Saturday, December 28, 2013

Grey, rainy, windy days in Berlin

Maybe there is a reason for all those black overcoats and parkas that Germans wear: The color most likely reflects their mood. It's a mood that befits the weather, and the faces that accompany the mood speak volumes. Sunshine changes people's outlook, as do lit candles and glittery things that sparkle and reflect a child's smile. Well, I've seen fairly little of all that over the past week, since leaving Freising and Dortmund. Judging by their parkas and faces, Germans are a pathetically unhappy bunch.
Happiness has a different face

Sure, there was Christmas Eve, spent with most of my immediate family at my bother's first ex-wife's place. Since it was also my dad's 82nd birthday, it was a festive occasion, and there were those candles, and my 15-year-old nephew, who lives with Prader-Willi Syndrome, smiled a lot. We spent a harmonious evening, with a catered turkey that I first mistook for a small ostrich, and copious amounts of wine. The distribution of the gifts was interrupted at strategic times to allow the adults to take a smoke break in the kitchen—you can't just step outside when you live on the second floor of a Berlin Altbau without a balcony. Two smoke breaks equal lots of presents. It was a nice evening.
My nephew Jannick with some of his Christmas loot
The rest of the time that I have spent here has been fairly dull. Thanks to a heavy cold that I caught last week and that just now, finally, is starting to ease up, I limited my outdoor activities to daily walks around the neighborhood, mostly to escape the particulate-laden atmosphere in my dad's apartment. The stench of cheap cigarettes pervades everything, and when one has a cold, even a youth spent as a non-smoker in a smoking household won't make a difference. Sorry, but there is no diplomatic way around it: Staying with my dad for this one single reason is really a sacrifice. I hate this stench.
Dad and my brother (plus a friend, rolling a cig) in front of a Polish tobacco shop
Cigarettes are not cheap. I have no idea what they cost in the US, but last night I saw in the supermarket that a pack of 20 cigs costs a whopping 5 euro, or just a tiny bit shy of $7. Ouch. So my clever clan once in a while makes an excursion to nearby Poland (about 100 km, or 60 miles) to buy tobacco products as well as some of that well-seasoned polish sausage. Cigarettes cost less than half as in Germany, and since there is a limit to how many cartons one can bring back per person my presence was put to good use as I increased the customs-allowed limits. Oh well. Sightseeing was not part of our excursion, outside of the depressing market where live fish and inexpensive haircuts are other attractions.
Live trout, carp (a Christmas delicacy!) and other fresh fish
It's all in the display ...
A Polish barber shop
So, if my Christmas break comes across as a bit of a downer, well, you read this post correctly. But dad is 82, and I know that the opportunities to spend some time with him are dwindling rapidly. Berlin certainly is not the Caribbean (and most definitely not at this time of the year), and wrestling with a nasty cold is not going to help, either. Once again I realize how difficult, no, impossible it would be for me to return to this environment for not just long but forever. Nothing like a healthy dose of reality once in a while.
The x-mas trees haven't started to fall from the balconies yet, but this mattress did.
Viewed right in front of my dad's apartment in Neuk

One wouldn't think one's in the capital of one of the globe's most prosperous nations.
Alas, in 48 hours I will be back in the air, finishing off this year's flight mile # 100,000 while heading back to Lubbock, where my home is, thankfully. I am looking forward to 2014, which I will ring in with friends on Tuesday night. I certainly won't cry any big tears when 2013 is finally done. Happy New Year to you and yours!


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