October 10, 2008

forging curiosity

Schmiedetag forgeLate summer brings with it the beginning of the Fest season for Germany. Though most are familiar with larger gatherings like Munich’s Oktoberfest and Bad Dürkheimer’s Wurstmarkt, it’s the smaller festivals that happen weekly throughout August, September and October that are great for kids. Across the country, there are dozens of festivals where you can avoid the crowds, learn more about local history and participate in more family-friendly celebrating. For example, every year in the small agricultural where we live, they have a weekend festival called Schmiedetag. The literal translation is “forge day,” and, historically, it was a village market day each August. On Schmiedetag, local farmers would congregate in town to sell berries and summer produce. They’d get together to organize and prepare for the coming harvest. And an important part of that organization was a trip to the forge, where horses could be shod en masse before fall’s hardest work began.

Today, Schmiedetag, is all that and more. It’s a market that sells local handicrafts and produce. It’s a forum for local artists to show their work. It’s a place to taste regional beers and wine. It’s a place where the local children perform a play about the town’s centuries-old traditions. And yes, it’s an excuse to have a big party. But mainly, it is a great opportunity for kids to learn about feudal Germany.

My son loved a visit to the old (and still operational) forge in town, where he sat rapt with attention as blacksmiths demonstrated not only how to shoe horses, but fashion metal tools and modern sculptures. A beekeeper brought not only fresh honey but a live hive. And for a three-year-old, we learned firsthand that my kid is a pretty good basket weaver. These fests offer the opportunity for kids to not only try their hand at the old crafts and skills that were necessary for survival hundreds of years ago but also puts them in their proper historical context in a really fun way.

Whether my son will still show prowess at basket weaving past the toddler years, I don’t know. But I do believe that the curiosity and the desire to try something hands-on that come with an event like Schmiedetag will stay with him for a long time to come.