Germany Part 1: German Christmas

My sincerest apologies that it took me until January 5 to write about Christmas, but in my defense, I’ve been busy with all the things that will be disclosed in parts 1 and 2 of Germany: the Mini Series.

Part 1 took place in Kiel, where I had previously spent 10 weeks over two trips in high school. I stayed with the Mörkes, AKA my German family, which isn’t really an exaggeration at all. Three of us remarked separately after I arrived that it felt like I’d never left, and it did. It’s just like going home, except there’s no dogs and everyone speaks German.

It wasn’t exactly like it used to be; I mean, of course it wouldn’t be after three years. The most noticeable change was the absence of Luise, who was in Gretna at the very same time as I was in Kiel, celebrating with my family and stealing my dog’s love away from me.

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It’s FINE.

The other absence was that of Püppi, who sadly passed away over the summer. I’m devastated that I didn’t get to see her one more time, but I think that’s probably the way she wanted it. Ours was a relationship characterized by unrequited love, which is probably why I love her so much. She was the quintessential cat: chubby, fussy, and cuddly when the mood suited her. I also heard a new story about her when I was there, that she liked to sit in front of the wood burning stove in winter, and if they took too long to light it up she’d start meowing at them to get a move on.

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But aside from those two things, Kiel was in many ways the same as when I’d left it, which was rather comforting. Even if I didn’t go home to the U.S. for Christmas, I still was at home in Germany with family, and it was wonderful.

What is German Christmas like, you probably didn’t ask? A lot like American Christmas, except less tacky, largely due to the absence of our dear friend Frosty the Snowman. It also involves a lot of melty cheese, as both cheese fondue and raclette are traditional dishes eaten around the winter holidays. I don’t think I need to emphasize here how happy this made me.

Also traditional fare for Christmas Eve dinner is kartoffelsalat (potato salad) and wurst for half of Germany, and for the other half is a fancy meal like we usually eat in the States. Olaf, my host father, is from the kartoffelsalat and wurst camp, and Annette, my host mom, is firmly entrenched in the other. And since she does the cooking, she always wins. However, my presence as a vegetarian sparked what I’m given to understand is the biggest change in Mörke Christmas tradition: we had for Christmas Eve chestnut soup, kartoffelsalat, wurst, and falafel. Luise and Urs were shocked and horrified. Olaf was overjoyed. Annette was resigned. I was delighted because it was all delicious.

So Christmas Eve, we had German breakfast with the neighbors in the morning, where Annette and Olaf became Lady and Laird of Glencoe, courtesy of their neighbors who bought them a square foot of land, and where I experienced the best of German breakfast, which is already the best of breakfast. I really didn’t intend to spend so much time talking about the food, but it’s just so good. And coming from Iceland, where everything is expensive and/or fish and the cheese is terrible, made it all even better.

But anyway, on with Christmas Eve. We went to a Christmas Eve church service that was mostly singing plus a sermon that I didn’t really follow except that I heard Trump’s name mentioned and felt personally attacked, then went home for dinner, Skyping with America, and opening presents, since Germans do that Christmas Eve night instead of Christmas morning. I think the nephews I met in Güttingen learned to appreciate their own traditions when they realized that if they lived in America, they’d have to wait an extra 12 hours for presents.

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So, awash in the glow of Christmas tree candles and the warm wishes of socialism radiating from the Marx angel, we exchanged gifts that originated from three countries all gathered under one roof. It was there that I learned the Mörke equivalent of the Schollaert certificate tradition, where instead of a certificate for a gift Olaf could not/did not obtain in time for the holiday in question, he carves a little model of the gift. It kind of makes our gift certificates look lame(r).

I was still able to introduce some of our Christmas traditions, most importantly the annual viewing of A Christmas Story. We watched it on the 23rd rather than the 24th, but it was a big hit with everyone. And even better, some traditions were shared between families. For example, my Advents Calendar gifts (which are more or less equivalent to our stocking stuffers back home) included a Baileys shooter and a lottery scratch ticket, both of which have been appearing in Schollaert stockings for years. And I even won 1 euro on my lottery ticket, which Olaf correctly and topically called my “major award!”

Christmas Day, Olaf’s daughter Steffi and her boyfriend came over for a walk down to the lighthouse and raclette dinner. The weather was not ideal, but nonetheless comforting for me because I had been seeing way more of the sun than I find appropriate after five months in Iceland. And the sea is beautiful regardless of the weather.

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After our brisk and windy walk, we returned home to prepare the raclette for dinner. If you are unfamiliar with raclette, let me explain. Everyone gets a little shovel, wherein you place a slice of raclette cheese specifically cut for this small shovel, and your toppings of choice– things along the lines of onions, bacon, ham, mushrooms, etc. Then you put your tiny shovel into the raclette oven until it gets all molten and gooey, then you eat it with potatoes, then you give yourself a little smack in the face to make sure you’re alive and awake instead of in heaven/a dream.

Other highlights of the week included meeting Bella, the girlfriend of my friend Liza from high school, who was at my house for Thanksgiving when I was not. It was a little funny to both of us that we had to go all the way to Germany to meet, but since Bella is from there it was slightly less random than it might have been. I also got to have coffee with Lea, my other amazing exchange partner from high school, and then dinner with her and her parents the day between returning from Güttingen and my flight back to Reykjavík. I won’t go into the details of our conversations; suffice it to say that it was a grand time.

I also used a lot of German over the two weeks I was in Germany– go figure. I would like to sum up the progression of my language skills with two tweets: one from the beginning and one from the end of my stay:

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Stay tuned for part 2 of Germany, coming soon!

Update: Part 2 is here. Bonus Germany blog is here.

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