It was amazing that I could get out of bed this morning after having participated in an extended version of German Father’s Day without being a father. 22 Kilometers to be exact. Up and down the Rhine River bluffs, with a great view of the forest but not the Rhine, and most importantly in the company of excellent friends who were only drinking water; mothers, fathers and children. This may seem trivial or logical but it is not necessarily the tradition and therefore is important to point out.
Father’s Day in Germany is not only on a different day than in the U.S. but it takes on a very different character. It is on a religious holiday “Ascension Day” and therefore a great chance for dads across the country to have a day off with no yard work – noise laws you know. And it is a chance to flee the family and head to the forest. Tradition calls for dads to gather in little groups with a wagon and go hiking through the forest with many bottles of beer. If not living in close proximity to a forest, no problem, some kind of rustic looking roads will do. Funny enough, some of the guys walking around with these wagons don’t look old enough to be dads; I think they must be practicing for when the time comes.
If anyone from overseas was visiting this day and saw these men walking around in small groups pulling their little wooden wagon, they might think it a strange sight, as I did twenty years ago. But since then, I have the feeling that the number of men with wagons has gone down. On our journey through the forest, I counted only three groups – and we were underway for 5 1/ hours. I did note that one wagon had an astonishing number of empty beer bottles, those half-liter ones, half-covered by a tarp. Although I know the idea is to start early and finish late, the site of all those bottles caused some of us to raise our eyebrows in disbelief. For all of that brew, the fellows should have been much louder and more boisterous, or passed out under the tree trunks, but actually they were quite peaceful, just concentrating on every single step. Good thing you don’t have to walk a straight line in the forest.
More than the men with their wagons, the majority of fellow hikers we saw were whole families or couples out for the forest hike on Father’s Day. There were groups like ours, where men treasure the company of women and children – what a nice way to think of it at least. It was all about being out in nature, getting fresh air and exercise, enjoying each other’s company. And proving to each other we could hike 22 kilometers up and down the bluffs. I may be hobbling about like an older version of myself today, but I am already looking forward to the next Father’s Day hike in the forest, no wagon necessary.