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A confluence of cabbages

Cabbage day also comes but once a year, and as I gather my modest batch here in Maine and the crock is made ready for sauerkraut, I am always transported in memory back to Passau, where I never did see the largest pipe organ in the world. I found Passau a grand place to pass a few days - eastern Bavaria, where the Inn, Ilz, and Danube make a confluence that has given us much history. It was here that I learned the Danube is far from blue and that it is rightly called the Donau.

I trudged up the hill to the Overhouse, seat of the ancient political bishops of Passau who levied tolls on river traffic and did excellently well for prosperouscenturies. Looking down from that fortress-palace on said confluence, I saw readily that the said bishops had it made. As I sat looking off and chewed the goodies I had brought from a sweetshop, I imagined the fine feeling that must have prevailed with bishops of Passau. It was on my walk up and down that I saw the 15th-century late-Gothic cathedral that is one of the other things to visit in Passau.

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Our annual cabbage day and sauerkraut is minimal. A few jars will cover the occasional knackwurst at our table, and one small crock takes care of us. I figure on saving about ten cabbages for cabbage day, and that will conclude the harvest.

It happens that we're in a sauerkraut belt, which perhaps is improbable for down-east Maine. But our neighboring town of Waldoboro(ugh) was settled by Germans, and they may well have introduced German sauerkraut to the New World. Today a major sauerkraut maker continues to operate not far from us, and Morse's sauerkraut is famous all over. No doubt the best available; at least a world-famous, German-American restaurant in Boston (Jacob Wirth's) will serve no other.

So locally we go for sauerkraut. Shredded correctly, the cabbage is salted, attended devotedly, and after suitable probation comes to rest in glass jars. We always make too much for our needs and have some left from last year, but we still make a crockful.

So in Passau, back thirty years ago, I had been up on the steep hill to commune with the ancient bishops, had seen the lovely cathedral, and had decided to walk up again the next day and go inside the church. And at supper (I think the restaurant was called the White Rabbit) my waiter brought me a folder about the cathedral and it said the cathedral had ''the largest pipe organ in the world.'' That, for sure, called for a look, and particularly a look from me - a qualified and accepted fellow pumper of the Guild of Former Pipe Organ Pumpers, and perhaps today the latest left. I strolled, or struggled, up the hill again on the morrow.

My line of sight, as I came up the hill, should have brought the tips of the spires into view, until as I gained height the whole edifice would be seen. But as I came up, I didn't see the cathedral at all. Something was in the way, and now I found the marketplace before the cathedral piled high with cabbages. It was cabbage day in Passau, and the mounds and mountains of cabbages had eclipsed the church. Every farmer in eastern Bavaria and the Upper Palatinate had come at dawn, and some were still adding to the mounds and mountains. It was a surprise, an interesting optical experience, and an amazing sight to a visiting cabbage farmer from America. Still more cabbages were coming, and I had so much fun that I forgot about the cathedral and its organ. The cabbage glut remains my big impression of Passau, and that is why I return in memory each fall when we take down the sauerkraut crock here in Maine.

Everybody who had cabbages was taking care of everybody who did not, and while some were carrying away a few heads for home use, buyers were also there from the kraut mills with trucks and wagons. Cabbage day in Passau is an outstanding event, and I urge all travelers never to miss it if occasion offers.

So I never went into the lovely cathedral at Passau. But that doesn't mean I never saw the largest pipe organ in the world. Later, I found six or eight organs that are also the largest in the world. Fairly common. But as for a pile of cabbage. . . .

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