When I was pondering which excursions to take before we left on our trip, the Franconian farm and village visit with tractor ride did not appeal. But we changed our minds after listening to the cruise director, Thomas, talk about it.
For one thing, I didn’t realize that doing a walking tour through every city and village would become tiring. I’m not talking about the exercise, though it has been a bit hard for this couch potato to get used to. It was the routine. Tom and I (maybe mostly me) thought a visit to a farm in the country and a tiny village would be a nice break. It was! The alternative was a walking tour of Bamburg, which was fine, but we wanted a change of pace. Tour director Thomas warned about the smell of pig manure on the farm, but this was no deterrent. Pigs, after all, smell, and farms tend to have pigs around here. Another consideration was the heat—it was predicted in the high 80s. Walking through a city in the heat did not seem like the most fun.
We traveled by bus for about an hour through lovely pastoral Bavaria, passing through several villages on the way. Our destination was the village of Wohnau, population 97. Apparently, the population has been growing because people who were raised here go off to school, perhaps getting jobs elsewhere, but when they start having children, some return because they have lovely memories of their own childhoods in this town.
Wohnau is a Catholic town. Most towns and cities in Bavaria are a mix of Lutheran and Catholic, but not Wohnau. Apparently, Bavaria tends to be more religious than other German states. Wohnau has crucifixes everywhere.
We first stopped for what our guide, Kristina, called “a techno bio break,”—a bathroom stop—at the Smitte’n Hof—the farm we were to visit. Then we walked through the town, which took no time all, to the small cemetery. I love cemeteries, and this was a miniature beauty. The gravestones are fronted with miniature gardens, each with a tiny well for holy water and a lantern. The story is that Wohnau had no cemetery and the town’s residents were buried in a neighboring village. A man from Wohnau wanted to be buried in the village in which he had lived his entire life, so he started a project to build a cemetery in Wohnau, which got underway. Tragically, before the cemetery was finished, the man died, and was buried in the neighboring village. Some bold youths went under cover of that very night, dug him up, amid reburied him in Wohnau—I am not sure where, as, you will remember, the cemetary had not been finished.
Kristina told us that in Germany, you rent the gravesites for 25 years, then you have to renew the lease. In the old days, if no one renewed the rent, the body would be exhumed and sent to the bone house for storage. They don’t have bone houses anymore, so I asked what happens to the bodies now? She said she had never thought about it and didn’t know. Hmmm.
We turned back and walked to the center of town—a few paces from the cemetery at the edge of town. A tall, dead birch tree was stranding in a metal sheath there, its branches festooned with faded ribbons. The tree is decorated and erected in April for some sort of spring festival, but it is looking a bit sad now.
We visited the Catholic Church, which was tiny but exquisite, decorated in the Baroque style. The priest only comes once every three weeks or so to perform the Mass. The families take turns decorating and cleaning the church for this event.
Back to the farm, where we were escorted to a cool stone cellar for sausage, bread, and soft cheese. Our host, Herr Schmitt, an elderly patriarch, talked at length in German, and sometimes Kristina translated, some times a pretty frauliein neighbor, who looked the very picture of a German girl. She spoke excellent English.
Then it was time for the tractor ride! Herr Schmitt is the only “full time” farmer in the village. Others have to have a spouse working elsewhere as there is no employment in the village. Herr Schmitt has cannily parlayed his farm into a tourist attraction. He entertains tours with local snacks and wine tastings, tractor rides, etc. He also offers camping, has a store with farm-made products like noodles, makes and sells wine, of course, and no doubt has other enterprises. Very clever man.
We piled into a wooden wagon pulled by a tiny blue tractor. It set off into the woods nearby, emitting diesel fumes, but they weren’t too obnoxious. Our driver—who turned out to be from Connecticut—kept well behind the other diesel-belching tiny red tractor. The woods were quite dense, composed mostly of beech and oak trees, mostly slender, but growing closely
together. We went by the neighboring village where the residents of Wohnau were once buried, past wheat fields, and up into vineyards. The vineyards had a multitude of small structures for each family’s tools. (Different parts of the vineyard belonged to different families.) Some of these structures looked like tool sheds; others looked like miniature chalets, with tiny front porches, tiled roofs, and stovepipes. We glimpsed a minute domed chapel among the vines as well.
Then we plunged into the forest again and so back to the farm. Kristina was talking about the farm dog, which she adored, but had died of old age. Apparently in Germany, you can’t have a farm dog unless you can prove the dog is acceptable to the people who come to the farm. I don’t know how they accomplish that.
We went down to the cellar again, blessing the cool temperature, where they served us small, delicious cherries, brown sourdough bread, and two local wines, one white, one red. I recall that the red varietal was called Domina. Both were made on the farm. They were quite good, though they probably wouldn’t be my main tipple. Herr Schmitt wanted to know how crocodile tasted. I was able, through Kristina, to inform him that we don’t eat crocodiles in America, but alligator tastes just like chicken.
As we departed Smitte’n Hof, we were each gifted with a round green bottle of 2016 Bacchus Franken, a white wine made on the farm. Given Herr Schmidt’s excellent commercial instincts, I was surprised we weren’t shown the farm store.
The bus ride back used the super highway and didn’t take quite as long. It was a hot day, and felt so good to take a shower! The water in our shower pours from the ceiling without a trace of pressure regulator.
By the way, there was nary a pig to be seen—or smelled—on the farm. And it was just the break I was hoping for—confirmed by the others in our group who had opted for the Bamburg walking tour. We rejoined them and went into town to find rauchbier, a smoked beer that is the local speciality. We found it, along with a cheerful waiter who spoke perfect English. It is so far the only beer I have tasted in Germany that I really liked. It has a slight bacon-y nose that only enhanced the flavor, in my opinion. Then we trotted through the 89 degree heat back to the bus, and the River Duchess departed for Nuremberg. I did I get this hasty shot of a house right on the river. It looks like an enormous piece of Wedgewood porcelain.