Bavaria: of Birthdays and Faith

In May I had the opportunity to go back to that mountain cottage I told you about a few months ago. It is owned by a circle of friends, and when I was invited the first time I met many of these people. Over the past few months I’ve been spending a lot of time in Munich hanging out with these people and one of the girls planned her birthday party up there, and I was invited.

Adults planning birthday parties seem to be a German thing, I’m discovering. I have personally been to, seen the planning of, or heard stories about various types of birthday parties for people celebrating anything from 22 to 65 years old. This is never just a dinner. Sometimes they are extravagantly organized: party rooms rented, decorations, bands, games and drinks present. Sometimes it’s been short hikes to a mountain hut where they serve food and beer: Like the dad’s birthday we celebrated, where the beer garden at the top was at the end of a 30 minute hike through the countryside:

Sometimes it’s a long drive, plus a hike, to a hut hidden in the mountains. I hadn’t been here since February; deep in snow and the silent cold of winter. This was definitely Spring, and the rivers were running and the grass was green. We spent the weekend playing games and cooking delicious food in the hut, and I enjoyed a nice long walk through the alps at what has become one of my favorite places here in Europe.

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Now that I’ve been here almost 10 months, I have noticed a theme that creeps along through my time here. Being Catholic in Bavaria has not been a problem since the state of Bavaria is the most Catholic in Germany. It is full of celebrations, feast days, and probably tons of other things I haven’t realized yet all related to the Catholic calendar and traditions. What I’ve found difficult is making sure I’m in the right place at the right time. Usually because I have trouble reading.

For example.

Many, many words in English are German cognates. I’ve had relative ease understanding people speaking not because I know a lot of words in German but because when they speak, I’m always hearing words that sound just like English ones. Sometimes the spelling is the same too- and the pronunciation is the only difference. So when it comes to me not being able to read signs…. well that was an elementary mistake and excusable because well, I hadn’t ever taken a German language class, ever. But I have certainly come to appreciate words in a totally different way. See when I read things, I read what I can understand. When I can’t understand the words (and I try, I really do), I automatically skip them. Bad idea. Because that can mean the difference between ‘Mass for Pentecost’ and ‘Mass for the dead.’ Allllmost the same… but not at all.

Here in Bad Reichenhall Church schedules are always changing. I think I’ve gotten used to the schedule of mass times and then they cancel it- but just for that week. Next week it will be back. One time back before Christmas I went to evening mass instead of morning mass. However this particular Sunday evening they had decided that the mass would be for unborn children. Which is lovely- just not what I was expecting. If I had read more closely- or really, if I had known what those words were – I would have at least known going into it. But instead I showed up expecting mass for the third week of Advent and was very confused for most of that hour.

Another time I saw the word ‘Croatian community’ next to the mass time and assumed that meant it was for the Croatian people in the area.  There are a lot of expats around so that wasn’t a totally ridiculous idea…. but then again, I should have probably also assumed that the mass would then be in Croatian. Which I was not prepared for.

Yet another time I was stuck in the awkward position of the family forgetting I was going to church. So the only mass left was a traditional mass in the middle of the day. Which is cool- just required a little bit of explanation after I returned as to why the mass was almost 2 hours long. I didn’t mention it was also in Latin. I think that would have just been really confusing (and I mean it was since I don’t speak Latin, but that’s a different issue).

Thus far I’ve been to mass in 5 different languages: German, Croatian, Latin, English, Italian. It’s all cool, but I would be okay not to add to that list. It really makes my head spin a bit.

This weekend at the hut was the icing on the cake though. One of the best and worst moments. It as Pentecost weekend: Birthday of the Church and feast of the Holy Spirit (which is Catholic for really really important day with lots of fireworks. Like the fourth of July. But not). Anyways I was driving up Saturday night and had looked for mass times along the way so as to be able to stop quick before we got to the hut. By now I had learned that sometimes evening masses were NOT always the same as the morning masses, and since this was a rather important day I didn’t want to end up at a random celebration but the actual Pentecost one. Now the word for ‘Mass’ is ‘Messe’ I have to think about the words for ‘Pentecost’ and ‘in memory of’ but I didn’t, because I found a perfect little Church with a ‘Messe-bla-bla-words-I-don’t-understand’ and was happy. However my German friends pointed out that those words I didn’t read were in fact the difference between “mass in memory of the dead” and “Mass in celebration of Pentecost feast.” Face Palm. This is where the real test of rules verses faith kicks in: if I had a religion full of rules I had to follow, this wouldn’t matter at all. However I really wanted to celebrate the feast of Pentecost and the thought of missing it was really devastating. My friend reminded me that this is Bavaria, where the Churches come every mile and the mass times are posted on the road signs like speed limits. We would certainly find one on the way. I agreed, so we took of for the Alps via some little country Church. The first half of the drive was full of mass times for the next hour. So we drove on, planning to stop on the hour in whatever town we ended up in. Except that the second half of the drive was full of mass times for the previous hour. It seemed that the world was against me and I was pretty upset. I’d given up finding one since they were all the same, and for the next several Churches I just said “drive on” because it was well past the hour and we were clearly in the part of Bavaria that had mass TOO EARLY. I have some pretty good friends though. The driver pulled off at a Church ‘just because’ and despite my saying ‘no it doesn’t matter anymore.’ It was the actual perfect pick: Mass was starting as I walked to the door, and it wasn’t a mass for the dead. It was mass for the Feast of Pentecost. I might have cried a little. but you don’t know that. I was extremely grateful to the Lord for such providence in the midst of my despair and for the gift of good friends who even when they don’t understand, care enough about my interests to fight for what’s important to me even when I’d given up.

That was an extreme case. Sacraments are certainly difficult to come by, but usually the cases are really funny in hindsight because all the mishaps were due to my inability or just plain forgetting to read the whole sentence. Or assumption that things are cognates when they absolutely are not. For instance confession: what I went to in Italy and Ireland because those were the only places I could find it. All along it’s been happening at the parish right near my house- don’t know how I missed that for so long since the word “Beichtgelegenheiten” clearly reads ‘confession.’ 😛

I’ve learned the mass in German now, I’ve been to confession in English and don’t know how much the priest understood, I still laugh when everyone crowds out of the pews at once for communion and get frustrated when they cancel the mass I was going to go to, but since this is just a phase of life and won’t last forever, I have to laugh and say “God look how crazy this town is making me.”

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Well that concludes my tale of Birthdays- of people and Churches, and the crazy mountains where it all takes place. This is a wild ride of a life, and I hope you’re enjoying yours. Till next time! Cheers.

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