This Christmas was the first Christmas I’ve celebrated outside of the US and my family.

Before Insa and I left for Switzerland we went to a Scandinavian Christmas market. I say Scandinavian because there are often lots of themed Christmas markets in Berlin. This one happened to have lots of shops with goods from Scandinavian countries.

It was hosted in a place called the “Kulturbrauerei” (culture brewery). The space has kind of a 19th/early 20th century industrial feel to it. There are lots of theaters and artwork artwork centers around and the open square area was used to host the Christmas market.

When you live in such a large city like Berlin, there are often islands of memory from your first days in a place before you started to really fill in a mental map of where you were. The Kulturbrauerei was one such island. The moment I walked in it struck me “Oh! I’ve been here before!” It was the place where I had gone with another friend to see her sister’s improve theater preform with visiting American actors, one of whom happened to be the voice of Pam from the TV show Archer.

Most notable at this Christmas market was the the moose sausage! I tried one and it tasted like horse. (Yes, I accidentally bought horse sausages one time and ate them anyways to see what it tasted like.) If you haven’t had moose (or horse for that matter) it tastes more….earthy? than beef.

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In addition to the normal Glühwein to keep people warm, there were these special chairs:

It’s a hot water radiator with a bit of wood on top of it that you sit on, and then there’s a big heavy coat suspended above the radiator that you put your arms through. It wasn’t turned on while we were there because this winter has been really warm as far as winters in Berlin go. (mostly 10-15 degrees or in the mid 40’s 50’s)

Berlin really gets quiet when it comes closer to Christmas. So many people leave the city to go visit family, and many people take the week before and after Christmas off. Going into work, the ubahns were fairly empty.

Here’s something interesting: The Germans celebrate Christmas starting in the afternoon of the 24th, and then have two more days of Christmas on the 25th and 26th. They open all their presents on the night of the 24th and not the morning of the 25th like I’m used to. When I was growing up We were allowed to open one present on the night of the 24th and that was it.

The 24th is kind of like a half-day for Germans. Some people might go into work for a little bit, but around 2pm everything shutsdown for the next three days!

I wasn’t really aware of this when using up the last of my vacation time, so I only took the 24th off to travel, instead of leaving earlier on the 23rd.

On the morning of the 24th, we got up around 6am and made our way to the airport. The ubahn only takes us so far to the edge of town, at which point we have to catch a bus to the airport. This bus stop is kind of funny to me. It’s a normal bus stop in a normal part of town, but to me, I’m only ever at this bus stop when it’s dark and cold (because it’s early in the morning and I’m going to the airport.) My only experience with this one particular bus stop is that of a lonely, chilly island enveloped in darkness, existing somewhere disconnected from space and time.

The trip to Zurich doesn’t take very long, about an hour and a half by plane. When we landed, Insa’s sister was there to pick us up and drive us the rest of the way. The Zurich airport always has something cool. Check this out: They have red and green lights above all the parking spaces in the parking garage so you know where a spot is open. The moment a car pulls into a spot, the light changes from green to red.

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I wanted to bring a Christmas tradition of my own with me, so I had my mom ship over some large red stockings. We normally fill these with candy, gift cards, small toys, and hygiene products and hang them over the fireplace, but Insa’s dad’s place doesn’t have a fireplace, so I had to make due with a piece of furniture. I also could only think of a crap ton of candy to put in the stockings, and a toothbrush, so I’m sure I sent the Germans a very mixed signal when it comes to this tradition.

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Insa’s dad isn’t really big on Christmas trees, which is fine, so Insa brought a little wooden one we setup on the table and surrounded with presents.

For dinner we did raclette and then later played more boardgames. (Which I lost all of…again)

The next morning we got up and went for a walk in the countryside after breakfast. Sadly there’s no snow on the ground here in this part of Switzerland, it’s been too warm. The countryside was beautiful nonetheless and the air was very clear and crisp.

While walking though the forest I saw what seemed to be a large blocky shape overgrown with trees. As we walked close to it, to my surprise and excitement, it was an old WWII era bunker!

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It turns out there is a whole line of them around this area. They never saw combat but were still in use until 1995! You can’t go in them, but I was able to peer through a hole in the door with my flashlight and see what was inside two of them!

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We were near a farm, so Insa wanted to stop and see the cows getting brushed.

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After walking through the forest and exploring the old bunkers, we drove down to the lakeside to have some coffee and black forest cherry cake.

The rest of the evening was just board games and more raclette. All in all very relaxed and enjoyable. This morning we got up early to go get breakfast inside the town. It was very foggy which gave a great ambiance to the quiet streets decorated in Christmas accouterments.

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We’re staying here until after new years. I’m expecting new years will also be a lot more relaxed and affair than in Berlin. Last year Berlin was like a warzone with all the fireworks and huge crowds of people. Something more chilled out sounds really nice.