FIRST! I would like to apologize for it taking so long to get this up here! But I would like to wish everyone all the best in the New Year!
I think that possibly the coolest thing about been in Germany around Christmas time is the concept of the Weihnachtsmarkt. They are everywhere and I certainly made sure to try and see as many as I could. In total, I think I visited ten different markets in three countries (Austria, Germany, France). I think that Glühwein is a gift from God to the nice people of the world, along with Käsewurst and Schumpfnudeln (sp?) with Sauerkraut. Not to mention, having the markets in the city is just such a gorgeous addition that it helps you forget that the weather is getting colder. The cities become decorated in lights and trees and figurines all relating to the various Christmas traditions.
During December I kept myself busy in order to not think about how close I was to a break. The Weihnachtsmarkts certainly helped. I only had one final in December, in a compact French course. I really wasn’t in the mood to study, so instead I decided to go to France for the afternoon and consider that my studying. The joy of living in Freiburg is that we are only about half an hour from the French border and an hour and a half from both Colmar and Strasbourg. I went to Colmar with a few friends and learned how to order Gluehwein (Vin Chaud) and crepes in French! It was a productive day. We also learned that the French really don’t like speaking any other language! We went to the train station there because my friend needed to settle something with a ticket to France where we ran into the problems that a) the lady spoke no English or German and b) they had already switched all of their technology over and no longer excepted credit cards without chips and pins. Regardless, we had a nice day wandering around and came back to Freiburg in the evening.
On top of that, I went and saw the Schiller play: Die Raeuber, in German in Rastatt, a town about an hour and a half from here. We made a day out of it, wandering through both Offenburg and Rastatt. The only problem was getting back, I left it to a friend of mine to plan the excursion as it was his idea… Unfortunately, he didn’t pay close enough attention to the train schedule and our only option getting back was to take the ICE, which would have cost another 30euros. We were certainly not too pleased about this option, so we decided to try and play dumb and take it without paying.. it didn’t work. Lessons learned: Deutsche Bahn employees aren’t as stupid as they look and if you are going to try and pretend to not speak German, don’t answer their questions in English.
As Christmas approached, the International Office here had a traditional Christmas dinner for all of the exchange students here without other programmes to take care of them. We were invited. There was a lovely buffet at the restaurant underneath the Rathaus (town hall) complete with German specialties like pork roast and spaetzle.
Another German “cultural” experience was one of the WG parties we attended shortly before the break. With a theme of “childhood heroes” we all searched our closets for anything close to a childhood hero, showing up as faeries and members of the Flintstones. The party included an open bar and we didn’t leave until 6am when my roommate fell asleep on the couch. We also made a wonderful discovery that morning, the McDonalds at the Hauptbahnhof still serves cheeseburgers and fries at 6am.
The majority of my Christmas break was spent in Berlin with a friend of mine. I decided that “cost-effective” would be my motto for travelling. It worked! I spent 14euros round trip. Unfortunately for me though, it was at the expensive of my time. The Deutsche Bahn is not a fan of snow. This I can say now with the utmost confidence. I travelled with the Regiobahns or regional trains that stop about every 10 minutes in small towns. It was supposed to take just under 14 hours and 6 trains to get to Berlin from Freiburg. It took about 16 hours and 10 trains. I don’t recall a single train being on time. I honestly thought that that was the worst of it. I was wrong. The way back was certainly something special. I chose the snowiest day to travel back and the trains certainly expressed their disapproval as well. The 14 hour journey turned into 23. I think two hours of that was spent in Sandersleben, a town that I think is so small that the Sanders family is probably the only one that lives there. We were stuck there because a tree fell on the tracks thanks to the storm. We were delayed even longer waiting for the tracks to be cleared just in time for another tree to fall. Needless to say, we ended up turning around and going back to Magdeburg and rerouting. I was very happy to see my bed after having to have slept on the platform in Karlsruhe.
Berlin itself however, was wonderful! I stayed with my friend John in the Studentendorf in the Metropolis of Schlachtensee about an hour outside of the city. We spent the first few days enjoying the Christmas atmosphere in Berlin which was, well, cold… but very pretty! It was about -15 when I got to Berlin, luckily most of it was a little warmer than that. We visited many of the Markets in the city and around and spent a lot of time catching up. Christmas Eve is the big celebration day in Germany and we wanted to try and cook up something for it. We finally agreed that a duck would suffice. Neither of us had ever cooked up a duck before and the only oven we had access to was a portable Backofen that kind of resembled a toaster oven. It was definitely a success though! We stuffed the duck with parsley, garlic, and butter and covered it in olive oil. It was delicious. We ate with about ten other international students that were in the building for the holidays and combined our duck with dishes from India, Africa, and other European nations to make up quite a feast. We followed dinner up with a little bit of a party and it certainly made for a new experience for Christmas as it was my first away from my family.
One thing that is important to learn about living in another country is about holidays and how they will affect your day to day living. An example of this would be Boxing Day! At home, Boxing Day is probably the biggest shopping day of the year! You can get everything, including the kitchen sink, and usually for a discount. In Germany however, Boxing Day is the “Zweiten Weihnachtstage” or second Christmas Day. In this spirit, people usually stay home with their families and enjoy the season… John and I did not know this, and thus, did not prepare for the grocery stores to also be closed. We found some nice restaurants and went for some nice walks as the timing happened to put Boxing Day on a Saturday and then the stores were still closed on Sunday.
We took the advantage of the time between Christmas and New Years to explore some of Berlin. We went to Schloss Charlottenburg were we found that the Weihnachtsmarkt was still open! We went for a drink of two in Kreuzburg, wandered around Stadtmitte, and took a trip to Potsdam and saw the Schloss there as well. I hear that it is supposed to be much more beautiful with the gardens in bloom so I think I will have to go back in the summer. Although, I must say, we did find some delicious döners there!
I had heard from many people that New Year’s Eve in Berlin was supposed to be one of the best in the world and was really excited. It certainly delivered on that expectance. We had countless places to go and bring in the New Year, but we decided on the big street party that stretched the two kilometres on the Strasse der 17 Juli between Brandenburger Tor and the Freedom Statue. It was freezing cold and the snow had started up again but the atmosphere made it so worthwhile. There were early fireworks already going off, the streets were lined with hundreds of thousands of people but it didn’t feel crowded and there were vendors selling food and drinks and souvenirs all down the street. They had bands playing in front of the Tor and a screen set up in front of a ferris wheel at the half way mark. There was a booming countdown and then the whole sky lit up with fireworks. It was amazing. Simply amazing.
As my internet does not particularly appreciate uploading anything, I will attach the link to my facebook page for photos 🙂