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Tarzan, Jane and the green gold – hop harvesting adventurers

1 week, 2 days, 11 hours to go: Soon the eagerly awaited summer holidays will be here again in Bavaria too. For lots of kids, this means setting off on vacation – sun, sea and sand.

For me it was different, at the end of the summer holidays, at least: more action, more hustle and bustle, and a whole lot more adventure. And that’s even without a long flight or a boring car drive: just open the front door – and I was there. That’s right, at the end of the summer holidays I was always at home, because for me that meant “holidays down on the farm”. In our family, this was always a busy time, because it was the season for the hop harvest. In short: harvesting the hops, drying them, packing them – for three to four weeks.

Every day at half past four in the morning the countryside woke up; from then on you heard the rattling of the harvester. For us kids, though, this was not a problem; at this hour we were allowed to turn over and stay in bed. But we found we didn’t want a lie-in anyway, because there were so many exciting things to do. Our wake-up call was mostly the tooting of the baker from the neighbouring village, who even today is still touring all the “metropolises” round and about with her little van, delivering her baked delicacies. Fortified by crunchy pretzels and fresh rolls, we set off in adventurous anticipation to the hop harvest.

Our first stop was the “hop press”. Here the dried hops were compressed every morning into bales 1.2 m high, which then had to be sewed shut before being stacked six at a time on europallets. And that’s where we came into play: after all, the hop bales don’t stack themselves – not least in view of the fact that each of them weighs around 60 kilos. Well, admittedly we had to cheat a bit: even after a Popeye-sized portion of spinach, we probably wouldn’t have lasted long. So of course a small crane directly next to the hop press proved extremely useful. In next to no time, we had stacked the hop bales on the europallets and we still had time to dangle from the crane and swivel each other boldly through the air. Even Superman could learn a thing or two from us. 😉 As far as occupational safety was concerned, we turned a blind eye, but otherwise it wouldn’t have been half as much fun.

When we had finished, on some days the next step was to weigh the individual hop bales. Sack by sack, they were heaved onto a special weighing system, and at the same time a printer disgorged self-adhesive labels with a barcode. This meant the customers could later on easily read out data like hop variety, weight or the name of the hop-grower.

And by now the morning was as good as over, and the rush hour in the kitchen began. Together with the seasonal workers, there were about ten of us every day, who saw a bountiful lunch table await them at noon. We were, of course, permitted to lend a hand with the preparations. Then when everything was ready, we all sat down to eat. Working in the fresh air, after all, gives you an appetite – to put it mildly. However, it was not uncommon for the lunch break to be interrupted by a flashing red light in the yard. Don’t worry, nothing bad had happened; this was just a small practical helper calling for attention. This flashing light alerted us to the fact that the hops currently being dried had now reached a defined degree of moisture, and should promptly leave what is called the hop kiln. So there was no time to lose! Over to the hall, three floors up, and into the hop sauna. From here, the hops were then tipped via tilting floors down the next storey, to the next drying level, until finally emerging again at the hop press.

After the strength-sapping sauna session, we were able to relax with a short scenic tour. After all, a resupply of hops was needed – and without us this would not have been possible. The tractor-driver was ready and waiting, we jumped onto the empty waggon, and off we went to the hop garden. Once we arrived, we first got off so that the tractor-driver could load up the individual hop bines with the hop harvester. Until he’d finished, we collected the hops lying on the ground or “looked after” some individual bines that were still attached. Like film stars, we swung to and fro on the luxuriant green lianas, until finally we became too heavy and together with the hop bine suffered a minor crash-landing. We looked like a pretty scratched Jane and a pretty damaged Tarzan, but we gladly accepted the scratches the hops had inflicted. Our tractor-driver collected us again, we clambered onto the fully laden waggon, and drove back to the farm, where together with the hop bines we were unloaded directly next to the picking machine. And once again a magnificently enjoyable day had come to an end.

Only under the shower did things start to get a bit uncomfortable, when the weals smarted under the hot water. And after all as the saying goes:

If you don’t enjoy this, you must be hopping mad.😉

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