the holiday season in Berlin

I’ve never been particularly Grinchy, but I’ve also never really gotten caught up in the winter holidays much, either. People kept telling me how much I was going to love the season in Berlin, though, and sure enough. I’m also starting to understand something that didn’t make sense to me for years of living in Ausin: what people mean when they say they love seasons. I’m enjoying the seasonality here. There is a place for everything and everything in its place, but also a season for everything and everything in its season. From the very first time I went to a Weihnachtsmarkt (Christmas market) I’ve pretty much been on hiatus from writing. Not the season for working.

Germans love Gemeinschaft, which is, as I understand it, is something like conviviality. They think it’s really important, not just a casual side dish. I had been been noticing the way that Germans use the word “socialism”. Being American, I always was taught that the word referred primarily to an economic system. Here, though, it often gets mentioned as a matter of values. And you can see it in the way the winter holiday season is celebrated. There is so much public space here, and so much public support for using it for socializing.

Berlin is home to at least 60 Weihnachtsmarkts. Before I went to one, I assumed that they were primarily focused on buying gifts, as they are in the States. A friend asked me to meet at one and I went prepared to shop. Oh no. No shopping. Weihnachtsmarkts are much more focused on eating and drinking and, above all, socializing. Since discovering Weihnachtsmarkts, I’ve invited a few other Americans to check them out with me, curious if they would see what I saw. “Delightful!” they’d say. “This is why I love Germany! It’s cold as fuck, let’s go hang out outside in a beautiful platz and drink hot wine and eat sausages!” Indeed.

There are a variety of hot, boozy beverages available, but the glühwein is the star. It’s hot (usually red) wine with spices, with or without a shot of rum or amaretto in it. At first I thought this was a clever trick winemakers must have come up with to use up their bad batches of wine. But then I noticed that I can drink a prodigious amount of it and wake up with hardly any hangover. One of my ongoing fascinations is traditional culinary combinations that offset each other health-wise, like mustard on sausages, or sauerkraut with grilled meats. But then I realized, glühwein is more than just that, it’s medicine in a cup, flu prevention for the masses, with a touch of drunkenness to make it all much more appealing than a flu shot. For one month in early winter, Berliners stand outside and accustom themselves to cold while consuming some of the most powerful immune system boosting herbs out there – cinnamon, cloves, ginger. And have fun doing it! My favorite variation, Heidelbeere, is flavored with bilberries. I was also a fan of a certain rhubarb punch.

But anyway, the holidays are over and it’s time to get back to work and all the usual New Year goals. Time to be serious and healthy. It’s the season for exploring the sauna house situation here in my ongoing research into the integration of traditional healing techniques into Berlin culture.

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