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Where benches tell stories

Where benches tell stories

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Where benches tell stories

In Lingenau, people don't just sit on a bench to have a rest and enjoy the view while out walking. At 28 story-telling benches, they can also hear the voice of a local resident telling a story that is relevant to that particular spot.

Our friend Birgit has come to visit us in Lingenau. We get up early to go for a walk. Our morning stroll takes us via the Bochere, a wooded hill, down to the Dörnlesee, an idyllic little pond. The grass is still wet with dew. Cuckooflower, dandelions and ribwort are just lifting their heads. The birds are singing, the air is clear. Along the Bochernweg we come to a bench – somewhere to sit and have a rest with views of the surrounding scenery. A good place to talk, look around or have a snack. I have always loved these little benches: I see them as a gesture of hospitality and generosity, especially as some of them are on private land, and in some cases, a great deal of effort has been made to position them so that they offer an especially fine view.

For the last two years, there have been some benches in Lingenau which offer even more: stories! All around the village, 28 story-telling benches have been installed, along four routes that are marked by green signs. The benches can tell you about the land and its people: just scan the QR code on the bench with your mobile phone, and listen to a story told by a local resident from Lingenau, aged between seven and ninety years old. What is remarkable about it is that, at each bench, you can hear a true story that is particularly relevant to the spot at which you have stopped. There are tales about bee-keeping, homesickness and festivals. Stories about expeditions, surviving and falling in love, about everyday worries and the joys of life. For example, at the bench in front of the church, a verger called Christine talks about a chaotic wedding while the church was being refurbished. At the apiary, Josef the beekeeper describes how it came to be located there. At St Anne’s chapel, Anna the chorister talks about an amusing incident after a choir practice, and, looking out over the village, Klaus, the local doctor, recounts his initial difficulties in understanding the terms used to describe various illnesses in local dialect.

These on-the-spot stories offer a very special kind of experience: not the measured tones of a narrator, but authentic voices using forms of expression that are full of emotion and local colour. We can listen to tales from everyday life which reveal the things we all have in common, make us smile and sometimes even teach us something about life in general. Just below the Bochernwald wood, which we have now reached on our walk, we sit on the bench and listen to Bernhard, an endangered species activist. His story is about the importance of Bochern for him and about some of his adventures on his many expeditions. Birgit, my companion, listens and looks around her, before deciding she wants to continue on our tour of the story-telling benches. As the project leader for “Lingenau erzählt” [Lingenau tells stories], I met the endangered species activist Bernhard. Even while we were preparing to record his story in the sound studio, I felt how right we were in our attempt to revive the story-telling culture in our village. Never mind the fact that everyone has an interesting story to tell, it was obvious that there are some truly remarkable people living in Lingenau. Sharing their knowledge, goodwill and talent with a wider audience is part of the point of “Lingenau tells stories”. For example, the bench by the Dörnlesee lake tells the story of Joachim and Markus. Their account of adventures they have had while fishing is accompanied by the humming of bees and mosquitos. As we listen, we enjoy the very same scene that is the backdrop to their story. It is wonderful that we have been able to make the “Lingenau tells stories” project a reality. And wonderful that the Tourist Office and the local community supported this unusual idea. Now anyone can listen to the stories of a milkman, a physiotherapist, a Syrian refugee, a campsite manager, a structural engineer and a graphic designer, whenever they want. It is great that so many people were willing to tell their stories – once in German and once in local dialect. And I am especially pleased that the “Lingenau tells stories” project lives on: in winter, the local innkeepers organise story-telling evenings in their parlours and in spring, they invite people to a big festival based around the story-telling benches. Because Lingenau tells stories.

Author: Isabella Natter-Spets
Edition: Reisemagazin Summer 2019