December 14, 2011


After leaving the Lufts' farm, we knew any future work stay would have big shoes to fill. It was tough to say goodbye to the place we had come to know as home for over month.  We departed the Lufts on a Thursday morning bound for a train to Hamburg and then the overnight City Line train to Zurich, Switzerland. We were new to overnight train travel, but the City Night Line did not disappoint. Although we had not reserved a spot in the snazzy overnight births of the train, we did have very comfortable, reclining seats at the rear of the train and were not too far from the dining car - a dimly lit car serving up a few German specialities and of course, plenty of beer and wine. We ordered up some drinks and read our books before retiring to our reclining chairs for the evening.

David, Marcel Luft, Ute Luft and Christina outside the Lufts' home. You can follow the Lufts' life of self sustainability at site is in German and any webpage auto-translations will be sloppy, but a hope of ours is to be a part of the translation/transfer of this information and knowledge into English. Stay tuned.
We arrived in Switzerland on Friday a little tired and in need of a good shower, but eager to explore a new country and meet our new host family.  Immediately, our experience in the Zurich hauptbonhof paled in comparison to any German train station we had spent considerable time in.   While we heard Switzerland was expensive, we were not prepared for just how outrageously expensive.  As far as the exchange rate from Dollars to Swiss Francs is concerned, the Swiss Franc was definitely better than the Euro, however, this exchange rate did us little favors given the high cost of goods in Switzerland.  The lockers at the train station cost us twice as much as our storage lockers in Hamburg, and a small wheat roll at the bakery was half the size and twice the cost as any we encountered in Germany. Although we asked others why Switzerland was so expensive, few could provide a clear explanation. After some preliminary online research we discovered the Switzerland contains one of the world's most stable economies. The Swiss have one of the lowest unemployment rates and the highest per capita incomes in the world. It is not a case of creative license when the Swiss banks are mentioned in movies as a place to white wash otherwise unclean money. Switzerland is in fact a safe haven for foreign investors. Today, it's largest industries include banking, chemical manufacturing, and precision and musical instruments.  Quite a few multinational corporations are Swiss, including Nestle, Hoffman-La Roche, Credit Suisse and the Swatch Group.

Our host family in Switzerland lived just outside of Lucern in the small village of Menzberg. From Zurich we took an hour long train ride and then a bus through steep Swiss hills.   Our family had not planned to pick us up from the train station, so armed with some rather unorthodox directions, we made our way to their farm house.  As we walked our way through town the views of the hills and the Alps were breathtaking. Although we took many photos, our one shot camera struggled to capture the picturesque landscape.  

A view of Menzberg from one of its many surrounding hills. 
The Bussman's, our host family, are dairy farmers, and together five adult children (ages 18-28), the grandparents and mom and dad live in a very large Swiss farm house. Immediately upon our arrival the mother exclaimed "Aye, aye, aye."  Although we had arrived earlier than she expected, we were not prepared for this less than enthusiastic greeting. Still, we did our best to quietly settle into our room and acquaint ourselves with the neighborhood. Eventually, Mrs. Bussman (Therese), came by our room to check in.  She immediately informed us she was not prepared to have us stay on the farm for the length of time we had previously discussed. We were certainly disappointed and caught off guard, as we had pre-arranged these dates months earlier. Although this conversation did little to help us feel welcomed, we accepted her limits and began making plans for an earlier departure. After a long few days of travel and a rather unwelcoming arrival, we felt rather weary and homesick.  Convinced that perhaps we had just started off on the wrong foot, we donned our two pairs of long johns and joined the family for dinner and a special outdoor Advent celebration, complete with St. Nicholas, live sheep and local children dressed up as the three Magi. The celebration was organized by the Catholic church in town, which many locals attend regularly.

Our first dinner at the Bussman's proved to be a jarring experience. Therese had prepared two Swiss pastries, one containing apples and cheese and the other a mixture of cheeses. While the pastries were tasty, we immediately noticed the family did not use plates or napkins. Each child cut pieces of the pastry with their bare hands and ate directly off the wooden kitchen table. Our pastries were consumed with piping hot milk - a regular drink at meals. 

Part of the wonder of traveling is the exploration of the way other people live, and thus an understanding of how they approach the problems of the world. We are open and eager to experience and interact with the world through the lens of our host families, and are not afraid to live their lives. That being said, as teachers, thinkers and readers we also know it is important to question the habits and beliefs of others. Questioning is the beginning of critical thinking. So, when Therese asked us not to wash her dishes with soap we politely questioned this practice, only to learn she did not believe in the existence of bacteria. During subsequent meals we watched this family with dirt caked hands, touch food meant for the entire table, lick their personal utensils and then place them in communal serving bowls to grab seconds and ultimately not wash their dishes. Meanwhile each member of the family seemed to be battling a cold. With each meal we became increasingly worried about the habits of the Bussmans, if for nothing else out of fear for our own health as travelers.  Finally, in an effort to keep ourselves healthy, and after being asked to only dry and put away dishes, we decided to discretely and as respectfully as possible, wash our dishes, with soap, before each meal. This was, apparently the last straw for Therese.  She confronted us about our discreet dish washing and insisted that if we wanted to wash our dishes, we had to leave her home. Perhaps if the Bussmans had been kinder people we could have been able to overlook the lack of table manners and the disbelief in bacteria. However, the Bussman's were not kind to us as travelers. When they did speak to us or ask us questions, they made many rude and snide remarks. In addition, despite the entire family's ability to speak English, they never spoke to us during meals, and instead, they spoke to each other in rapid Swiss German, never including us. This was certainly a shift from the inclusive and welcoming home of the Lufts.  Our Swiss experience taught us that each party approaching the workaway experience brings different hopes and dreams to the table. Some people, like the Lufts, hope to share their vision and practices. Others like the Bussman's seem to be looking for laborers and are not as interested in sharing their way of life.

Despite the disappointing and often times disturbing experiences in Switzerland, all was not lost and we will have some fond memories of our time in Switzerland. After being asked to leave the Bussman's we met up with the Hellmessen's (Anita and Ronnie), a young couple who lived just outside of Switzerland. We were so grateful for Anita's welcoming nature and hospitality we called her our angel. Anita and Ronnie live outside of Lucern in an area known locally as Little Yugo.  The area is mainly populated by immigrants to Switzerland. Anita and Ronnie have two beautiful, and incredibly intelligent children, Jason (age 5) and Justin (age 2).  Anita lived in the apartment above her sister, Sina, who had an adorable litte boy named David (age 1.5). We spent our last few days in Switzerland, helping this family through the daily chores of life and learning more about a very different side of the country. Sadly, what Anita and Sina had to share did not improve our view of Switzerland. Although Anita and Sina had lived in Switzerland since they were toddlers, and although they spoke flawless German Swiss, the Swiss themselves did not accept these Albanians (who emigrated from Kosovo) as true Swiss.  In fact, Sina, who married a Nigerian man, was afraid to take her young, mixed son, David out in public for fear of the racist comments and actions of ignorant Swiss citizens. According to this family hate crimes were not rare in Switzerland and Sina had more often than not been a victim of such hateful speech and actions. Despite their busy and sometimes difficult lives, Anita and Sina took us in as family members. They were incredibly generous people and were eager to share their lives with us. Together we cooked delicious meals,  played with the children and enjoyed the beautiful view of the Alps from her balcony.

Although both the Bussman's and the Hellmessen's had not traveled far from their homes their approach to others was drastically different. The Bussman's put on airs of superiority and often treated us as ignorant city dwellers. The Hellmessen's were curious about the world, and hopeful that one day they too could travel outside of Switzerland. In some ways we can be grateful to both families as they showed us sides of Switzerland we would never have encountered as mere tourists.

David, Anita and Christina at Cafe Sperber. This cafe became our refuge in Menzberg and a welcome spot for a drink, weiss (white) wine for Christina and an Eichhof (Switzerland's mainstay beer) for Dave. The chef and owner served us delicious local cuisine, including a schnitzel to die for and some wonderful venison stew served over spetzle noodles. 

It has been an unusually warm winter in Europe this far. This was the first snowfall in the Alps. 
A view of the snow covered hills of Switzerland and a true rarity in these parts, an enthusiastic woman of color.

Unlike the Lufts' the Bussman's were running a small scale factory farm. In winter the cows are kept tethered in the stables. The cows were enormous.

A view of Lucern from the main bridge. Though a beautiful city that was tucked right beneath the alps, it was hard not to lament our rapidly emptying pockets.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for writing about the Bussmanns. I have contact them too through workaway and was looking for more information on them.