Ein Brotchen, Ein Brotchen, Gemutlicheit!

I was sitting in a German beer festival tent a couple of whiles back when somewhat randomly, the brass oompah band struck up a melody and all present raised their glasses and began singing. None of us knew German, and what we all thought was very weird was the shortness of the little song. It was all, “DOO DA-DOO!” “Sing a few words!” Done! It tended to happen at random – sometimes the bands would play it during a set of other songs, and sometimes just in the middle of a long period of silence. We American noobs did not get it.

As the years went on and our knowledge of German grew a buddy of mine, Jesus Portillo guessed in his typical wiseass way that they were singing “Ein brotchen, ein brotchen!”, referring to the little dinner rolls that came with most German meals.

By then we all knew that what they were actually singing was “Ein prosit, ein prosit, gemutlicheit!”, which roughly translates to something like “A toast, a toast, to fellowship!”

Gemutlicheit is actually a lot more than fellowship or a happy party vibe. It has it’s foundations in a Northern European custom documented in pre-Christian lore as gastfriður – Guest-Joy, or gast-griður – Guest Peace. Today it is commonly referred to as gastfreundschaft or gastfreundlichkeit.

In a land where the weather can kill you, HOSPITALITY IS SACRED. So it has been for millenia, and so it is today.

To protect another person from the elements, even if he is your sworn enemy, is a holy act. To create shelters from the cold where warring tribes can be guaranteed a peaceful place to eat and sleep is the foundation of our civilization. This is why small, empty mountain lodges randomly dot the hillsides in the Alps, stocked with cots, blankets, first aid supplies, small amounts of food, water and firewood. The use of dogs to find lost travelers in these mountains predates Saint Bernard by many a century. This is the source of the catchphrases, “Check your weapons at the door.” “Take it outside.” Grendel is considered a monster for his murders by anyone familiar with the story, but even more so among Scandinavians and Germans for his violation of guest-frith, a custom which anyone who has felt the winters of Northern Europe comes away with in their very bones.

One of the reasons Christianity assimilated itself so well into the Germanic and Scandinavian cultures was that the sacrament of Communion – the sharing of food and drink as a holy act – was something the native Northern Europeans INSTANTLY and FULLY understood.

The Havamal, the Sayings of Odin the High One, is one of the most ancient and sacred sections of Heathen Lore. The very first four verses show the importance of sacred hospitality to followers of the pre-Christian faith.

          Gáttir allar                  Before one would advance
          áðr gangi fram                through each doorway,
          um skoðask skyli              one must look about
          um skygnask skyli             and peer around,
          því at óvíst                  because one can't know
          er at vita                    for sure
          hvar óvinir                   where enemies
          sitja á fleti fyrir           sit in the hall beforehand.

          Gefendr heilir                Greetings to the hosts,
          gestr er inn kominn           a guest is come.
          hvar skal sitja sjá?          where must this one sit?
          Mjök er bráðr                 He is very impatient,
          sá er bröndum skal            the one who must sit on the firewood,
          síns um freista frama         to test his luck.

          Elds er þörf                  There is need of fire
          þeims inn er kominn           for him who is come in
          ok á kné kalinn               with cold knees;
          matar ok váða                 food and clothes
          es manni þörf                 this man needs
          þeims hefir um fjall farit    who has journeyed on the mountainside.

          Vats er þörf                  There is need of water,
          þeims til verðar kømr         for the one who comes for a meal,
          þerru ok þjóðlaðar            of towel and friendly intonation;
          góðs um œðis                  of good disposition,
          ef sér geta mætti             if he can get it,
          orðs ok endrþögu              of speech and silence in return.

There are homeless day laborers living along the railroad tracks and highways of Long Island. Most of them are undocumented immigrants. They have nowhere else to stay. People donate clothing to them but they have no place to store it, and I find it rotting all over the woods in plastic bags. They eat over open fires from pots and pans and drink from vessels creatively acquired from the local bars and restaurants.

As I came across evidence of their living in the woods while looking for bottles and cans this summer, sometimes I would rescue what I could of the clothing and wash it. Once I found one of them, sleeping under a plastic tarp. He spoke pretty fair English but was afraid of me, didn’t want any help and wouldn’t tell me his name. It can be pretty scary – you never know if these folks are out there because they might be mentally ill or on drugs, and I always carry a knife just in case. And they don’t know who the heck YOU are either, which is totally understandable. But no one should have to live like this, especially in the killing cold. Not never, people. Not never.

So today I find myself putting together a little care package for them. I found a backpack in the woods at a park this summer that apparently some thief had hidden there after stealing whatever was inside (probably a laptop from the looks of it). These guys need stuff like backpacks to store the few goods they have and keep them from rotting in the elements, so I’m going to give it to one of them. I’ve got some canned goods in there that we can afford to donate. And I’m making bread.

Back when we didn’t have much to eat ourselves, I scored a ten dollar bread machine from a local garage sale. I kept us alive with that thing for months. Making bread is a lot cheaper than buying it these days. This country still has the ability to feed the world if you play it right. We still don’t have a lot of money for food, but for ingredients worth about $20 I can make enough bread to feed a lot of these homeless guys.

It’s time this Heathen showed these right wing fascist “Christians”, these racist white pseudo-supremacists who for all their prating about the “folk soul” and the “master race” can’t even remember something as fundamental as the custom of sacred hospitality, how it’s really done.

Ein brotchen, ein brotchen… gemutlicheit. Thank you, Jesus Portillo.

As for the other Jesus, well, you’ll have to work a bit, pal, given the evident values of your numerous so-called “followers” on Long Island, to show me what I should be thankful for from you.

Photo: James Carbone, Newsday

Now, I have no case of the ass with Christians in general, just the ones who don’t practice what they preach. So I have to give credit where it’s due. Newsday reports that there’s a guy in a church in Glen Head who is collecting money and donated goods for these guys. But the funny thing about that is that I can’t propagate the information here with a direct link because you need to be a paid subscriber to Newsday in order to read the story. Interesting, no? Well I think this news needs to get the hell out there anyway, so here are the details for those who might be interested in helping out too:

January 9, 2010 By WILLIAM MURPHY   [email protected]

People can donate goods or  money for the homeless day laborers living in the woods in Huntington Station, the Rev. Allan Ramirez said Saturday.

Sleeping bags, gloves, hats, heavy socks and other winter wear can be left on the rear porch of the Brookville Reformed Church – where Ramirez is pastor – at 2 Brookville Rd., Glen Head, NY 11545.

Checks can be made payable to the Brookville Reformed Church with a notation that the money be used for the homeless people, Ramirez said.

Ramirez said he has already given out about 200 sets of thermal underwear, and no more of those items are needed.


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  1. I miss.  German bread was green in two days.  American bread by comparision sat in my camper for three weeks and was still soft and white.

    Somebody left a purse outside our apartment building on a stone wall.  It sat there for an entire week. But in my time in germany I never saw homeless on the street.

    Leave no man behind.

  2. there is a related ethic in probably all cultures, but the one I’m thinking of now is from the Odyssey, and how Odysseus survived as a complete intinerant for decades.

    • Diane G on January 11, 2010 at 13:07

    and I hope they fp it here….

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