The Epiphany of Canada Slim

(or The Ruins of Anwil and the Holy Fountain)

(or Moos and I love ewes)

Landschlacht, 6 January 2016:

Ahhh, Switzerland!

A land divided in every way, including by language and religion.

Today, a case in point:

Epiphany or Orthodox Xmas or Little Xmas.

Some Cantons are on holiday, others not.

The Catholic cantons sleep in.

The Protestant cantons: business as usual.

On Catholic door mantles children mark in chalk the letters C M B, the initials of the Three Kings or Wise Men, (Caspar, Melchior, Balthazar) to show them where to stop next.

Some folks suggest that C M B means “Christus muss bleiben” – Christ must stay.

“January 6 is a public holiday in Austria, three federal states of Germany and three cantons of Switzerland, as well as in parts of Graubünden.

In German-speaking lands, groups of young people called Sternsinger (star singers) travel from door to door.

They are dressed as the Three Wise Men, plus the leader carrying a star, usually of painted wood attached to a broom handle.

Often these groups are four girls, or two boys and two girls for the benefit of singing their songs in four-part harmony, not necessarily three wise men at all.

German Lutherans often note in a lighthearted fashion that the Bible never specifies that the Weisen (Magi) were men or that there were three.

The star singers will be offered treats at the homes they visit, but they also solicit donations for worthy causes, such as efforts to end hunger in Africa, organized jointly by the Catholic and Evangelical-Lutheran churches.

As a sign of gratitude, the young people then perform the traditional house blessing, by marking the year over the doorway with chalk.

(This year would read: 20 * C +M+B+16.)

In Roman Catholic communities this may be a serious spiritual event with the priest present even today, but among Protestants it is more a tradition, and a part of the German notion of Gemütlichkeit: a space or state of warmth, friendliness and good cheer.

Other qualities include coziness, peace of mind, belonging, well being and social acceptance.

Usually on the Sunday following Epiphany, these donations are brought into churches.

Here all of the children who have gone out as star singers, once again in their costumes, form a procession of sometimes dozens of wise men and stars.

The German Chancellor and Parliament also receive a visit from the star singers at Epiphany.

Germans eat a Three Kings cake which may be a golden pastry ring filled with orange and spice representing gold, frankincense and myrrh.

Most often found in Switzerland, these cakes take the form of Buchteln, (sweet rolls made of yeast dough, filled with jam, ground poppy seeds or curd and baked in a large pan so that they stick together.)…

But, for Epiphany, they are studded with citron and baked as seven large buns in a round rather than square pan, forming a crown.

Or they may be made of typical rich Christmas bread dough with cardamom and pearl sugar in the same seven bun crown shape.

These varieties are most typically purchased in supermarkets with the trinket and gold paper crown included.

As in other countries, the person who receives the piece or bun containing the trinket or whole almond becomes the king or queen for a day.

Epiphany is also an especially joyful occasion for the young and young at heart as this is the day dedicated to plündern – that is, when Christmas trees are “plundered” of their cookies and sweets by eager children (and adults) and when gingerbread houses, and any other good things left in the house from Christmas are devoured.

Lastly, there is a German rhyme saying, or Bauernregel, that goes:

Ist’s bis Dreikönigs kein Winter, kommt keiner dahinter“, meaning:

“If there hasn’t been any Winter (weather) until Epiphany, none is coming afterward.”

Another of these Bauernregel, (German farmer’s rules) for Epiphany states:

Dreikönigsabend hell und klar, verspricht ein gutes Weinjahr“:

“If the eve of Epiphany is bright and clear, it foretells a good wine year.””(Wikipedia)

All I know is that I have no work until Friday and a self-created parody version of AC/DC´s “TNT” song plays in my head replacing “TNT” with “CMG”!

I decide to go walking today, but being uncertain of the weather, I vouch for staying close to home and following one of the short walks found in this book shown below:

Those are the Rhine Falls pictured above.

(See Chasing waterfalls, The secret sites above the Falls and The Grand Guestbook of this blog.)

I take a train to Bürgeln, via Romanshorn.

At first glance one might think there is nothing of interest in this community of 3,500.

But then I take my own advice from my last blog, Thus one journeys to the stars, and I look up:

Above the Sun factory smokestack a stork has decided to build her nest.

I discover the local kebab house at the train station and get a doner box to go.

I cross the mighty Thur River, a river I have known well over the past five years and a river I have followed from the mountains near Wildhaus and Mount Säntis to its confluence at the Rhine River.

I find the usual yellow signmarkers indicating walking paths and I begin to climb the hills overlooking the town of Bürglen and its suburb Istighofen across the Thur River.

The take-out doner box lunch remains uneaten, wrapped in plastic inside my backpack.

I make a new friend.

Cat meets backpack containing meat = love.

I follow the Rother Guide and continue along the yellow walking path ever upwards to Wertbühl, site of an inn, a food processing plant and a Barock church.

I pass a cross in the field with Christ eternally being crucified, removing all doubt that I am walking through Catholic territory.

The Catholic church seems popular today with already a dozen or more cars parked along the side of the road and in front of the church.

Mass is about to begin and Organist Marian Traxler is in good form.

The interior murals are photo-worthy, but I decline the opportunity in respect for gathering parishioners.

Everytime I follow another person´s advice regarding hiking trails I am simultaneously delighted by the sights I am led to and annoyed by how often my flaw-full map-reading and German translation skills cause me to get lost.

I lose the guidebook route past Wertbühl and find myself following paved highways instead.

And in dairy country I find the appropriately named community of Moos.

“Moos” is actually Swiss German for “bog” or “moor” but the roads lead me instead to farmhouses and cattle fields.

Four young calves follow my walk along the fences, running towards me when I ignore them, fleeing from me when I pay them attention.

I recover the route once again and find myself in the farming hamlet of Metzgersbuhwil (butcher´s favourite valley?), a place of wooden barns and horse enclosures, of farm buildings and half-timbered homes.

Soon the route changes from yellow signmarkers to red path markers:

I am now on the Big Ruins Trail, one of three trails (the Small, the Medium and the Big) run by and connected to the nearby twin towns of Kradorf-Schönenberg.

Above the old Hinterbach mill are the still proud ruins of Anwil-Buhwil, an old Middle Ages castle enclosure.

Built in the 13th century, Castle Anwil was first mentioned in 1385 when Katharina von Röta Turm und Baumgarten was ousted by the brothers Ulrich and Eberhard von Sax.

The Castle is again mentioned in 1440 when it passed into the hands of Ulrich von St. Johann and his son Hans.

In 1463 the tower of the Castle was built and the Castle became known as the stronghold of the Knights of Helmsdorf.

In 1608 Laurenz Kunkler bought and renovated the Castle.

But during the course of the 1700s Castle Anwil was no longer resided in and by 1852 it was abandoned.

In 1984 restoration efforts began by the local department of archaeology and what can be seen today was accomplished by 2005.

The guidebook route then once again becomes cryptic to the point of being lost.

I give up on the Rother guide and instead follow the Big Ruins Path to wherever it may lead.

The guidebook promised me the path to the Holy Fountain (Heiligbrunnen) but much like Juan Ponce de Leon´s search for the fabled Fountain of Youth, I remain unsatiated.

Somehow I find myself arriving in forest and sheep fields of newborn lambs and their mama ewes.

Somehow I find myself at Kradorf-Schönenberg (population: 3,400):

  • Home to Willi Oertig, the Swiss realist painter;
  • Home to Werner Messmer, a Swiss Liberal politician and President of the Swiss Entrepreneur Organization;
  • Childhood home of Karl Meier, better known under the pseudonym “Rolf”, born in 1897, Swiss Cabaret actor and editor of the homosexual newspaper, The Circle (Der Kreis), he was murdered by his “life partner” in 1974.
  • Home of Jakob Stark, Thurgau Canton President and Swiss conservative right-wing politician

Of interest to me is the model train shop near the Thurgau River bridge and a real train station across the River.

It was not a remarkable day, but in spite of light rains and dark skies, it was a pleasant day.

My own personal Epiphany is a day of simple wanderlust and serendipitious discovery, but then finding the divine in the commonplace is really what this Holy Day is all about.


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