My alarm bell went off yesterday at 5:45 am, which for a Sunday does not go down so well (or so often) within these four walls. But – I rolled out under the warm covers, peered under the small slit left open in the blinds to see a fresh layer of white, powdery snow and reconsidered whether I really wanted to join the crazy snow freaks in their bulky and uncomfortable boots to hit the slopes.
It was a tough call but the little devil on my shoulder didn’t win – I woke up with an aim; to master that snow plough*. And after a few hours, sore shins, frozen fingertips and an elegant fall in an unexpected mound of deep, fresh snow, I had mastered it – and even on some “proper” slopes. I wouldn’t be lying if I said that I’m a little proud of myself. Having donned the skis for the second time after almost 27 years of missed opportunities, I don’t think I’ve done too bad for myself – but I won’t be seeing any black runs any time soon thanks.
Alongside the skiing, it’s safe to say that this winter is really feeling like winter.
We were blessed with a winter wonderland one only dreams of over the festive holiday.
We built a snowman outside the apartment on New Years Eve, who resembled my grandfather but was sadly defaced with leftover fireworks.
I enjoyed watching my brother and my Alex shovel the sidewalks, only to have them recovered in snow only three hours later.
We escaped to the alps, where we sipped fancy drinks by wooden fires and woke up surrounded by snow-covered peaks.
I’ve even had more than one opportunity to wear my favourite ear muffs (not that one should really have to find a reason to do so).
And while December brought some unbelievably rare, blue skies for German winter standards, January has seen my tally of sunny-winter-days looking a little sad. Let’s hope this changes.
And with my newly acquired skiing skills, I’m happy to say that I’ve so far made the most of these below-freezing temperatures.
I hiked across landscapes to see wild deer grazing and icy waterfalls.
I hiked up a mountain purely to fulfil a childhood dream; to sled all the way back down. While I sled down with a little caution (on a natural mountain track, your only barrier are the trees that line the hillside) there was not a moment you couldn’t see a grin across my face.
I have laid my exercise mat in the icy snow of my favourite nearby park to complete a good set of burpee frog jumps, lunges and high jumps (thanks Freeletics) and as a result, eat a good mouthful of snow.
I put on an awkward looking and even more awkward feeling pair of snowshoes to trek up untrodden tracks while listening to the mountain stories of a local.
And I hit the ground countless times as I made a brave attempt at cross-country skiing.
So, from someone who had only known winter to be a 15 degree sunny day, who’s winter wardrobe contained only one wool coat and who’s hands would be ice cold in 26 degree heat, you could say that I haven’t shied away from the German winter. By dressing warm enough, I’ve finally realised why so many Germans don’t seem to be bothered by getting out there and embracing winter.
But let’s not get too carried away here, over the last few grey days I have been constantly dreaming of the blazing sun on my skin, seeing the heat steam off the asphalt roads, the sand found at the bottom of every handbag and how much I’m definitely going to miss a truly sticky Australia Day celebration (code for lamingtons). Hurry up summer!
*Yes, I managed a little more than this – but there’s no need to talk it up too much…
And just like that, Christmas has come and gone. Just when the magical feeling finally manages to become a welcome distraction, I find myself taking my last bite of the Christmas pudding, wishing the past few days would extend a little longer.
This year however, we created something extra special, something for the books. This year saw two families unite for Christmas – my parents and younger brother flew from Sydney to join the Christmas rituals with Alex’s immediate family. And although this meant that the usual Sydney contingency was a little smaller than usual, we hope the crew will understand (perhaps not with all the tempting photos of snow and oversized portions of turkey we sent)…
Our german Christmas celebrations, in comparison to my Sydney celebrations, stretch over a few days – appropriately titled by Alex’s father as ‘the christmas rally’ – with multiple meals shared together, elaborate brunches, nights of singing and dancing until the candles burn out, walks in open fields, some Christmas socks, indulgences and the wish for snow. And given the extra special occasion this year, we had it all – including a good 20cm of snowfall overnight.
The rally officially kicks off on the eve of the 24th – with special family rituals and traditions – and usually ends on the 26th, known as the 2. Weihnachtstag (Stephan’s Tag / Boxing Day). This year we were lucky enough to extend this for another day – any excuse to let the rally continue.
I’ve infiltrated some “australiana” in to the festivities, for it wouldn’t be Christmas to me without the annual booze-filled Christmas cake and Christmas pudding (with lucky coin of course). And with the addition of mum’s true blue accent and dad’s recurring cry of “oh sheeeet” – the australiana was definitely present among the Stollen and tunes of Bach’s Christmas Oratorio. Since I’ve joined Alex’s family celebrations, Alex and I have taken responsibility over the official bird served on the 26th. This year it was a mega Turkey, served with baked sweet potato and Schmorkraut (sweetened sauerkraut) – boy it was good.
Rather than bantering on, I’ll leave you with a glimpse of the festivities while I go and burn off the extra something I’ve found around my waist.
I hope the festive days were just as special where you were – Happy Christmas, Frohe Weihnachten and bring on 2015!
Tomorrow at 12pm Oberbürgermeister (Lord Mayor) Dieter Reiter will mark the official begin of München’s most renowned annual event as he taps the first keg of Oktoberfest Bier in the Schottenhamel Bier tent, follows this with an “O’zapft’ is” and a good swig of his Maß.
Once tapped, the 13 other tents can begin to serve the München-brewed Bier to their thirsty guests.
For the next two weeks to follow, the sights and smells of the Oktoberfest will be ever-present throughout the city; throngs of tourists crowd the main train stations and the city centre, Tracht will be worn from dawn to dusk and the streets will buzz with groups of extra jolly, sometimes sweaty and most often tipsy, red-cheeked revellers.
Establishing home in a new country and ‘settling in’ takes time. Regardless of how long you find yourself away from where you once called home, there will always be times where you find yourself yearning for specific moments, people, routines and everyday scenes that ultimately typified ‘home’. Although it is slowly creeping towards the three year (!!!!!) mark since I lugged more than 30kg of cookbooks across the seas, I often dream of the small things that were my Sydney; my local barista remembering my coffee order, the daily chin-wag with commuter friends who’d catch the same train en route to work, and the city landmarks that were the highlight of memorable evenings…
The last few weeks have been intense. I had never thought I’d need to recover from a football (soccer for my fellow Aussies) tournament – as a mere spectator. Now I thought I knew what I was in for. Germany, is a football nation – a trip to the stadium will not only prove the devote commitment and passion of the fans but illustrate how talented the football professionals are. Having now earned their fourth star, the deutsche Mannschaft are a football force to be reckoned with.
Every Wednesday morning, I walk out of the apartment on my way to the station, to be greeted by the bright orange rubbish truck that slowly rumbles its way along the street. It’s fun to watch the routine of the brigade of orange-clad men as they hang off the back of the truck, hopping off in unison and dispersing to various houses.
Although I try to avoid walking past the truck (nothing like the waft of rubbish to kill any sense of a fresh morning) it is often the case that two of said trucks are making their rounds on both potential routes out of my street, making the pass-by unavoidable. Each time I walk past the orange brigade (with my breath held of course), I receive the most cheery ‘Guten Morgen!’ from all of them (such a greeting you would gladly welcome at the city’s local authorities office i.e. das Kreisverwaltungsreferat). I’m proud to say that I’ve put aside my cold Sydney ways and return the greeting with a smile and the pleasant reminder of unfamiliar friendliness. This is what I like about the Germans – they love to greet.
Australians are a little bit special – most of us carry something extra around with us, something that confuses a few but mostly adds a little spice to who we are.
I’ve always grown up saying I was an Aussie – and with my mum’s strong bush accent, and childhood stories she shared at the dinner table, it wasn’t hard for me to figure out where I came from. When I learnt that this wasn’t the whole story, things got interesting. With both grandparents and my father having made the 4 week journey by sea to Australia from Greece, deciding to make a life for themselves on the land of opportunity, it was obvious that there was something more to me. This became clear to me as my family intertwined small aspects of the Greek “ways of life” between the picket fence and Hills Hoist.
Germans know how to get into the spirit. When they celebrate something they go all out.
When invited to a themed party they will be without a doubt dressed appropriately from head-to-toe.
When they invite friends over for a ‘Grill- session’ they will ensure they have a surplus of cold beers available and extras on hand for just-in-case.
When going out to party you can be assured they won’t be home before the wee hours of the morning.
It is no surprise then that the annual celebration of Christmas is rejoiced with vivacity, as if one would think it wouldn’t return the next year. In this way you could say that the German spirit at Christmas gives meaning to the word festivities.
I’ve seen a few Christmases around the place – and I can say that while the effort put into the light displays on the homes of Sydney’s houses is astonishing, and despite how much I love the festive feeling throughout New York around Christmas – Germany takes the pretty light displays, decorated street lamps, ice rinks and the official town Christmas tree that one step further. The Weihnachtsmarkt transports these festivities to the next level.
Next month will mark 24 months in Germany. While in some respects it feels as if time has flown, after short reflection, I would say that I have managed to squeeze a lot out of these months, my main feat: embracing the German language.
Before I moved, my German consisted of a handful of words – Guten Tag, danke, Brot, Milch, über and schlafen – (evidently without the appropriate article), picked up during one term of German classes and my father’s obsession with asking for the ‘milch’ at the breakfast table.
Despite my limited knowledge of the language it didn’t deter me from moving to Germany; I knew I could somehow manage to work it out. This may have been because I wasn’t a stranger to a foreign language. Continue reading