Familienfest 2013 Part 1

The train journey to Familienfest 2013 was hot and sticky. I got a seat in the bicycle carriage opposite a large dog with a sad, deformed paw.

My mother met me at the platform in Regensburg. She was so tanned that earlier, when she was in the health-food store buying vegetable spread, the cashier had asked her where she’d been.

“Ireland,” she’d said.

We ate mini dumplings for dinner and then my mother said, “Kate, we really need to rehearse.”

We darted into the next room and she took out some pages from a plastic pocket.

“These are yours,” she said, handing me three sheets containing typed verses. Beside every second one she’d written K, which stood for me.

We began to recite.

“You must speak slowly and dramatically,” my mother said.

I did.

“Excellent,” she said.

After all, it’s not every day you deliver the gift of Bavarian citizenship to your husband and father through rhyme.

Then we practised singing the Bavarian anthem in harmony.

In just a few hours, Familienfest 2013 would officially open and there would be no excuse for tumbling over words or singing off-key.

My father had been due to arrive any minute. But then I checked my phone to find he had texted to say his plane had failed to take off.

My mother’s faced dropped as the unspeakable possibility sunk in that he might not make it.

But all was well. It was just some technical fault. They changed planes. All going well, he would be in Regensburg by midnight.

We killed time by examining our props.



Familienfest 2012: The Family Song, Beef-ball Soup and The Birthday Child

Familienfest 2012 was officially opened by my mother, who clinked on a glass, rose to her feet and recited some charming verses of welcome, which she had penned herself. As one of the five “Gerburtstagkinder” (birthday children) celebrating a combined age of 320, she dazzled the crowd not only with with her rhymes, but also with a stunning pink floral dress, and her first ever pair of shockingly high heels.

image source: pinkandgreay.ca

This year’s seating arrangement was even more strategic than last and reflected the openness of the Schultzs to including non-family members in the celebrations. LSB and my sister’s boyfriend sat beside each other and compared their recollection of Schultz names in loud whispers. LSB was making an excellent impression and things were going rather smoothly until the first course arrived. The menu had advertised “tomato consumé” soup as a starter but certain family members were dismayed to find several balls of beef swimming in their bowls. It was a moment of glory for LSB and me, who, far from being bound by the set menu, could enjoy the full range of choice from the vegetarian menu. We ordered tomato and basil soup. It was delicious.

Conversation meandered from the mundane (the current economic climate) to the sublime (what is the best German beer?) and took place in both German and English.

The family song had been rehearsed the night before at Onkel Fritz’s house. My father, LSB and my sister’s boyfriend had taken the opportunity to check out Regensburg’s beer gardens. Details of their evening remain scarce: the three arrived home late and LSB has made himself unavailable for comment.

The family choir outnumbered the audience members. LSB, who knows all the words, was tasked with videoing the performance. Those interested in viewing it should feel free to approach me with a small fee, which may cover the medical cost of recovering from my sisters’ silent threat of beating me up for publicising any material related to the Familienfest.

LSB and I in the run-up to Familienfest2012

Schultz birthdays come with the associated and thinly-disguised responsibility of nuclear family members to pay tribute, in a performative art of their choice, to the Birthday Child. My aunt’s children composed and recited poetry and sang a song. My uncle’s daughter presented a series of themed photographs to a soundtrack of topical songs. Previous years have featured tap dancing, the Ferguson sisters’ violin trio and a song about toiletpaper.

Regular readers and personal friends will know that I have two older sisters. One is a scientist in America and makes nice cloth bags and the other lives in Dublin, is a super hand at DIY and definitely not one to libel.

Months ago, the three of us convened on Skype to discuss the tribute we would pay to our mother.

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. I juggled my TV internship, job applications, flat searches and LSB, while they battled with commitments to fat samples, single nucleotide polymorphisms and legal wranglings. Tradition and common sense dictate that the Birthday Child should be ignorant of the nature of the performance until the day of celebrations. After weeks of competing visions and frantic conferences on Skype, we came up with what we considered a fitting tribute to our mother.

After the waitresses had brought in a large selection of cakes, it was time. Onkel Fritz tapped a glass, set up the computer, and, as opener of the presentation, I advanced to the front of the room to face the scores of expectant Schultz faces before me.

To be continued…


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Familienfest: Part 3

An altered version of the original article with deletions now appears following concerns voiced about privacy:

At 7.30 pm sharp the family made its way into the dining hall. I looked around, scouring the table-tops for my name card and couldn’t believe my eyes when I discovered that the seating plan was no longer arranged strictly according to age! Granted, broad generational trends had been observed: my Oma was at a table with her eldest children, and the male under 21s were placed together. But for the first time, I wasn’t beside Cousin Maximilian, who seemed to have progressed to an ‘older’ table, on the other side of the room (and this in spite of being two months younger than me).

No matter though. Any loss of identity I may have suffered from this departure from routine was immediately assuaged when I inspected the magnificent name tag that had been prepared for me by the very teenage cousins with whom I now shared my table. As you can see, my place card features an impressively sketched cartoon lady. Without schooling in German children’s entertainment, this particular choice may seem incidental. I immediately recognised the lady and her significance however. She is Karla Kolumna, a character in a German cassette series about a little witch called Bibi Blocksberg. Karla Kolumna is an eccentric and formidable reporter, who documents Bibi’s escapades and magical mishaps. My little, wonderful cousins had remembered both my fondness for Bibi and my journalistic aspirations. I couldn’t have been placed at a better table.

As soon as everybody was seated, the waitresses appeared with the starter (riveta-type bread with a selection of herbal dips). They were in traditional Bavarian barmaid attire, with low-cut diandels and had a friendly brusqueness to them. After the starter, they came back to the table with their notepads and turned to each person in turn with the question “Fish or Pork?” I was a little scared to ask them for a vegetarian option after Onkel Fritz reaction to my dietry requirements. “I’ll do it”, whispered my sister, ever a life-saver. They did wonders for me and presented me with a glorious platter of “vegetable bags”. Before we tucked in however, a glass began to clink.

Silence descended upon the room. Tante Renata got up and recited the first poem of the evening: an ode to Tante Rosemarie and a chronicle in verse of her life in Bavaria and subsequent move to Greece (like my mum, she married a man from abroad and moved to his country). The recital featured Rosemarie’s children (my cousins who had produced the nametags) teaching the whole Schultz clan isolated Greek words, which we repeated in unison enough times for the children to give our pronunciation the thumbs up.

As I was tucking into my vegetable bags (or Gemuse Taschen) I had a sudden sinking feeling: I had forgotten to pick up the bag of black sausages!.
“Do it now, quickly”, urged my sister. I took her advice and glided off toward the side door and into the corner of the little room, where I found them in a heap.

I was just in time. Dinner was wrapping up and Onkel Fritz was on his feet. Ever the gruff man in the face of ethical conceit, he had chosen to structure his speech around Onkel Gideon’s concern for the environment and in particular for energy efficiency. Gifts 1-6, which were presented by various members of the Schultz clan – including the youngest, at just under two- followed this theme exactly. Onkel Gideon received a solar-panelled radio, two metal devices which created a flame when rubbed together at a precise angle, a running jacket with the name of the house the nine Schultz children grew up in and a torch.

Onkel Gideon shows off his new running jacket

Gidi, as we call him, is a keen marathon runner. Onkel Fritz, who crunches numbers and calculates meat profits for a living (I think anyway) had managed to work out exactly how much energy the average marathon runner exerts and had weighed the bunch of black sausages to match the calories burned. I presented these to a beaming Gideon and to much applause.

Presentation of black sausages to Onkel Gideon

Pop by again soon for the Schultz Family Mass and perhaps a post- prandial trip to the Bavarian Glassman’s House.

Familienfest: Part 2

There was barely time to change out of my wet shoes after the hike, as Tante Hortensia had called for the first choir rehearsal for tomorrow’s mass to take place before dinner.

One of the most charming features of the monastery at Kistenhof is the number of amenities which are tucked behind a neat row of modest-looking doors. Without really exploring, I discovered a library, swimming-pool and church.

At five thirty-five, I opened the door labelled “church”and discovered to my dismay that I was late. The Schultz family was already gathered around the piano, singing the Schubert Mass in four-part harmony. Tante Hortensia was conducting with passion and warning that even the most beautiful music performed too slowly becomes “kitchig”. “You’re an alto like me”, whispered my mum as we found a spot behind the sopranos and in front of the tenors.

My Tante Hortensia is amazing. For as long as I can remember, she has been directing all musical operations at Schultzfest events. She is vesatile and perfectionist in equal measure. The children’s choir of ca 1997, of which I was a part, performed a song about toilet paper (aptly named Klopapier) which she accomapinied on guitar. The performance was word-and-pitch-perfect. Now, fourteen years later, in a monastery in a remote German valley, she was just as exact as then.

There was much ado about where Tante Hortensia should stand. She complained that some memebrs of the choir weren’t watching her, and that as a result, the ritardandos weren’t being observed. Certain members of the choir retorted that the person in front of them was obstructing their view. Efforts at re-positioning enjoyed some success but were hampered by the constraints of the altar.

The rehearsal concluded with the arrangement to meet for a brief runthrough at 9 am the following morning.

It was now time to dash back to our respective quarters to get ready for dinner. I leave you with a picture of my mother and me just before we entered the dining hall. More to come, depending on demand.

Familienfest: Part 1

Familienfest 2011 took place in a monastery in the middle of the valley of Kistenhof, which was shrouded in mist all weekend long. I arrived just before lunch on Saturday afternoon and found thirty-two Schultzs gathered together in the vestibule, exchanging pleasantries. I was just rounding up my small talk with Tante Lisl when Onkel Fritz approached from the side and announced that he was going to kidnap me.

He took me through a side door, which led to a small room, attached to the dining area which we had reserved. He made his way to the back corner and fumbled for a small white plastic bag. “Hier”, he said. “You’re going to hand these over”.
“ ..’Schuldigung?”, I replied.
“You are Present number 7”
I opened the bag, expecting to find anything but
Several loose black sausages.
“Are these for Onkel Gideon?”
“Yes”, Onkel Fritz replied. “You are Present number 7. Make sure to come here and pick them up discreetly before dinner. You can hide them under your table until the required moment”.

It takes a Schultz to make the required leap of assumption that Onkel Gideon’s gifts would be presented in strict order according to the structure of Onkel Fritz’s speech.

“Did you know that I was a vegetarian?” I asked Onkel Fritz, who works in agriculture and would probably list meat as his pastime.
“You are?” he roared “that’ll teach you! No wonder you’ve got so scrawny!”

I slunk out and returned to the foyer, where I overheard Tante Hortensia and a nun making arrangements for the Schultz Family mass which would take place the following morning at 9.45 sharp. More of that in the next instalment but for now, I leave you with a picture of the Family hike, or Wanderung which took place in spite of inclement conditions.

The Familienfest: Schultzs to reunite in Forest

The Schultz Family Gathering (or Familienfest in the vernacular) is a singular event.
It usually features a hearty meal in a picturesque Bavarian inn, a carefully-prepared powerpoint presentation and musical repertoires courtesy of the constantly evolving younger members of the clan. Its principal charm, however lies in its relentless continuance and large attendance-due in no small part to the generous odds of procreation afforded by a family of nine children, and the large liklihood that this year is Onkel Such-and-Such’s 60th or Tante So-and-So’s 50th.

It has been a tradition familiar to me all my life, but I believe true initiation occurred when I was five years old and hence qualified as the aforementioned younger generation. An aunt was marrying and it was decided that the Ferguson sisters three should perform on their fiddles. Dressed in uniform purple dresses and wearing ivy headpieces, we appraoched the stage where an older cousin had just performed a tap dancing routine. My older sisters played a delightful duet (it could have been the Chaconne, must check). Then it was my turn. I was not skilled enough to join the siblings so naturally I had been given a solo slot.

I played Twinkle Twinkle Little Star to raptuorous applause and in the years that followed, I continued to showcase my (very limited) talents, sometimes in small choirs made up of the under 12 Schultz contingent and other times on the recorder and flute to which I had progressed. Lack of ability and regard for the stage did not offer possibilities for exemption. Performance, just like attendance, was mandatory.

There may have been much bemusement and faux resignation regarding the festivities over the years but we all secretly loved them, and still do -well into the age of reason- when work commitments or smiliar could easily offer an excuse not to go.

What’s so amazing about the Schultz Familien Fest is the meticulousness with which it is organised. Seating is strictly arranged according to chronology. Therefore I’m always beside Cousin Maximilian. For years – in fact until my legs grew too long to fit under the kids’ chairs- I was stuck at the Kindertisch. Evrything worked like clockwork, with slight variation year-to-year from the following routine: Starter at 14.00 hours, with power point presentation to precede the main. A wee clink of the glass gives those in attendance the opportunity to add relevant anaecdotes to those already referred to in the presentation. Dessert comes after a brief musical interlude or equivalent performing art. Kaffee und Kuchen served, during which seating plan is allowed to fall apart.

I’m flying off at an ungodly hour in the morning to attend such an event: My Onkel Gideon’s 60th and my Tante Rosemarie’s 50th. This year the family is staying in an inn in the Bavarian forest. My Greek cousins are performing on the violin, recorder and piano. The powerpoints have been made, the seating and sleeping arrangements finalised. This time tomorrow I’ll be in the forest, mingling with Schultz relatives I haven’t seen in years. I can’t wait.