In order to take a weekend off from bustling Berlin, we decided to allow ourselves a calm holiday at the Baltic Sea. We hoped to find some rest in a small hamlet on the island of Usedom, but little did I know that I would also find the staid and sedate model of a typical German village: our lovely retreat turned out to be the stage of a peculiar play.
The plan was perfect: To rent a holiday apartment with a magnificent sea view, leave the city behind and go there and then relax for a while. We’d have a walk at the beach, rest for a piece of cake and have a simple pizza in the evening before going to bed early. Enjoying ordinary things in an ordinary village. Well, the hamlet was quite suitable. Soon, I noticed it was even better than that, it was the archetype of a German village, an authentic specimen of rural life in Saxonia, Swabia, Rhineland and, of course also Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. A model village, built according to the very construction manual that is the blueprint for the spirit and character of German life.
I might have been the only one in our group who was excitedly rushing through the sleepy streets, at least I was the only one to find this dullness thrilling enough to take more than hundred photos per day. It was right there: everything Germans hate and love about their culture assembled in one place. I was fascinated. Once a townie, always a townie.
This German state of mind wasn’t just a brief notion, it was built reality. Gray roughcast one-story houses, a peaked roof on top, neatly trimmed conifer hedges lining the low wooden fence, a solitary fir tree and a perfect grid of fruit trees on new-mown meadows – if you know one of those properties, you know them all. The differences were small: The 1997 model home stood beside a specimen of the 2002 summer catalogue, followed by a 1988 version and several others of what could’ve easily been a display on a fair for cheap single-family houses. The uniformity was overwhelming. Only the mandatory floral cushions on the rusty garden swings brought some colour into this tightly controlled realm of the right angle. The German homeowner – or, for the love of this bald and blunt language: the German Eigenheimbesitzer – is not the king of his castle, no, he’s the dictator of his leased land. He establishes and keeps his self-made order scrupulously – and if a neighbour’s apple tree casts leaves on his vestigal vegetable patch, the German Eigenheimbesitzer defends the wire mesh borders of his empire until the first branch or the first blood is shed. When a German gets hold of just a small patch of land, he is as pedantic as unforgiving.
This is the German Gothic.
And I was the observer who conducted a field study of the German model village. But it told me more than that. We came across a complex of holiday apartments that was up for sale. The price was incredibly cheap, however, nobody seemed to live there. All shutters were down, no furniture on the porches: a perfect, almost aseptic, white facade. How long did this building stand there untouched? How long did the brand-new, shiny doors wait for the first key to open them? I didn’t know. This was not the time for investments. Once there was a time of hope, when a construction boom washed up money ashore. But those times were over and, to cap it all, it was also winter and nobody was around.
However, the rest of the village was only hibernating. We barely saw anybody. Even the tiny police station seemed to be abandoned. But those few locals, whom we met, were sceptic. Of course. We, a bunch of Berliners, displaced into their calm winter world. I didn’t mind. I tried to get in tune with them, to get a sense of what seemed only dull to me. The approach to this secluded world might’ve been ironic, but the interest and enjoyment was genuine. After we had dinner at the most ordinary Italian Restaurant “La Residenza”, my efforts to have a perfect rural evening, were successful: We ended up at the local place-to-be, the OrangeBar, where the village youth – ten storybook-chavs and both the boredom and suspicion on their faces – gathered for a label night (which was in fact, an astonishingly good one-man-show of a local DJ). I ordered a Sex on the Beach. The cocktail was ordinary, but the night was perfect. I had bonded.