsterdam storefront



Categories: travel, writing

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21 replies

  1. i really love the look and idea of the hof. and so much better than the other hof that germany loves so much, david hasselhoff.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That is funny, the Hof pun. The Hof is fantastic. I would have included more photos but the WP engine was running slow for some reason and I had to go pick my kids up at the Schule. My mom has a real eye for all that; she’s even won awards here in town for it — although one year, a local article criticized her choice of plants as ‘too Mediterranean.’ Ha!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. The equinox can have such a strong effect on everything. Sometimes you don’t even realise you’re obeying it but it pulls you along


    • Yeah, I don’t know what it is — possibly that — but we’re all in this weird state. It’s probably getting ready to leave Europe too, having been here about nine months, plus the changing of the clocks, the weather being weird, us being in our mid-40s, it goes on and on. Thank you for reading my friend and the encouragement earlier this week, I needed it.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. An palpable sensation of imminent leaving. I had a feeling of having my roots pulled up even though I knew I’d only been heeled in for a spell, and never intended to get on with growing there. So many layers in this piece. Although, that said, there always are in your posts.

    Liked by 1 person

    • A palpable sensation of imminent leaving. That’s a sing-song of rhythm, woman! Thank you for reading and saying so. Life is terribly good. I’ll resist the temptation to compare it to an ice cream cone, but that’s how it feels now. Bill

      Liked by 1 person

  4. My dad used to lay boughs on his plants. I wonder if he still does. Conjured up some flashbacks there.
    I like Eberhard better now. I mean, it starts to make sense. If you are forced to always be managing, helping, intervening, it’s hard to stop doing that. But then I remember Eberhard is not a character but a person, so that straight line doesn’t quite connect so cleanly, does it?
    “We’re like portrait artists with no subject.” That’s quite nice.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I had never seen that done with the boughs before but I like it, glad it triggered memories for you: I can imagine the little plants beneath all making a sigh when they’re lifted off come spring, and they can get some fresh air and sun. Eberhard: yes, a real person and a character, could be Gatsby proportion if I was man/writer enough. Or is it “if I were man/writer enough?” I’m glad you liked that line at the end because I had one of those rare moments where I thought it was so important to write down I got up in the middle of the night, turned my iPhone on for some light, and wrote off-kilter in my little notepad. And it was OK in the morning but not as good as it seemed, you know. I hope you’re well and enjoying April. It’s a good month. Bill


  5. I love the idea that strangers come and use the Hof as if it’s a public convenience. Maybe, in a strange way, it is.


    • It’s so that we’ve put up a ‘green screen’ of bamboo to shield the bistro area and sometimes have to put up a chain that says Privat. And hey, thanks: I think indirectly you inspired me to read that Kundera book finally, through some comment you made I can’t remember, but made a note it was time to add that to my list for this year, and I’m glad so far I have. Cheers, Kevin.


  6. Your posts always make me feel something. I laugh or get introspective, sometimes both. This one made me sad, but I’m not sure why.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m so happy you read my posts and they make you feel something! Thank you. Don’t be sad though, or, well maybe it’s OK to be sad and it makes more sense to be. I take that back. I’m glad you felt something and took the time to tell me. Cheers! Bill

      Liked by 1 person

  7. “to recognize no matter where you are it all goes by too fast”

    I remember standing in a field out back of the place we had the “teacher’s retreat” my first weekend in Poland thinking, “my god, I’m here, on the other side of the planet for a whole year.” I was still young enough to feel like a year was a long time but old enough to know it would be over before I knew it. That might be my most vivid memory of that year. I remember what I was wearing, the way the air smelled, and that I was too conscious of myself in that moment — like I was having an out of body experience where I was simultaneously thinking myself wise and at the same time aware of the poseur I was in that moment.

    That’s a great pic of the mannequins, by the way. I like how the glare on the glass kind of gets in the way of us looking at them looking at themselves.
    I should probably stop typing and get to bed. Have to be up in a couple of hours.


    • I’m glad you can remember that. I have that too, with the first sabbatical we took here in 2009, the time I counted the number of days I had off (it was 4.5 months), and it seemed to go on forever then, surprisingly. But when we came back, I calculated how old I’d be when I’d be eligible to take another sabbatical (7 years from the time I returned from the first), and it seemed just too far in the future, and our kids would be at an age it wouldn’t be as easy, so I’m glad we did it again, and really smoked it down to the filter, so to speak. Thank you for sharing your memories of Poland with me/us. I’d like to hear more. Just took a morning walk here and it was refreshing, after four hours of sleep and staying up late to talk Pink Floyd and religious experiences camping in Egypt/Israel, with Eberhard’s son. Life is funny. Enjoy yours and your week-end today, my friend.


  8. Didn’t the Germans invent schedules? That’s a truly fascinating tidbit about the A6. Doesn’t it seem like Europe has figured out a lot of stuff that the U.S. can’t seem to get through it’s thick skull? Shouldn’t we relax a bit? We could rename Manhattan “Mannequins taking selfies.”

    Liked by 1 person

    • I was so glad to hear from you I walked upstairs to get my laptop and write back. Yes, happy you liked that detail about the A6: the center, cement highway dividers are modular and you can just remove them I guess like Lego pieces — and in between, there’s soil they can take away with a Caterpillar. Bizarre, thinking like that. The mannequin photo is gross and I love it for that. Captures a surreal moment for me in Amsterdam that’s selfish too. I’m pleased you’re back online my friend and hope things are well, looking forward to catching up on your posts too. Enjoy your weekend, hope some good weather and relaxation for you. Bill


    • This comment won’t seem to let me ‘like’ it, so I’m liking it this way. I like this comment.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. I loved your comment about your walks being wistful. I feel that way every time I leave Besigheim, not knowing if I will ever be back, and having grown to love the village and the wonderful people.



  1. ‘Einmal ist keinmal,’ 2018 | William Pearse | pinklightsabre

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