Unfortunately our plans to cycle for a week alongside the River Maine visiting wineries fell through and so we found a workaway host that was en route to spend some time with instead. Workaway is similar to wwoofing in that you stay with a host, work 5 days a week, 5-6 hours per day in exchange for food and accommodation. It differs in that the work doesn’t have to involve organic farming. It can be anything that will be useful to the host (this is advertised on their online profile so you have some idea in advance) including gardening, cleaning, babysitting, teaching English, renovations etc.
An army of dogs
Our interest was peaked in our first host as it was described as a perfect stay for animal lovers, living in an old semi-converted mill helping to look after the 6 dogs and a few Icelandic ponies. One of the dogs had just had puppies so the work would also involve playing with them. This hardly sounded like work and we were soon booked in for 8 days in Saxony, near the border with Thuringen.
Our host picked us up from the train station and was lovely and chatty despite having slightly sketchy English. On arrival at the tiny village of langenleuba – oberhain (a small bakery and a hairdresser were the only services) we were greeted by an army of dogs. It turns out there were 8 adult dogs (two of them only a year old) and 6 puppies! Our host had been at work all day so they were super excited to see her.
Now, I would describe myself as an animal lover, and a definite dog person but when you’ve got 4 Scottish setters, 2 Great Danes and 6 puppies jumping up and barking all around you and you’re trying to get into the courtyard and not let them out, while carrying your luggage, even I was a little overwhelmed!
I thought we would never learn all of the dogs names but we came to love Schmoozy, Ido, Leisel, Mina, Ricky, Dicky, Fronnie and especially little Cora – the chiwawa which made me change my mind about handbag dogs!
We were pleased to have a room with a little living room off it at the top of the mill which was a dog free zone and a nice haven for some quiet at the end of the day.
We also got lovely sunsets across the fields from up there.
The mill and outbuildings were huge and only a few of the rooms had been renovated to living standards. We spent a day clearing out the loft area above the horses stables which was full of old boxes, tools, horse harnesses, milk pails, junk and stuff that looked like it been there since the 18th century. Everything was really dusty, there were cobwebs everywhere and I was charged by a few spiders released from under boxes. It was not a fun job and I’m not sure our ‘beats being at work’ slogan applied on that day!
Mostly though our work involved grooming the horses, mucking out their field and stable, fixing fences, building up new electric fences, moving hay and trying to help clear out some courtyards. We also helped a local farmer one day to shovel and move 8 tonnes of horse manure. Our host was lovely and clearly genuinely loved all of her animals but as a single person with a demanding full time job we felt like she’d possibly taken on too much with the property and continual acquirement of animals.
We helped her get by but we were mostly doing daily chores and so we were left feeling unsatisfied and somewhat melancholy about how unsustainable the arrangement was. She had no time to walk the dogs so they were always hyper and when we ventured out with them (only five, not the whole lot) I nearly got my arm ripped off as they tore through the gate, so excited to be out and then they constantly pulled on the lead. I think in this situation, love for the animals was not enough, our host needed more time for them. She also didn’t have much time for us, not that we minded too much, but we mostly organised our own meals and rarely ate together as she was home from work quite late. We did cook for them once (with the minimal ingredients we could find!) which consisted of kartoffel puffe (potato cakes) and home made apple sauce.
There were some highlights from our trip there though. We had a sunny Sunday afternoon off and our host offered to take us with her neighbour to a beer Keller in the next town.
We jumped at the chance as in Bamburg our servas hosts had explained that kellars didn’t really exist anymore and when we saw signs for them it generally meant a beer garden. After a hot morning of physical work mucking out the inquisitive Shetland ponies a few beers in the sun sounded perfect. Little did we know how random our outing was to be.. Our first clue was being advised to bring a jumper as the kellar may be cold. Hmm, strange given that it was 30 degrees outside. We arrived at a lovely looking pub in Penig and were given hard hats and taken down, down, down underground to a genuine beer cellar, used in the 15th century for storage! It was about 9 degrees down there so pretty chilly and the whole experience was quite bizarre given that after establishing that we only spoke English, the guide proceeded to give the whole tour in German with no translation from our hosts! We understood bits and pieces, it was interesting but really, quite strange.
The theme continued with our next stop – Amerika! The hamlet seemed to consist of a disused train station and an American flag and a pub. We only stayed about five minutes because there really wasn’t much there.
We also had fun being in the Saxon countryside where the dialect was really strong. Mitch’s German is basic but usually he can gleam an understanding of what people were saying whereas in Saxony, it really was another language.
So it really wasn’t all bad, in fact, mostly we had a good time, it just wasn’t what we had expected from workaway. Having just spent 10 days at our second workaway we can definitely say that each experience is very different as we had a fantastic time there. More about that soon.