This was my first Thanksgiving in Berlin. It’s really an American holiday, but given that there are so many American expats living in Berlin, chances are you’re only a few degrees separated from someone who’s throwing a turkey party. Insa studied in the US for a year and thus has several friends (who I’ve also since adopted as my friends) who are also American expats or also dating American expats. Since everybody loves an excuse to get together with friends and have good food, we decided to have Thanksgiving party the Saturday after actual Thanksgiving.
As an American, I often feel culturally gypped. There really aren’t that many cool cultural things that are uniquely “American” that I can share with people. The US has so many different subcultures and ethnicities covering such a large geographical region, it’s not really easy to point to something as being specifically “American.” Thanksgiving is fun in that it’s one of those US-centric holidays that you can share with friends from different countries and give them a cultural experience they haven’t had before.
In the US, Thanksgiving is very much a family holiday. You get together with your family, and often extended family,cook a large meal, drink, and make passive aggressive remarks about each other’s life choices. It’s funny, Insa told me that her perception of Thanksgiving is that it’s always a friends holiday. Whenever she’s celebrated it, it’s been with American friends who are away from their family and thus celebrating with their adopted families.
This Thanksgiving we were meeting at an American friend’s apartment with about 10 other people. Everyone had something they were bringing. Insa wanted to cook something healthy without a lot of sugar or butter in it. I told her that she didn’t really understand the concept of the holiday… We ended up making green bean casserole and glazed sweat potatoes.
In addition to our dish, other people brought mashed potatoes, glazed carrots, sauerkraut, three different types of stuffing, sweet potatoes covered in marshmellows, cornbread (OMG I forgot how much I missed cornbread), and of course we baked a turkey.
As a fun side activity before the meal was ready, we all made turkey hands art and hung it up on the wall. When the meal was served, we all went around the table and said what we were thankful for. After we were all disgusted with ourselves for how much we ate (an important cultural part of the holiday) we had some pumpkin pie, cherry apple pie, and double chocolate cake just to pile on the guilt. There’s a German word that’s very applicable: Fresskoma. (To pass out in a coma from eating too much. There’s an undertone of being like an animal as the root verb is fressen, which is when animals eat, as opposed to essen, which is when humans eat.)
The next morning, after sleeping off our food induced sickness, Insa and I got up to go explore one of the many Christmas markets in Berlin. There are several Christmas markets all over the city. Around mid November the decorations started going up everywhere. I first noticed the mall around my house:
The first market we went to was the one hosted on the grounds of the Charlottenburg Palace, an old Prussian palace from the 17th century.
Insa and I first stopped to get some apple gluhwein. The other gluhwein I had tasted very much like hot spiced red wine. Since this was apple gluhwein, it was just like hot apple cider but with a little bit of alcohol.
There were rows and rows of little shops and tents that you could walk up and down at this market. All of it was permeated by the smell of sugary things baking over wooden fires, hot ciders, roasting nuts, pine, and chocolate.
To top it all off, there was a live band playing classical Christmas songs. The Christmas markets are as much about eating delicious things as they are for shopping for Christmas gifts. About half the shops were food shops of various types. Insa kept eagerly leading me over to one shop or another to get me to try some new German treat I’d never heard of before.
I’m very much looking forward to seeing the other Christmas markets here in Berlin. Berlins seems to lend itself to Christmas well. Maybe it’s because I’ve always living in parts of the world where it doesn’t really get too overly cold for Christmas, but there’s something nice about being curled up inside with friends in a little apartment, sharing gluhwein and treats while the cold wind blows through the streets of Berlin over the holiday decorations and illuminated architecture of the city.