December 26, 2012

Christmas in Berlin

Merry Christmas from Berlin. Christmas here feels utterly different than in the states, most obviously because of the way privacy, family and traditions are far more respected by retailers and advertisers. Stores, while festive, are fairly subdued in terms of pushing their wares and sales at you (at least compared to NYC). A lot of shops close for a week or two or six because shop owners around the holidays are off to Bavaria or Austria or elsewhere to visit family and it's just understood to be the way it works because it's the holidays. It's closed: deal with it.

The air is and was very merry though, with a palpable sense of anticipation as people rush around gathering provisions -- wine, roasts from the butcher, bread from the baker, candles, gift wrap -- for the few days when the world around them is shut down. There are Christmas markets open around the city -- big, beautifully lit parks and spaces transformed into shops and restaurants and eateries and performance areas for the month of December. Earlier in the week we went to the popular (if not slightly cheesy) Gendarmenmarkt, where you could get hot roasted chestnuts, pick up stolen, get hot mulled wine, hear carolers, or pick up a lot of local crafts and handmade goods. Most people seem there also to soak up simple holiday cheer, and be around people with food and drink before tucking away with family.

We fetched our tree the weekend before Christmas amidst two days of minor snow squalling which left a dusting of powder along the sidewalks, but managed to disappear before Christmas morning. Trees in lots here are notably more "natural" looking -- less symmetrical, often sparse, shorter and stubbier or freakishly tall. There are Berts and Ernies of the tree world with thinner trunks and balder tops. There's also an abundance of fresh mistletoe and more varieties of evergreen branches than I'm used to seeing. We carted little IZP across Mauer Park amidst bluster to fetch our tree from a friendly lot on the edge of the park, then Jacob and I strung cranberries and painted golden walnuts for the tree, adding ribbons to fill in patches and lights, of course.

Christmas Eve here is also the big night for presents and family gatherings, rather than the tradition of Santa appearing in the middle of the night and eating your cookies. We kept to the American-style tradition of gifts in the morning, (but it was still a bit strange to be 6 or 9 hours ahead of festivities than most friends in the States and watch their celebrations roll out on Instagram throughout the day.)

Today, the 26th, everything remains silent aside from runners in the park and a few cafes and restaurants open, but not many. It's Jacob's 30th birthday. The quiet is restful, the air clear, tinged with deep indigo and hints of gray and moisture is ripe in the air. The New Year comes soon, but not yet.