Undoubtedly one of the most beautiful times to be in Berlin is around Christmas. There are lights up all over the city, and even the grumpy lady at the post office who lost your package that the postman just left a note to come pick up yesterday will tell you to “have a nice 3rd advent” in December. I knew what she meant, but having grown up in a decidedly non-Catholic house, I had to look up the whole progression of the holiday to really know when I was supposed to give each specific departing wish. The nightmare that seems to be package delivery here really does warrant an entire blog post to itself, so I’ll save that for another time. Anyway, back to Christmas.
We got in the holiday spirit around here when Andy purchased an adorable 4 foot tall potted Christmas tree at our local grocery store. It only cost €12 and has been remarkably good at keeping its needles. We just have to figure out what to do with it now. I’m voting to plant it when the ground thaws, though I’m also sure that if I was left in charge of keeping it alive until then, it would not make it. Andy promises that he can take care of it, but we have to figure out if we can put it out on the veranda instead of it taking up a corner of the apartment for a few more months. Obviously, research needs to be done.
Because we’re so very far from home, Andy ambitiously decided to make all the decorations for the tree, though he did invest in one string of white lights. He bought the tiny little plastic circle things that you arrange on little peg boards and iron to make them stick together to start making the ornaments. 7 of the 10 that were created with this method survived the holidays, and only 2 of those original 10 were actually made by Annika. 1 of the 7 still there is actually a very beautiful star at the top of the tree that Andy made with Annika’s help. The string of popcorn that was the first to don the tree now has a few empty places where Mayzie has picked a few kernels to chew. Andy also bought some construction paper, glue, kiddie scissors, and fuzzy craft ball thingies to make more ornaments. Problems: the paper turned out to be more like posterboard, he bought a glue stick instead of a bottle of glue, and the scissors he bought were decorative scissors that turned out to be both practically impossible for cutting posterboard and pretty difficult to maneuver even for us adults. They did manage to fashion some ornaments out of this stuff, but once Andy set them out on the counter “to dry” he realized the balls were never going to stick to the paper with the aid of the glue stick. They pretty much sat on the counter until I threw them away yesterday, other than the subsequent checks to see if one more try to glue the balls back with the glue stick would work. HA. The tree also has a few paper snowflakes and a couple rows of paper chain gingerbread men and flowers. Not too shabby really for a bunch of silly Americans in Germany.
The best part of the city at Christmas-time has to be the amazing Christmas Markets though! At every major section of the city, seemingly overnight these amazing mazes of tiny cabin-looking shops lined the public squares selling all different kinds of things. A smattering of the ones I saw: Cheese and Ham, Felted hats, imported fancy scarves from Turkey, a HUGE variety of wooden toys, calendars (including a prominently displayed Hustler 2012 calendar), soccer paraphernalia from all European countries, and soo many sweets that it was ridiculous. Of course there were the obligatory giant heart shaped cookies with sweet phrases on them such as “Ich liebe dich” or “Fröhliche Fest Schlampe” (wait, that’s not nice!), but there were all manner of candied fruit to be had as well: apples, cantaloupe, grapes, pineapple, pear, and varietal skewers of candied fruits too. There were deep fried marzipan balls (YUM) and every kind of nut known to mankind roasted and coated in sugary goodness available for purchase.
Different markets have different attractions for people as well. At Potsdamer Platz they had a giant fake hill covered in fake snow that you could pay €1.50 to climb and go down a tube on it—one at a time in very orderly fashion with security looking on of course. At Alexander Platz there was a HUGE carnival with lots of rides, more teenage appropriate than for my little ones, but very cool indeed. There were also ice skating rinks at both of these markets which had small Zambonis that would come out to smooth out the ice after an hour and a half of skate time. They had these 3ft tall wooden penguins on skis with handles that came out of their ears to rent for the kids which I thought was very well thought out. The 2 story Italian style carousel at Alex was Annika’s favorite thing by far though. I personally really loved the 3 story tall tree built out of aluminum bars and decorated with consumer goods and flame blowing cannons at the KaiserWilhelm Gedächtniskirche market. It was this amazingly industrial looking gigantic sculpture that seemed to be criticizing the commercialization of the holiday in the middle of a fairly large market that happens to be in one of the business hearts of the whole city. Frankly, I thought it was soo ironic as to be comical.
There is also a seemingly massive amount of drinking going on at these things. At every turn within the maze of tiny adorable cabins selling wares is another drinking spot selling Gluhwein, Eierpunsch, and many other drinks for warming you up. You can usually get an extra shot of something in your drink for another Euro too, so that’s not too shabby. During the winter months, it seems that Gluhwein is sold everywhere—even on the S-Bahn platform newsstands. They gave it to us for free at a special Zoo party for the penguins too. I think I could get used to this VERY different attitude about alcohol! That’s one thing I will definitely miss when we go home.
What I did miss about being home for the holidays, was not being able to spend time with our families. Skype just isn’t the same, but we’ll make up for it next year.