East Germany wasn’t as hard on the Church as other communist countries have been, and are. Its members weren’t rounded up and shot, its houses of worship weren’t (for the most part) destroyed, it was allowed to function, within limits. But being a church member did have consequences. If you decided to get confirmed, you could not go to university, so a professional career was not to be. You could not teach. You could not work in a government job. So you had to make a choice. Confirmation was a decision.

That may make the party in this farmer’s field our favorite event of the trip. In 1971 two young men were confirmed and proposed to meet every year on their confirmation’s anniversary. They invited the other boys in their class. Every year they met, had a fire, cooked out, drank beer. They married, and their wives came along. Then, children. Children grew up and brought friends. Others were invited.
It is now a five-day multi-generational event, held each year at one of five different farms. They call it, for lack of any other name, the Garten-Party. Everyone brings something: meat & rolls, coffee & cake, depending on the time of day. There are kegs of beer. You keep track of what you drink by marking tallies in a book next to your name. At the end they settle up and it all works out. We were invited. They said we had to come to this.

They have tents. There’s a restroom trailer, with plumbing snaking down the hill into the host house’s soil pipe. An empty industrial cable spool is set on one end and under an umbrella becomes a high-top for ten people. One day they roast a pig. There are bonfires. One night, people stay up for the dawn. A visitor took a taxi in from Zwickau, and at 3:00 a.m. took a taxi back. His biggest challenge was the quarter-mile walk from the field to the road, the last stretch in pitch-dark.

These are farmers, bakers, florists, truck drivers, electricians, firefighters. Their children can go to university now and become engineers, teachers, anything they want. There is no more East Germany. We left on Saturday night at 10:30, after 8 or 9 hours. I took one last picture from the farm, across the valley in Vielau. All lit up there is the church.