“Today, the Internationale Deutsches Turnfest starts” I said to Francesca. “Let´s write about Turnen (gymnastics)”.
“Okay” Francesca said “I have done gymnastics in a Turnverein as a child. Where does the Turnfest take place?”
Sometimes it shows that Francesca´s children don´t attend a public school in Frankfurt. I first heard about the Turnfest six month ago when the headmistress of my son´s school informed the parents association that in June all schools in Frankfurt would be closed for a week because of the Turnfest.
Schools in Germany never close outside the holidays. In school life, everything is regulated. I even know the exact date when summer break will start in 2017. School is sacred. Turnen is even more sacred.
Its importance for the German lifestyle goes way back into the 19th century. Then, part of the identity of the developping Bürgertum-middle class based on the leisure time they could afford to enjoy. As dutiful Untertanen-subjects to the emperor, they combined pleasure with work: to keep fit became an act of patriotism.
As early as 1811 Turnvater Jahn, the founder of the movement. opened the first Turnplatz in Berlin. He gave the movement its rules, its slogan (Frisch, fromm, fröhlich, frei) and its equipment (Reck, Pferd. Kasten, Barren). The first Deutsches Turnfest took place nearly nearly 200 years ago. Its aim: the battle against effeminacy of the German manhood.
That is one of the reasons why schools in Frankfurt are closed for the Turnfest: The 100 000 participants will sleep on the floor in the classrooms and eat on wooden benches in the gymn halls. This is part of the spirit: no eiderdowns and soft matresses, but hard floors and thin blankets. In a German sports club hardship is part of the fun.
I learnt this – the hard way – when I joined a rowing club. After a year of rather dull excercise I was allowed to take part in a Wanderfahrt, a rowing excursion down the river Mosel. ” That´s great” I rejoiced and started to dream of cosy Gasthäuser, little inns, where I would snuggle under feathercuvets in a romantic attic room, drowsy from a sunny day, a glass of Mosel wine and a hot bath in the tub to relax my sports-strained muscles.
“Do you want me to organize the rooms in the Gasthäuser?” I offered, prepared to do my share of work.
“We sleep in the club houses.”
“Oh … Do other rowing clubs offer guestrooms?”
The old lady opposite me had been a member from this club for 50 years. She had carried heavy wooden rowing boats on her shoulders to the station 2 miles away for her first Wanderfahrt before World War II. She weighed a 100 pounds– a 100 pounds of steel.
“We sleep on the floor of the boat hangar. If you must, you can bring a camping mat. Though most of us do without.”
I will do without Wanderfahrten, I swore after the trip. My muscles where sore as a grapefruit, my back ached and I wasn´t able to bend my legs for a week. When the pain faded, I realised what hardships are good for: exciting stories. How boring would it be to read about the trip in the Vereinsmagazin, the club magazine: “The weather was good, the food excellent and the beds warm and soft.” Oh no, we could write about boats hanging dangerously above our heads, of cold-water showers, of mysterious dark corners in rooms we couldn´t switch on lights in, of spiders running down the walls, and of the difficulty of getting some sleep in a room full of people groaning because of sore muscles.
I´m sure that the people camping in my son´s school will report in the same way: “The water fountains at the opening ceremony were great. Do you know what happened afterwards? ” And they will tell the tale how they couldn´t find their room in the middle of the night because they didn´t realise that there were two staircases, how they had to get down again to find the toilets and it turned out that they were outside, on the other side of the school court, that they had only two showers for two hundred people and no hot water after 6 a.m, that John und Jane were found sharing a sleeping bag ….
Depending on the size of the sleeping bag, this shows remarkable gymnastic talents.
In Germany, most romances start either at the workplace or in the sportsclub.
But this is another story.