Forty-two members of Kilkenny, Carlow, Limerick, Tipperary, Wexford and Waterford Macra set off on an agri-education/social trip to Mannheim in Germany in early December.
The contingent was greeted at the airport in Frankfurt by a charming white landscape as it had just started to snow in Germany and continued to do so for the remainder of the trip. This created a very festive setting.
The group made the journey from Frankfurt to the John Deere factory by coach and was met on arrival by three tour guides from John Deere. Having worked up an appetite at this stage, the group sat down to a very tasty four-course lunch of German fare served in the impressive factory restaurant.
They then proceeded to the factory forum where they viewed the flagship John Deere/Lanz creations (from tractors to lawnmowers) produced since 1837 and received a presentation on the history of the John Deere brand, the progress in manufacturing techniques over the years, the details on production and numbers working at each of the plants and their ongoing strategy for success.
The visitors were then provided with headphones and goggles and were brought on tour through the extensive plant and given a detailed overview of the production of each of the component parts for the tractors right through to the assembly and testing of the finished tractors. This tour ended in the remarkable John Deere Museum, which charted the history of production from the very first tractor to the latest 6 Series tractors. The party then proceeded to the John Deere shop, where lots of mementos of the tour were purchased and a final presentation was made to the group, who were presented with John Deere baseball caps.
The group then boarded the coach and proceeded to hotels in central Mannheim and had beautiful views overlooking the famous Weihnachtsmarkt (Christmas markets). The sights and aromas at these markets were very beautiful, with popular attractions including the Nativity Scene, Zwetschgamännla (figures made of decorated dried plums), Nussknacker (carved Nutcrackers), Gebrannte Mandeln (candied, toasted almonds), traditional Christmas cookies such as Lebkuchen and Magenbrot (both forms of soft gingerbread), Christstollen (Stollen), a sort of egg bread with candied fruit, bratwurst, and for the group one of the highlights of the market: Glühwein, hot mulled wine (with or without a shot of brandy). The Gluhwein helped stave off the cold winter air which sometimes dipped below freezing. Many other handmade items, toys, books, Christmas tree decorations and ornaments were also available for purchase at the markets.
On the Saturday morning, many members of the group travelled to the farm of Wolfgang Guckert, who very kindly gave his time to show them around his farm. This is a family-run livestock farm and the family also runs its own butchers and fruit and vegetable shop.
The farm is mainly dry stock (pigs and cattle) with some dairy and also tillage (potatoes, corn, wheat and especially asparagus). The family barter their asparagus with surrounding fruit and vegetable farmers for fruit and vegetables to sell in their shop.
Wolfgang gave the group a very interesting insight into the daily farming life in Mannheim and it was particularly interesting to hear about some of the issues that German farmers face, many of which are similar to those in Ireland, but they are also subject to the threat of wild pigs who travel from the Black Forest at night and dig up the crops and domestic gardens. The family provided the group with a beautiful breakfast of their own breads, meats and juices.
On the Saturday afternoon and Sunday, members of the contingent explored the many tourist attractions that Mannheim had to offer, including the Christmas Markets, Luisenpark Mannheim and the Schloss Mannheim. Visits were also made to the Auto Technical Museum in Speyer and the very pretty local tourist town of Heidelberg.
They had further opportunity to taste the German cuisine and the obligatory visits were made to the local hostelries to sample the local culture.
Forty-two tired but happy Macra members departed Frankfurt airport on the Sunday night and are planning to return to Germany for further travels. The group gave its thanks to Pat Comerford (TFM Kilkenny) and Toni Aplin and Christine Nagler (John Deere), who were instrumental in helping to organise this trip, together with members of Hessische Landjugend (German Young Farmers).