The first time I saw a poster advertising Erntefest*, I misread it as Entenfest** and, not unnaturally, was mildly curious as to what a duck festival involved. It was only when I received a flyer in my post box inviting me to the village Erntefest that I realised my mistake and discovered that it is the German word for Harvest Festival. (This is on a par with my faux pas in my first week in Germany when I was looking for a car to buy. I read the list of features on one of the cars and asked what a Nebelschweinwerfer was. Cue hysterical laughter from my other half – the salesman’s laughter was more restrained probably because he wanted to make a sale – and something I’ve never been allowed to forget. A Nebelscheinwerfer is a fog light, but by the accidental insertion of a ‘W’ I had invented some sort of device for throwing pigs into the fog.) Although a church service is involved, the Harvest Festival celebrations involve much more than the religious part. And, in common with many occasions here, a parade kicks off the party.
So, I’ve just been riding in a Harvest Festival parade, along with three others on horseback and two horses pulling an old wagon with a lovely decorative straw load, all of us dressed in black waistcoats and trousers, with white shirts and cowboy hats. (I don’t think I’ve mentioned before that we all ride Western style despite my many years of riding in an English saddle before I moved here.) We followed a line of tractors of varying degrees of antiquity, all belching smoke of varying degrees of noxiousness. The horses are all used to this sort of thing and mine in particular was on very good behaviour today. Unlike the last – carnival this time – parade in which we took part, but in mitigation the fireworks being let off in our direction definitely didn’t help things much then. So we moved along at slower than a horse’s walking speed and had to make frequent stops to avoid colliding with the plough directly in front of us. The streets along the way were lined with people, and many residents watched from their windows. One woman, sitting on a chair outside her house with a glass in her hand, put the glass down before standing up and applauding us. Most people had smiles on their faces, which made all our dressing up and the prettifying of the horses feel worthwhile. After the parade we took advantage of the free food and drink vouchers we had been given as participants before the carriage horses were once more harnessed to the covered wagon in order to give rides to children. The other four horses diligently mowed the grass and were stroked by some of the children who stood around admiring them, while various tractors gave demonstrations of ploughing with sundry interesting old ploughs on a strip of field a few
yards metres away. Only one driver asked if the horses would be bothered when he started his tractor beside them (they weren’t), and I was intrigued to watch him detach his steering wheel, complete with column, insert the column somewhere in the side of the tractor and turn the wheel to start the engine before putting the steering wheel back where it would be needed when he drove. Enjoyment was helped along by the fact that although the day had started cold, about 2 C, and foggy it developed into glorious, warm sunshine. At the very end of September.
The Harvest Festival coincided with a full moon. One of the latest innovations at the yard where my horse is kept is the full moon ride. It starts with a traditional German barbecue of Bratwurst (sausage) and pork steaks, together with a lining of alcohol, then after dark the horses are saddled up and we set off in the moonlight to ride alongside the fields. The popularity of these rides is growing and there were so many bookings for the available horses (mine is only available for me and chosen friends when offered) that we had two scheduled on consecutive nights. I went on the one before the Harvest Festival day itself, resulting in a late night followed by an early morning. I pleaded exhaustion and didn’t ride on the second, so my poor horse didn’t have to go out yet again.
The first ride was so oversubscribed that it turned into a carriage ride for some. The riders followed the carriage and one of the passengers ran frequently through the nine horses that were being ridden, crying ‘Catering Service’ (exactly the same as the English except for the capital letter denoting that Service is a noun) and offering bottles of beer or a Schnapps bottle to swig from and even a few nibbles. Taking the latter in a gloved hand while on a moving horse resulted in broken nibbles, but never mind they still tasted fine. A stop was made halfway for some of the riders to swap with passengers on the wagon, in the middle of which came the sound of breaking glass and a cry of ‘There isn’t any more wine.’ But nobody went short of alcohol – apart from the children and those who had to drive home afterwards, of course.
Contrary to what I might previously have thought, the Germans have a great capacity to have fun. When I first started to make friends I was invited to more parties than I had been to in several years in England. Carnival season is important here and many villages hold several parties a year for various other celebrations. In my younger days I rode horses in competitions and for fun, but since I started riding with my group of friends I have had more fun rides than I remember in my entire life. It helps that we do very little riding on roads and it is possible to ride for
miles and miles kilometres and kilometres without risking life and limb in traffic. And although alcohol is, as already mentioned, often involved, there is no rowdy drunkenness when we ride. We have a bank holiday this week – German Unification Day – and are planning a long ride then. Partying on horseback has become part of my life now.
*Ernte = harvest, Fest = party or festival
**Ente = duck (the quack, quack variety, not the get out of the way before you hit your head variety)
Our two carriage horses and two of the group