September 1986 - A still wet-behind-the-ears Airman First Class, reporting for duty at HQ USAFE (also known as Ramstein Airbase), I had been in country only a day and had been informed that I had several days free before my inprocessing was complete and duty would begin. I had wasted no time - I immediately purchased a 35mm camera and a bus ticket for a weekend in Munich. Oktoberfest was going on and I was SO going to be there.
I did not speak a word of German. That didn't matter. I sat at a table with an Italian, an English couple, a Spaniard and many Germans. I knew a little Spanish and Italian so between all of us (the Brits knew German) the beer kept flowing and we were able to communicate with each other. It was the biggest party I had ever seen, before or since. This blew St. Patrick's Day in NYC away, hands down.
That was my first, and most intense experience of "gemutlichieit" but by no means my last. No one ever explained it. It simply WAS. The closest anyone ever went into any sort of explanation was the bus tour director, who responded to a question about why the Bavarian mountain roadsides we were driving on were dotted with tiny little houses about the size of a bus station. "They are there," she said, "to keep people from getting caught in the mountain storms and freezing to death. You have heard of the Saint Bernard dog? This is something like that."
Gemutlicheit exists because in the Northern European countries, the weather can kill you. It is considered great shame to allow this to happen, even to an enemy, if there is something you can do about it.
It is - literally - a great shame to freeze somebody out.
It is more than a shame. It is AGAINST THE LAW to allow such things to happen with knowledge aforethought. One reason is because it is supremely dishonorable, another is because people can die as a result.
Gasthauses and taverns have thick curtains that one passes through to keep the cold winter winds from disturbing those inside. From the mighty 5-century-old Hofbrauhaus to the tiniest tavern, no one is turned away if they take shelter within while the cold rages outside, even if they are not there to drink or cannot justify their stay with coin. It is considered an HONOR to guest travellers, and an act of MIGHT AND MAIN to be able to do so in style and in such a way that they would want to return.
I saw this for the first time on this trip to Bavaria. I stayed in some gasthauses that had sumptuous breakfasts laid out, thick down comforters on every bed, and water so hot it all but came out of the tap as steam. In general the Deutsch don't do things by half, but most especially will a traveller see this in the level of hospitality - gemutlicheit - that is offered.
My landlords ran an ancient hotel in Kaiserslautern called the Blechhammer (metal hammer) that had been in their family for generations. They were honored and proud that my family stayed with them when they were visiting me. They treated my family to breakfast and a liberal discount. My family was given the best suite in the hotel and they were personally waited on by my landlord and his wife.
Nobody seemed to care what my parent's ancestry was. No one asked their political beliefs, or spouted about theirs.
At the same time, there is a responsibility as a guest to maintain the gemutlicheit and the frith during these times. MUT - this is where we get our word MOOT - is a meeting place, not a place of holmgang. No one wants to have to deal with rising voices that might occur if one has no shelter to get away from the breaking of frith but to go back out into the cold. Guests have as much a responsibility to hold their tongues and their tempers at a moot as hosts have not to foul common drinking water, or poison food.
It is no dishonor to keep silent when a loud and boorish animal attempts to provoke a fight in the middle of what is supposed to be a frithgard. What happens outside those boundaries is certainly one's own affair. To take the fight within the boundaries of a frithgard, however, reflects poorly on those who cannot hold their tongues and their tempers. It violates geMUTlicheit - the spirit of the moot. Even as recently as in the old West, the concept of "take your fight outside" was not unknown to most sensible human beings.
Never for one moment pretend to yourselves that the Gods do not see such violations done... and act in judgement accordingly.
It is laughable that there are those who claim a "folk soul" and a superior understanding of the Germanic ways via heritage, but that those people's concept of gemutlicheit is easily comparable with that of the Harper Valley PTA or the average high school hallway. Such people could even perhaps visit the land of their ancestors and see gemutlicheit in action right before their eyes and they STILL wouldn't get the concept, because to them gemutlicheit begins and ends at ancestry, political belief system, or even just how much they like you.
Gemutlicheit is a feeling, a feeling that drives one to act honorably and in frith. After spending five years of my life in Germany I certainly know when it is present, and when it is not. I can feel gemutlicheit in my bones. American Asatruar would do well to study the concept of gemutlicheit if they truly wish to follow in the ways of the Germanic peoples. I am of a thought that perhaps the only way for such people to truly know the meaning of the word is to have an experience where THEY are at the mercy of a winter storm, where THEY have to take shelter against the cold in a frithgard, where THEY are the weary traveller of thin blankets and few coin in a land of strangers.
There was a woman who asked me if I was of Jewish ancestry when I was at the Trothmoot. I saw no reason for her question that made me comfortable, but answered it honestly and without pressing her further as to why she was asking. It was clear she cared far more than I thought was appropriate about my ancestry and my heritage. Later, this woman, who was from Florida, told me she was having trouble with the temperatures up here in NY and that she hadn't packed for the weather. Without batting an eye, I gave her my woolen blanket for the night.