Modern day fairy tale with a little-known tradition set in Bremen, Germany
| "I'm so glad we've got the time to shop today," Julia chattered animatedly. "I really need to send my family some postcards."
Julia and Silke strolled through the pedestrian zone of central Bremen, a port city in northern Germany. Julia, an American professor of literature, came to Germany on sabbatical to do research for her children's literature project. She shared an apartment with Silke in a suburb of Bremen. The petite blond German worked at the university where Julia conducted much of her research. They became instant friends, chatting in either language since they spoke both fluently.
"Ooo, Julia, you have luck today!" Silke almost cheered. "Look over by the Dom .
The women watched a parade of casually-dressed men and women following a young man leading with a broom for a baton. Julia noticed that the parade marshal did not seem to be enjoying himself as much as his cheering followers. Near the end of the line was a stocky man pulling behind him a wagon loaded with a case of beer. The entourage stopped right in front of St. Peter's Cathedral.
"This is a custom of Bremen," Silke explained. "Whenever a man turns the age of thirty and has not married, he must go to the Dom here and sweep the steps."
Julia wrinkled her nose. "What is that suppose to do?"
Silke thought for a moment. "I'm not quite sure, but some believe that he must sweep away the bad luck that is keeping him from entering the church for a wedding."
German folklore fascinated Julia and she delighted in experiencing the strange German customs like this one firsthand. They made their way closer to the church as did many other spectators in the busy marketplace. Now she understood the man's dislike for this event, yet he dutifully swept the stone steps and landings.
Julia turned to her German friend. "How long is he suppose to sweep?"
Pinging noises distracted the pair. The man's companions were throwing beer bottle caps at his feet, increasing his workload.
Silke giggled. "As long as it takes, it seems." Her grin widened. "But it does have a happy ending."
"Come on, Silk, give me the fairy tale!" Julia nudged.
"Well," Silke paused, "he can only stop when a maiden kisses him."
"A woman initiating it?" Julia questioned, her eyebrow raised in disbelief. "And this is an old tradition?"
Silke nodded. "It is the only way."
The duo continued to watch, but they saw no sign of any woman relieving the man of his duties. Julia studied the thirty-year old better with her close proximity in the outdoor audience. She admired him as he handled the small, awkward brush broom with masculine hands. His muscles flexed with each stroke. Her gaze fell appreciatively down to his Levi's. The European cut of his jeans always struck her as sexy, especially when the European male wore them well.
She leaned to her friend. "Hey, Silk. Does it matter who the girl is? I mean, does he have a lady-friend waiting after a certain amount of time?"
The German shook her head. "He probably does have someone in mind, but the custom doesn't say who it has to be. Just a maiden. And in these times, they don't have to even consider that as well." She sighed. "Poor guy. His girlfriend is really making him stay up there a long time."
Julia chewed her bottom lip contemplatively. The man looked frustrated with his friends and looked into the crowd searching for his kisser. Any kisser, if she read his look of desperation correctly. An idea started forming in Julia's head, and spread like warm heat throughout her body. It fueled her feet to take one step closer, and closer yet until she was shouldering her way to the front of the crowd. She squeezed past the jeering men without knocking their beer onto them or herself. She felt the blush burning her cheeks but grew bolder with each step.
The sweeper turned when he heard the taunts turn to cheers. She almost faltered on the step but she kept her gazed focused on him. His features were chiseled and her fingers ached to trace them. His eyes glimmered as he followed her ascent up to him. Her eyes shifted from his eyes to his mouth. That mouth looked so inviting and she accepted it without a word from him.
Hallo , Julia spoke, surprised how low her pitch was. She gently reached up and caressed his neck as her hand found the nape of his neck. She smiled before she leaned into him.
She intended on a simple kiss, warm and tender, to break him of his obligation of the custom, but his lips lingered on hers. Her control nearly slipped when he reached around to her shoulders. Before she lost herself into the sensation of the moment, she eased away.
" Kenne ich Sie ?" he asked, his eyes mixed with amusement and confusion. Do I know you?
" Nein, she responded almost somberly. Against her better judgement, she tilted forward again, this time placing a kiss on his cheek. "Happy Birthday." Stepping back, she waved and turned into the crowd who cheered and stared with questioning looks, but not as many questions as the man holding the broom.
She found Silke with her mouth gaping. "Ready?" Julia asked, taking her friend by the arm and away from the masses at the cathedral.
A week passed before Julia returned to the marketplace, this time for coffee at a café across from the renaissance facade of the Town Hall. As she scanned past the government buildings over to the cathedral entrace, a blush crept up her neck to her cheeks once again thinking about the impromptu kiss to the man she did not and never would know.
Being a long way from home, Julia felt alive and bolder in the new atmosphere. Few knew her or were shocked about what she did on the cathedral steps. The German people were warm, friendly and very helpful in sharing their culture, but they had no prior knowledge of the mild-mannered professor who preferred burrowing with a good book on the weekend rather than trying to find action suitable for a single and nearly-thirty-year old woman in a small Midwestern college town. Here in her second home, she felt ageless, comfortable, and ready to take on anything that came her way.
" Ist hier frei ? A man next to her asked if the place at her table was available. In the filled café it was commonplace to share tables with other customers.
" Ja , she nodded, looking up to her new companion. Only instead of calmly acknowledging him, her jaw dropped as she watched the bachelor place his cup of coffee on the table and sit in the chair next to her. He wore darker Levi's and a white shirt that stretched across his chest.
"How are you? My name is Jakob," he introduced with a hand extended.
She struggled for the German words that, for one of the first time since high school German grammar class, failed her. " Hallo , she stumbled. "I'm Julia." Her hand trembled as they greeted each other formally.
Jakob's face looked more relaxed than the week before. The frustration was gone, replaced by a good-natured attitude radiating from his smile.
"Ah, such a lovely name for my fairy," he commented.
"Fairy?" she puzzled.
"I'm sorry, Julia," he apologized. "Do you understand my German? Or should we switch to English?" he finished in a slightly-accented British English.
No matter how he said the words, his voice affected her senses and that heated sensation she felt the week before returned, a few degrees hotter.
"Either language is fine," she managed to assure him as well as herself. "I just didn't understand your comment about the fairy."
" Ach, ja, he nodded, sipping his coffee. "All week I've been thinking about the fairy who came and kissed me in front of the Dom . Her lovely blond hair was haloed with a scarf of blue and she wore soft-colored clothes. She reminded me of the beautiful fairies described in the tales my Oma told when I was a little boy."
Julia looked away shyly, only to feel Jakob's gentle touch on her face to return her gaze to him.
"And just like fairies, she disappeared before I could thank her, or even ask her name." His hazel eyes probed hers.
"I hope I didn't ruin your birthday plans," she expressed apologetically.
"Other than leaving me at the church," he chuckled, "your kiss was the best gift." He covered her hand resting on the table with his own. "What's better is that I've caught my fairy and I hope she doesn't run away so soon."
Julia grinned, reaching to caress the lines of his face. "I'm not going far anytime soon."
Jakob pulled her to him and they kissed -- a kiss that fairy tales and happily-ever-afters were made of.