Too cold to sit outside, but no need to waste that space
28 January 2020
German apartments are often small compared to the average American one. Besides, more people live in houses in America and have more room. Because space is at a premium, Germans know exactly how many square meters their place has and scratch their chins in wonder when they hear a description like three-bedroom apartment. Such vague classification would never satisfy. Just how big are those bedrooms, pray tell? And is it a live-in kitchen (sorry, that’s my best translation for Wohnküche)? How many square meters is the living room?
Trying to fake it as a local at the Regensburg Christmas market
Who lives in these towns and what do they do for a living, I wonder as I watch the landscape roll by. I’m on a train headed to Regensburg to visit my friend Michaela and the Christmas market. Two hours of reading time, yay, I think, but can’t keep myself from looking out the window at the never-ending beautiful scenery. Gently rolling hills and pine forests alternate with
“Down through the chimney with good Saint Nick!” goes the tune, referring to the guy who brings presents and eats the milk and cookies that the kids leave out. Come to think of it, they should probably leave something more substantial, considering the journey he undergoes, like a pile of protein bars. The identity of this visitor was generally accepted when I was a kid growing up in Ohio. St. Nick was just one of many names for the jolly old man in the red suit who comes in a sleigh filled with presents. As it turns out, it’s not so simple.
This all-American holiday is not as traditional as you think
24 November 2019
Little kids in pilgrim hats or feather headdresses that would give politically correct people heart palpitations today – when I was in third grade, everything about Thanksgiving was warm and fuzzy. Such a great American tradition, steeped in friendship, harmony and the spirit of giving. Under closer scrutiny, however, this holiday is not everything it is cranked up to be.
But curious things happen when you transplant a holiday
When I moved to Germany over 30 years ago, nobody had heard of Halloween. I had a hard time explaining why people get dressed up as ghosts, goblins, Shrek or a Superman and go from house to house asking for candy. Not only was there no Halloween, the jack-o-lantern pumpkins were not sold anywhere, either. When nostalgia inspired me to throw a Halloween party, my American girlfriend Ruth laughed her head off when she caught sight of my muscat pumpkin jack-o-lantern. Never heard of a muscat pumpkin? Me neither.
Summer is over. Germany is like Camelot – at least regarding
the punctuality of the weather, not so much the bursting into song – so on
September 1st it cooled off right on schedule. But here in Munich,
there’s another sure way to recognize that fall has arrived. From one day
to the next, men exchange their Bermuda shorts for Lederhosen, women
doff their jeans for Dirndls –
it’s Oktoberfest time!
I’m strolling through the festival grounds
with my high school friend Susan and her husband Bill, who were looking forward
to seeing the beer tents. That is, until I tell them about something far more
intriguing than a bunch of drunks and a brass band covered by cloth on stilts.
I am no stranger to the German sense of order and cleanliness – how could I be after living here for 30 years? After such a long time, I now take it almost for granted: the clean streets, the men who regularly sweep the sidewalk and others who walk around train stations poking a pointy stick into the garbage people have left behind (not sure what the poking will achieve, but it must have something to do with putting the trash into a superior state of orderliness). Still others can be seen washing street signs with long brushes on poles.
Here is a new benchmark for defining what it means to be old: when your daughter visits a country with an airport named after the leader who was in power when you lived there.
happened to me. My daughter Lisa recently left for a three-month stint in Spain
to learn Spanish. This thrilled me, not simply because going abroad to learn a
language is such an enriching experience, but because she went to Spain, where I also lived for a year.
When ironing out the itinerary with her, I was jolted to discover that the name
of the Madrid airport is called Adolfo Suárez, who was prime minister while I
was there in 1979-80. It drove home the fact that this had been nearly 40 years