Christmas in Germany. Sounds like a dream, doesn’t it? For us, visiting our daughter in Berlin, it was a dream come true, but it was also nearly an overdose.
Germans know how to celebrate the holidays, and as we were welcomed with open arms by Danielle’s host parents Jörg and Antje Parthen, we quickly realized that the celebration would be a marathon of delectable food and fine drinks, led by, of course, beer.
We flew on Dec. 22, and our milk run itinerary took us from Billings to Denver (and an OJ Simpson Hertz commercial run through the airport), to Munich, then after customs, on to Berlin where, luckily, the Schönefeld Flughafen (airport) is only five minutes away from the Parthens’ home, which is tucked away down a narrow alleyway in the Schönefeld district of south Berlin.
My first task upon arrival was to select from four choices the beer that we would drink during our time at Maria, Jörg and Antje’s house. This was important business, and I nervously sampled each one, eliminated two, and lucked out by choosing, with just a bit of prompting, Jörg’s favorite. This set the tone for the weekend, which included numerous rounds of beer interchanged with good food.
Germans celebrate Christmas Eve over Christmas Day, and our Dec. 24 was wonderful as we joined with Maria and her family to celebrate. After breakfast of sausages, eggs, cheese and great bread, we went with Jörg for a Parthen Christmas tradition: the selection of a fish for the mid-day meal. We drove to the Dahme River and met a fisherman, who provided us with a Karpfen (carp) fresh out of the water.
After beating the fish over the head, the fisherman cleaned the fish and wrapped it in newspaper. Upon our arrival back at the house, Antje commenced with scaling the fish, which elicited several grimaces and “ewes” from Antje and one shriek when the fish flopped around with still firing nerves.
Soon, however, the fish was in the oven, and we began to trim the tree, always done on Dec. 24, not earlier. The Parthens’ tree, trimmed by Maria and Danielle, was simple but beautiful.
We enjoyed the fish dinner and opened presents, then had coffee and cake. Later, we had a pork dinner, and there was, of course, more beer and, at one point, we drank Grog tea, which was tea sweetened with rum. We would take a sugar cube, pour rum on it, then light the cube on fire, which caramelized the sugar. We then stirred the rum/caramelized sugar into the tea. It was delicious.
We enjoyed a little wooden smoking man, where incense would be placed inside and the spicy smoke would come out of his mouth. The family also had delicate wooden twirling decorations that spun due to the heat of candles from below.
It was a delightful day, enjoyed with a family full of love for each other and affection for us. It gave us a renewed sense that Danielle is in a great place for her nine months in Germany.
On Christmas day, we enjoyed a quiet day with Maria’s family that included more great food, including a duck dinner, then moved on to Sophie’s house. Sophie, our first German daughter, has a large extended family, and we always enjoy a large and jovial gathering with our German friends, only a few of whom speak much English. But we always manage to communicate, thanks to translations from Sophie, her step-father Jörg, and our own new German speaker Danielle, and the good will expressed crosses all language barriers. A night with Sophie’s family is always a highlight of any trip to Berlin for us.
This was the more active portion of our trip, and we enjoyed seeing parts of the city with Danielle and Sophie, with son Lennox in tow, during the day, then activities at night like the dazzling Palazzo circus/dinner theater and the opera Hansel and Gretel. We shopped the German Christmas village with its many shopping stalls in Alexanderplatz, toured the nearly 800-year-old Church of St. Nicholas, walked around the ultra-modern Potsdamer Platz with the marvelous Sony Center and myriad shops and walked the Warschauer Strasse district, with its eclectic, multi-ethnic mix of people. We also enjoyed seeing Sophie’s salon, called, fittingly, Sophie’s, and we ate a Turkish doner kebab – a must for any visit to Berlin.
On Wednesday, we made the short drive to the Schönefeld Airport again with Sophie and Lennox, Danielle having left earlier to meet us in Salzburg, then boarded our flight to Austria. It is always so sad to say goodbye to Sophie, our loving daughter from Berlin, but her family says they are planning to visit Lovell next Christmas. We could have a house full of Germans a year from now, and that would be wonderful.
Next week: Our visit to Salzburg.