The dress code is casual, something between cowboy and roofer. We’re meeting at 5:30 in Berlin Schönefeld Airport, please don’t bring too much luggage, everything will get dirty anyway, we’ll also have three bags of film equipment, which won’t all fit under Simone’s seat. At the gate, two rounds of double espresso.
Although I’ve been friends with the guys from OEL for a long time and have already heard many stories from previous harvests, I have no idea what to expect. It’s the start of December 2019, the first year in which nothing has come up, the first time that I can finally be there, at this strange event that nobody can really classify. Before the harvest, when the call for daredevils (they call them harvest workers) went out to friends and acquaintances, the message said that they were offering a wonderful change, out of the city, fresh air, the Peloponnesian sun. You can see the sea from the hills, they said, almost a vacation. If the olive harvest is so idyllic and relaxing, why do I always see the guys hunched over for days afterwards, with scratches and blisters on their hands and sore muscles in their arms? And why do they go back every year? Harvesting olives is a pain in the ass, that much I know.
From Athens, we drive to Kalamata and then straight to Amadeus’ grandmother. Her trees must be harvested first. It’s almost 20 degrees, not a cloud in the sky, the sun shimmers through the leaves, the ground is rocky and brighter than at home. Amadeus’ grandfather sits on a sack of olives and takes a break. Grandmother is managing everything, carrying branches from left to right. She says something to me in Greek that I don’t understand, but I somehow have to go this way. She pushes me to Amadeus, who is sitting in a tree with a chainsaw.
the message said that they were offering a wonderful change, out of the city, fresh air, the Peloponnesian sun. You can see the sea from the hills, they said, almost a vacation.
Someone pushes a rake into my hands and we’re off. Just hit the branches, damage the foliage as little as possible, but the olives have to go. It’s actually easy. But this movement is new for my arms. They’re not sure about the angle, but seem to get used to it. It’s going faster than expected. We eat stew out of a trunk. I don’t quite know who cooked it. Then we’re off to the house of an uncle of an uncle, where the harvest workers are staying, we briefly put down our luggage and then make a quick detour to their own trees, up on the hill. The view is stunning. Over countless olive groves, I can see sand-colored cliffs. And when I push the bottle of Tsipouro aside on the car roof, I can actually see the sea, much bluer than in the photos. In the evening, we eat in Kalamata. They know us in the tavern, even me — harvest workers are all the same here. Amadeus greets the owner. Everything has been agreed. More and more dishes are being served, each one tastier than the next, plus wine and water. I fall asleep in the uncle’s house before I can even say “sore muscles”.
The next morning, at sunrise, all my fears are exceeded, and I barely make it to the back seat of the car. It goes on like this for five days, from sunrise to sunset. I hear a voice saying, was it mine? Marc, did you say something? No? I’m considering throwing myself out of the moving car. If I survive, I might be able to hide here somewhere, the winters are mild, and the people are nice. In dire straits, I can eat raw olives. But no, I don’t want to do that. And I can see from the faces of the others that they are all in the same boat as me, maybe worse. Marc says: you have to get back into the swing of things every time, but it gets better at some point. And he’s right. We beat the trees as if there was no tomorrow. We laugh together and cry secretly. At noon, we sit in the branches and smoke Karelias. Greece is a breathtaking country. I swear to arrange everything so that I can be there every year. I will become an active holidaymaker.
I was hoping there would be some muscles left.
And then came the pandemic and the realization that the harvest will not take place in 2020. And in view of two lockdowns and so much sitting in front of a screen, I rate my fitness for 2021 as rather poor. I was hoping there would be some muscles left. But I also think that we are all in the same boat, and we will hopefully rake, suffer, and laugh together again next winter, and move these cursed olives from the trees to the mill in this beautiful place with all the wonderful people. Until then, we must be satisfied with OEL from the canisters. At least that is easy on the arms.