I’m back home in Germany after visiting the US for Christmas. It feels nice to say that. Berlin really does feel like home now. It was good to see my family again after so long, though I was really stressed out an anxious almost the entire time I was in the US. Columbia, South Carolina feels like the exact opposite of Berlin in just about every way. Columbia is a small conservative town with not much going on, Berlin is a large liberal city where there is always something happening. Everything just felt so small all of a sudden in Columbia. The streets, the buildings, the possibilities. The only thing that felt larger in Columbia was the distance. Since the place is a lot less dense then Berlin, everything felt more open.
I spent most of my time just outside of town at my parent’s new place. It was a new location for me and so it was neutral. Going back into town was stressful for personal reasons as there were a lot of ghosts and locations from past lives there. Luckily I didn’t run into anyone I didn’t want to and my exposure to those locations was minimal. I met up with 3 people who knew I was back in town on separate occasions to have coffee and chat about life.
While downtown I remembered the American conservatives/patriotism I had left behind:
The picture above (in a sandwich shop my family stopped in) was a particularly ridiculous bit of “ra! ra! go team!” propaganda. The image is an overlay of 3 separate images: The backdrop of Columbia, SC, combined with the American flag and two soldiers vaguely saluting something. Militarism and patriotism are inextricably intertwined in the conservative south. To talk negatively of the military-industry complex can be misconstrued as to talk against the individual soldiers and is a terrible, terrible sin. It’s sad how energetic and supportive people can be about meaningless gestures like flag waving and this stupid picture, but when it comes to actually taking care of the military veterans and their families, the US practically kicks them to the curb.
But I digress.
There was one thing about the US that I miss and really enjoy, and I took advantage of being in town to pick it back up again:
I also enjoyed driving around again, even though the weather was shitty most of the time I was there:
It was really great to see the dogs again. I was afraid they wouldn’t recognize me, but they did. And they immediately wanted to go out on a walk. Typical. They didn’t sleep in my bed with me though. Even though I had been gone for 10 months, they still follow my dad around like shadows.
Fortunately after Christmas the weather warmed up a bit. It was 15 degrees (60 Fahrenheit) and sunny. Some of the family went out back and played cornhole.
When I came to Berlin for the first time, I brought with my only the bare essentials I thought I would need to start out. I had a lot of things I wanted to bring but couldn’t. My suitcases were mostly empty going back to the US. I filled them up with stuff that I could now house in my apartment.
I had two full size luggage bags and a hiking backpack as a carry on. Even with all this space it was extremely difficult to decide what to bring back. I have years upon years of stuff sitting in boxes at my parent’s house. It was a bit of a mindfuck going through some of those boxes. It felt very much like going through the belongings of someone who had passed away. They were my things but they belonged to someone who was me and not me at the same time. My life and interests now are so different from my life and interests previously that you can’t tell we’re the same person. My criteria ultimately came down to “I’m only taking it if it is something highly sentimental, unique, or something I absolutely can’t get in Germany.” I ended up with about 136 lbs of stuff.
Flying back to Berlin, it felt like ages had passed. I was afraid I had forgotten how to speak German. I was nervous to see if the little plastic card the immigration office gave me would grant me access back into my adopted home. (Thankfully it did) I got my bags, took a taxi, and was welcomed back to a snowy Berlin.
I was super excited for my first Berlin snow! Snow was always a rare thing growing up. I grew up on the ocean in Virginia. When it snowed, the salt in the air from the ocean kept the snow from really sticking and we would seldom get out of school while all the other kids had the day off. The snow was great to look at, and it made staying inside feel amazing. I quickly found how irritating it is to walk through on my way to work. I almost slipped and busted my ass several times. (I’ve since bought special attachable snow cleats for my boots, so I’ll see how that helps)
New Years in Berlin
I was always told that new years in Berlin was insane. Most fireworks are legal here. Lots of people buy them cheap from Poland which is relatively close near by. I was warned to stay out of the U-bahn trains as punk kids would often light fireworks and throw them into the train right as the doors were closing.
Insa and I decided to do a really low-key get together at her place. We cooked dinner, played games, and later went out to the park near her apartment to set off fireworks.
A really big tradition in Germany on new years eve is to watch a British 1963 comedy sketch “Dinner for one.” Seriously, this is the weirdest thing. Almost nobody in the English-speaking world has heard of this sketch. It’s not even particularly funny. I mean, it’s ok, but it has an insane cult following in Germany and other parts of Europe. They literally play the same sketch (in English) over and over again on TV all throughout new years eve. Seriously. It’s bizarre!
Another tradition Insa shared with me is the new year’s Berliner. It’s basically a large cream filled donut that you eat on new years day.
But perhaps the strangest traditions Insa introduced me to is Bleigießen, a tradition I swear was invented by heroin addicts. You have a metal spoon that you hold over a flame and melt little lead figurines with. You then quickly take the molten lead and toss it into a bowl of water. You then examine the shape the now hard lead takes and use this to predict your future.
After we had predicted our futures with the heroin addict’s tradition, we got our coats and shoes and bravely ventured outside. (Around 11pm) The place already was sounding like a war zone. It was a misty night in Berlin and the mist mixed with the smoke to create a kind of fog that smelled of sulfur. Later in the evening this firework fog was so thick that you seriously could not see more than 10 feet in front of you.
We went up to the park on a hill near Insa’s apartment and there was already a large number of people standing around shooting off fireworks in ways that just seemed insanely dangerous to me. (But then I grew up in a place where fireworks were illegal and we were given the impression that sparklers would instantly start a wild fire and kill everyone in your town, or at least burn your eyes out)
The place really did sound like an intense firefight was raging all around the city. I took this video, but it doesn’t really give it justice. This was a little ways behind where I and my friends were standing. We were on the edge of an open field that people were firing things into. (Warning, it’s loud)
Here is a better video of a guy driving around the streets of Berlin. It’s also insane what people are just doing in the streets.
The next morning we heard on the radio that the Berlin emergency services were called 1,300 times that night. 2 people died from illegal fireworks. What’s also insane is that the top floor of the building Insa’s liquorice shop is in caught fire!
Nobody was hurt, but the people living in the building are screwed. I think a rouge firework came into the window and set the place ablaze. Insa’s shop is closed for the time being while they investigate.
We all survived just fine and made it back to the apartment with our eyes and toes intact. It was a fun night! When the sun came up, you could see just how trashed the place was…
(We think the car was destroyed on purpose, as part of a party and not as an act of vandalism)
Spent (and unspent) fireworks just littered the street, along with broken glass and other kinds of trash. Insa and I took a walk to my place to get some fresh air and we could still hear intermittent explosions as people light their remaining fireworks or found unlit fireworks on the street. After four days, things are slowly getting cleaned up and returning to normal.
In other life news…
Come February I will have been in Berlin for 1 year! I’m thinking about throwing a mini party with my friends. I will also then be looking for a new apartment. Now that I have a well paying job in Berlin, I’d like to find a place of my own that I can move into. Finding a place will be insane though. More on that later. Work is going well, though this month will be crazy. We’re moving over 100 people to a new office we’re building. It’s a multi-million dollar project and four other engineers are flying in from different countries to help me do it. Looking forward to finally being settled in a new office and a new apartment here in my new home!