September 26.

What do bruised apples have to do with the national budget?

Not So Forbidden Fruit

“I don’t understand. Look at all the apples, pears, and chestnuts strewn about the sidewalks and nobody ever collects any of it. Why?”

“We live in an affluent society,” answers Lothar.

That must be the reason, enough cash to buy apples at the supermarket but not enough time to pick up the fallen fruit in your neighbourhood. Or is it an embarrassment to do this? I do see people in their own gardens meticulously raking up the fallen apples or pears. I’m not sure if they eat them, compost them, or give them to the pigs and goats. As for the fruit that hangs over or falls into the public way – nobody seems interested in that. Or is taboo? Lothar takes Leo for a walk in the churchyard and comes back with a few small apples, not bad tasting and strongly rose scented. An old variety perhaps. But these feral fruit trees I see everywhere growing in the hedgerows and country lanes are a different story. The fruit is smallish but more or less unblemished. The ground is littered with them. So, an affluent society—or a time-poor one.

If Germans can afford to let fallen fruit rot on the streets then that might be one of the reasons why they, collectively, as a nation, always seem to find some stash of money somewhere to bail out another country or take in a few hundred thousand more refugees.  I read in the local paper about the fiasco of the 2017 documenta, a massive modern art event that takes place every five years in Kassel. For the first time, Kassel partnered with Athens to do a double exhibit. The Athenian half of the show blew past its budget in no time and the taxpayers of Kassel and Hessen (quite unknowingly at the time) had to bail them out or the joined-at-the-hip show wouldn’t go on. Sound familiar? Don’t worry, Germany will pay for it. They always do! As if “Germany” is some magical fiscal being and not actual people.

Art is important – but who pays for it and how much? (image source: Olaf Kosinsky 2017, Wikimedia Commons)

So, let’s say you’re a working Jo or Johanna, bundled against the cold, lighting up a ciggie while you wait at the bus stop to bring your groceries back to your crummy little apartment and you’re expected to have pride in a giant modern art event that fills the hotels once every five years and does nothing else for Kassel (despite the bureaucratic efforts to raise the city’s profile by adding “Kassel documenta stadt” to email signatures and road signs). And on top of that you have to bail out Athens, because the Greeks won’t tax their shipping tycoons but can blow through a multi-million Euro budget for the documenta like its nothing.  I’m beginning to sound like a Philistine, art-scoffing, xenophobic right-winger. But really, how much more is big brother/sister expected to put up with? It’s the same conundrum as the real big brothers and sisters in dysfunctional and profligate families. You want to give up, walk away, but that would mean the family would split apart — or Putin might move in!

And if we’re going to talk about people as nations, just how much does the “average” German make?  The average annual household income, net, in US dollars is about $34,000. But we know that averages mean nothing. The average income in Hessen is higher than many of the other states but I’m sure that the city of Frankfurt, one of the banking heavyweights of Europe, puts a thumb on the scales. I wonder what the median income is? What is obvious is that the six states that make up the former DDR are nowhere near the former West. After almost a year of house hunting online we’ve pieced together a grim pictorial inventory of broken-down houses and whole apartment buildings falling apart in in the Eastern cities—enough of a reminder that 30 years is not such a long time and that opening a border isn’t enough to even things out. Maybe the sidewalks and farm lanes are picked clean in these towns and cities. I don’t know.

Thinking about money and averages has ruined another walk on a beautiful, rare sunny fall day. I am not above picking up an apple here and there and stuffing it in my coat. I (gingerly) rely on the shared norm in every culture that the roadsides and the very edges of the fields should be left for gleaners. I suppose this idea somehow morphed into public assistance over time. Damn, there I go again! For my punishment for such grumpiness I should be tasked with organizing a village clean up party that will collect all the strewn fruit, saving the best for collective cookery and the rest for pig fodder or compost. Then no one would have to feel guilty or embarrassed picking up fruit from the sidewalks.

Get your vitamin C right here…

What is clearly within bounds is the more wild fruit: rosehips, elderberry (“Holunder”), and sloe plums. People have known and collected this fruit for centuries. But I’ve never encountered anyone else on my walks picking the fruit. At least there are books and TV shows that promote wild foraging and give you all the tips you need. It’s a form of historical preservation of culinary traditions and old ways on the land. There’s even a gin maker in the neighbouring town who collects the juniper berries on the hills and goes through the insanely tedious process of preparing the berries and making the gin. It costs a lot. So, a niche market. Good for them.

Hats off to anyone who has the interest and time to harvest, clean, and cook down any of these small fruits into their healthy decoctions. Lothar and I tried it with the Holunder berries. It makes a tasty kind of compote (a bit crunchy because I wasn’t too careful to remove all the stems). If you don’t care for this kind of nuisance, I mean hobby, you can go to the gas station and buy bottled water flavoured with Holunder. Because you have coins in your pocket but no time. Maybe you’re too busy working to pay your own bills and keep Europe together to stop and gather the food at your feet.