Sunday, December 23, 2007

The Holidays: Not Over Yet

In my comparisons between the way Christmas is celebrated in the States and in Germany, I've been watching the crowds in the stores and the streets. As you all know, Christmas in the States is a consumer frenzy, with fights breaking out over toys and electronics, elbowing crowds of cranky last-minute shoppers, and traffic traffic traffic. Here, there are no fights, there are laughing, benevolent crowds, and still traffic traffic traffic. I suppose the screeching tires and angry shouts out driver's side windows could count as fights, as I imagine they could come to blows eventually, but for the most part, it is still a joyous occasion here, even if one has to wait in line at the department store for thirty minutes. They really keep the people entertained in the malls and stores here, with fairy tales being told for the little ones, live music (even if it's a sad rendition of You Are the Sunshine of My Life, at least they're trying), and bizarre circus characters, wandering around to ensure a continued contentment even if the bill comes out to six hundred Euros.
in KaDeWe
Yes, those people are on stilts. And, yes, they are in front of a pillar emblazoned with the image of, of all things, St. Basil's Cathedral in Moscow. This picture was taken in the infamous KaDeWe, which stands for Kaufhaus des Westens, or Department Store of the West. It's sort of like Nordstrom's or Bloomingdale's, but bigger and more expensive.
The crowds, though, are not only in the stores. They are also still in the streets, despite the below freezing weather, putting their kids on rides and then standing there watching them and drinking warm liquor. In the area around KaDeWe, along the street called Kurfurstendamm and the towering Kaiser Wilhelm Gedächtniskirche, the Weihnachts Markt is in full swing.
Me, looking tiny
Tonight is most likely the last night of these markets, as the Germans celebrate their gift-giving and church-going Christmas on the 24th of December, with the 25th being a day of feasting and the 26th being a day of family and recuperation. Therefore, the next three days will be pretty quiet here in Berlin, so I'm just sitting here in our toasty apartment, writing my blog and wearing these little pink gloves that are supposed to keep my hands hydrated. It's really very dry here. If it rained, it would be snow, but it's extremely arid. My poor sinuses. The consistently wrong weather report tells me that tonight and tomorrow it'll snow, but I'm not so sure.
And soon, we'll be off to Poland. I'll most likely add another small message to my blog before we go, wishing everyone a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, but in prelude to that, here's a Chrismas greeting from Brad and Santa Claus (or Weihnachts Mann, if you'd prefer his German name).
Brad and Weihnachts Mann

Tuesday, December 18, 2007


Finally! I'm back in the land of blog.

Finally! I'm officially and legally able to work for regular paychecks in Deutschland. I spent a few hours waiting at the ausländerbehörde and procured my work permit. It was our umpteenth trip to that place (Brad, though he didn't need anything from the immigration office, went with me, and Thank Goodness! They don't speak any English there). I imagine that the immigration office in any city is a nightmare, but it was my first experience with the dreary waiting rooms and severe German officials, and to say I'm glad it's over is something of an understatement.

Finally! We figured out what we're going to do for our holiday. I believe I told you previously that we were planning a trip to Sweden and Denmark, but after a lot of deliberating, we decided it would be too dark, and too expensive. We then decided to go to Munich, but somehow, we simply couldn't get excited about that. I think both of us are eager to go to a different country. So, after much hemming and hawing, we decided to go to Poland; it's inexpensive, it's close, and I've always wanted to go there. I'm quite excited! We'll visit Poznan, Warsaw, Krakow and Wroclaw, pronounced, apparently, Vrots-waff. I'll be really leaning on my phrasebook there, but hopefully our combined knowledge of German and Russian will help us navigate. Anyone want anything from Poland?

Finally! I have pictures to share, and they are quite lovely, if I do say so myself. We went this weekend to Dresden, and though I'd heard it was a beautiful city, it was even more beautiful than I'd imagined. The Deutsche Bahn offers a special fare to Dresden around the holidays, as Dresden has what is supposedly the most wonderful Weihnachts Markt in Germany (Christmas Market, that is). I thought to myself before we left that I would take advantage of the fare to get a cheap trip to Dresden and not spend too much time at the market, but once we got there, the outdoor stands offering wooden toys, delicious snacks, candles and sweets were nearly hypnotizing. Behold:
Weihnachts grandeur
There were many of those wooden carousels spread throughout the city, as the market filled every square and wide-open space (and even some cramped spaces!). This one was the most magnificent, probably twenty-five feet tall, if you can't tell by the picture. The city was full of holiday cheer, and though it was about 25 degrees outside, the Glühwein kept everyone warm. Glühwein, for those who don't know, is a warm, spicy wine, sometimes with a shot of rum in it. It's delicious, but I generally forego alcohol, so I made do with hot cocoa. The streets were overflowing, sometimes nearly impossible to walk through, but it was so lovely that I didn't mind toddling along, surrounded by people much taller than me. The background of amazing architecture didn't hurt, either.
Looking down that slim lane of Christmas, you can see the Frauenkirche at the end. It was bombed during the war and collapsed, so it's been arduous to rebuild, but they've done a wonderful job. Nearly the whole city was destroyed during WWII, but these days it's hard to tell, what with the forests of Soviet buildings and the gothic, looming stone buildings that survived. When we got away from the old town's Weihnachts Markt and across the bridge to the newer section of town, the landscape of the city was almost unbelievable.
from the Neustadt
As we crossed the bridge back to these buildings, there were hundreds of birds circling the belltower. It was dusk, and people were stopped all along the bridge, standing in the freezing wind and staring at the lights. I felt so lucky. Brad took a picture of me earlier in the day, looking very much like I felt lucky. I tried to smile at the camera, and for a couple of moments, I think I did, but my eyes kept veering off in other directions, unable to separate themselves from the amazing landscape. I was awestruck the whole day.
feeling lucky
I highly recommend Dresden to visitors. There is some talk of Dresden being a city of a high concentration of, ahem, white supremacists, but that aspect of it was shrouded when I was there, covered up by warm crepes, warm drinks, various smells of roasted pork and the constant presence of Christmas music, both in English and in German. The night before, we had spent a few hours battling the crowds in Berlin's Christmas markets, but nothing could've prepared me for the pure, unadulterated celebration we found in Dresden. All in all, it was a wonderful weekend.
I'll leave you with a final image, one which I think shows both the baroque beauty of Dresden and the very contemporary machinations of a modern-day festival. Happy holidays indeed.
kirche/ferris wheel