I once read an article in which some white, wealthy Germans from the city felt sorry for those asylum seekers in Germany being assigned accommodation in small villages “where there’s nothing to do.” I think it depends on a lot of factors, such as what you’re used to, what you personally enjoy, and what village you’re sent to. I haven’t had a chance to speak to any of the asylum seekers in our village (there’s every chance they’re half-insane with boredom); but while this isn’t exactly New York City, there’s plenty to do. Young, white, wealthy, urban Germans might find it hard to imagine, but I suppose young, wealthy, urban Germans (of any skin colour) might find what’s on offer here to be unattractive.
The key to enjoying German village is to be a member of a club or the volunteer fire brigade. Unfortunately, I can’t sing very well, have no sense of rhythm, never quite got the hang of sports, don’t much like firing guns and, due to my not having the right chromosomes, am ineligible for election as our Straw Bale Queen. So that disqualifies me for most of the interesting stuff.
However, for complicated reasons I won’t go into at this point, I was asked to drop by on the local choral society’s rehearsal session. This is for a concert they’re giving later this month; and it’s ambitious. We’re not talking folk songs. They’re doing a selection of songs from famous movies. And they’re singing them in English.
I don’t know who might be reading this, so I won’t spoil anything here. But they did give me a CD of some of their previous efforts, and that includes things like Sitting on the Dock of the Bay and the Beach Boys’ Barbara Ann, just to give you an idea of their repertoire.
I don’t think they’re going to be singing at the Albert Hall any time soon. (They wouldn’t want to: the acoustics are terrible.) And having listened to their rendition of Bohemian Rhapsody, I think there’s a chance they might have bitten off a little more than they could really chew (and by the way, the phrase “pulled my trigger” unexpectedly appears to present to Germans a linguistic challenge not far short of “squirrel”). But they went for it, and the CD was presented to me with a beam of pride.
Not, as some of the members told me, that the society has had an easy time of it. It was originally founded as a male voice choir in 1925 (this concert marks their 90th anniversary); in 1971 a mixed choir was formed, but by the 1980s there were so few men that the male voice choir had to be discontinued. More recently, in 2002, a new choir was formed with a more contemporary repertoire, mainly to encourage younger singers to join. Did it work? “Oh, yes,” came the answer.
It’s certainly very active, but the lack of male voices is very evident: a few more would lend it what my wife poetically calls “more oompf”. But the group of people gathered in the hall above the fire station swaying self-consciously to sounds you don’t normally associate with a village choral society were, I would estimate, aged between about 17 and 70.
I realise this is in danger of becoming a slightly patronising “look at these country folk deriving innocent pleasure from a simple thing” type of post, but the message I have for the wealthy city dwellers is this: this is not nothing. What we have here is people crafting something to be proud of, and sharing it with other people. Which is sort of what I do with my videos, come to think of it.
This isn’t at all a case of innocent pleasures. This is community.