Swapping Homes Anybody?


Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Money- or your Life!

The wonderful house we swapped with a German family in the East near the Baltic Sea came with a boat house and a small craft that didn’t need a license. Engines over 5 hp on Germany lakes etc. do.
 My son and his friend, strapping young lads that they are, had taken the rowing boat out to begin with but hubby felt lazy and privileged to have a “motor boat’ at his disposal .
On our last night, a beautiful warm evening, he got it started and cleaned it from cobwebs. Normally, I’m not particularly seaworthy but this I could do, I thought hopping into the vessel.
We went along the little canal that connected to the adjacent lake where we had done a lot of constitutional walks, passing all these cute little vacation or weekend houses;  datschas - I presume they were called in the ‘olden days’. Owners were out on their porches  barbecuing, having a beer or just sitting out enjoying the balmy evening. My friendly greetings and “Guten Appetit!” mostly went unanswered; instead we got stares.
My family had commented on the fact before that the locals seemed to be rather reserved, looking away or looking at us outright suspiciously. Hubby had his theories about them being former communists who had lived in a supervised state where neighbors spied on each other and were naturally suspicious. Could that be the case almost a generation after the fall of the Iron Curtain? I wonder. The difference in behavior to other parts of Germany that I am familiar with was striking, however.
So here we were put-putting along.  At a tight spot in the canal we had to slow down from our snail space to make rooms for 2 canoeists. The engine died.”Not to worry, there is a second battery. I just have to switch over to that one.” To be on the safe side we decided not to continue our journey to the lake with only one battery and turn around instead. But the second battery never started. The canoeists enquired if we had paddles. I hadn’t yet spotted them, but gracefully there was a pair on the floor of our boat.
(View from our boathouse onto canal)
So paddling it was, back past the houses and people we had just passed. Their behavior and demeanor had miraculously changed. Some got up form their seats to throw a funny remark, “Machine kaputt?” or “Need a push?” Others interrupted their meal to get a good view of the spectacle.  All of a sudden we encountered a lot of smiles and laughter. We are not practiced paddlers…
One older guy, alone on his deck, pointed what looked like an antique pistol at us, “Money or your life”. He was probably just lonely or thought he was funny. I started to get peeved. Why had nobody bothered to engage with us before? There is something about Schadenfreude that we Germans are verifiably good at. The self-proclaimed pirate invited us to join him. “I’ll throw a couple of bratwurst on the Barbie for when you return” not realizing that we were on our way back already and wouldn’t paddle by again. Maybe he’s still standing there, waiting.
It was either that the batteries had not fully charged or the connections had come loose. We made it back through the sweat of our own hands. The behavior of our neighbors there remains a mystery, however. To do the people form Meck Pomm justice, our exchange partners, some of their friends and neighbor who we met were totally friendly; some even stepped out of their way to give us a helping hand. It remains a mystery until I get some enlightening comments from people in the know.

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