A moving Christmas story from a guy I’ve been following for some time. Enjoy.
Twas the last weekend before Christmas
And all through the town
It felt almost tropical
There was no ice around.
Not a snowflake had fallen
Only rain fell in sheets
Like any spring evening
There were puddles on the streets.
No mulled wine stand was crowded
Everyone preferred a cold beer
Short sleeves were in fashion
Although Christmas was near.
Wool hats and wool stockings
Hung unsold and forlorn
Wasted coats from New Zealand’s finest
That had not needed to be shorn.
Green leaves still stuck to branches
The ice rink was a pool
There was no frost or snow
The weather was balmy, not at all cool.
Rather than roasting a fowl
We’re thinking of eating lighter fare
Something much more summer-like
Like a steak cooked medium rare
But winter is surely coming
Yes it’ll come soon we know
Sometime around Easter
We’ll have our first and last snow.
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!
I was feeling much in the Christmas spirit, so I decided to donate my old TV and the piece of furniture it stood on for the last decade to some local, less-fortunate inhabitants of this fair burg. Also, my wife had been pestering me for a few months that she wanted it out of our apartment and that putting it in the cellar was NOT an option. The two things collided.
So I did what any samaritan would do. I walked a circumventive route and placed the TV in a tunnel that runs under a major road near our apartment, making sure the whole time that nobody saw me do it. It was wrapped up in a blue IKEA bag, with a remote control, and a cable. Merry Christmas.
We live in a nice neighborhood in Munich, an equally desirable location for expats and natives alike. The area is very middle-class. Before we moved here a few months ago we lived in an area that is celebrated for its ‘cultural diversity’, code words for a large immigrant population, a methadone clinic, and blocks of social housing. We loved that neighborhood, too, however, just not for the same reasons that we love this neighborhood.
One of the things we loved about the old neighborhood was there were plenty of children (immigrant children, of course, since Germans have general apathy to too many progeny), which meant there were always plenty of goodies at the bi-annual community flea markets. We were always trying to pick up cheap toys, used books, kitchen utensils, etc.
One of the more interesting things we’ve learned about life here in Munich compared to our former lives in America is that if you wait for the after-the-flea-market sale, you sometimes can get some good things dirt cheap. Like free. That’s right, here in Munich, one of the richest cities in the world, people leave their old used worn-out stuff on the streets for others to take. And take it they do.
Now, I’m not sure if the taking of things is because people are struggling more than we think just to pay the bills, or it’s the more likely possibility of Germans’ legendary frugality manifesting itself in this behavior. Or perhaps it’s as simple as good old-fashioned laziness. Whatever the reason, most people I’ve spoken to think it’s a great thing.
One thing is for sure, it is the best, most direct way to recycle, though it does little for the bottom line of the economy. This throws conservative Americans into a tizzy, since consumerism is the pathway to Heaven. The Germans use less but buy better quality. I digress.
The first and last Sunday mornings of any month are the best time to go sidewalk bargain hunting. These are the days that normally follow Saturday moving day, most new renting agreements naturally begin on the first of the month. Another difference is, unlike in America where tossed furniture, kitchen appliances and old bicycles normally are found at the end of a long dark road to nowhere, here in Munich they are left just off the main traffic areas. They can be procured on side streets too, it’s really just a game of luck. There is no real organization which is about as exciting as it gets for Germans.
Here in Munich you have to take your old things to the Wertstoffhof (recycling center), where you may or may not be asked to show a valid residency permit with your current address, to make sure that one, you are allowed to dispose of your stuff in Munich and two, to determine if you’ve brought them to the correct center for your ZIP code. If you have all of these things then you are directed to the correct container (there are about 30 different containers-no shitting), by a gruff Bavarian man (always a Bavarian) who reeks of Leberkäse and cigarettes.
I have also been the recipient of the deep discounting deals on the pavements as well. Recently, my wife and I were walking with our daughter and came across a basic shelf which fit perfectly in a little nook we have in our apartment. A thorough cleaning, a coat of lacquer and a few well-placed tacks in the back and, poof, we now are the proud doting parents of a ‘brand new’ shelf.
But like anything in life that’s good, there are limits. Last week the city finally came and removed a completely banged up fridge from the sidewalk around the corner. The police had placed a note on it, asking the owners to please remove it. It sat on the sidewalk, untouched, for about three weeks. Rumor has it that the old owners are back in Romania or Bulgaria already, so the city had to take it away.
Translated from the original
Dear Chancellor Merkel,
I know Saint Nicholas and Santa aren’t real, so Poppa said I should ask you to help. Here’s my wish list for Christmas.
Recently, my school class began a project to learn about government. It is boring for many. But not me – I like it. My Poppa talks about politics often at dinner. My mommy does too. My older sister just rolls her eyes, but I listen to what they say.
Poppa says that governments should do for the people what they cannot do for themselves. This sounds very good. Since we cannot afford a Porsche, and my Poppa wants one, can you get him a Porsche for Christmas?
You are the only leader of Germany I have ever known, though we did learn about some man from Austria who did many bad things. He had a funny moustache and I can see him on the TV every weekend when my Poppa watches it. My Poppa watches because he is fascinated that so many smart people followed the man with the funny moustache. I think the name of the Austrian man was Rudolph Hitler.
My Poppa says that you can become one of the greatest chancellors in the history of Germany. I would like that very much. But Poppa says you have much work to do. I may not recall everything he’s said but I will try and remember.
Firstly, our internet is too slow for Poppa to work at home comfortably without stress. He works at home so Mommy can continue her career. It is very difficult for Mommy to work and have children. She says some people call her a ‘Rabenmutter’. I don’t know what that is exactly but she doesn’t like it and she says English swear words to the people who say it to her. Can you fix the internet and make it easier for women to have children and careers? We don’t have enough children from Germany anymore. Can you make it easier on women and give them more incentive to have children? Maybe more people could work from home like my Poppa.
My Mommy works for a transport company. She says it now takes two hours for some trucks to drive 30 km because the bridges don’t support heavy weight. Can you fix that?
Secondly, my Poppa says that too many people are afraid of immigrants. He says that we need immigrants, so we can become stronger like America. Poppa says that many immigrants who come here have a university diploma (he says that’s good), and are able to bring many skills to Germany. This sounds like it might help Germany. Poppa says that many people who come to this nice country don’t feel welcome enough. Can you help them feel more welcome?
Poppa also says that the European Union (EU) is good. I don’t know what a union is exactly, except I know you’re in a Christian Democrat Union, and Mommy’s favorite politician ever, Franz Josef Strauss, was also in a union. So unions must be good.
Poppa also says that for the EU to work properly, Germany has to take a more leading role. Germany should take the lead in policy, in military, in economics. If the rest of Europe doesn’t like it they should do more. But Poppa says since we have the strongest economy and the most money, we get to drive the car.
Thirdly, we need to continue to help the animals and the planet by being green. Mommy says it may cost more money ‘upfront’, but the long-term benefits of using renewable energies are big. Mommy also says the less gas we must buy from Russia the better. She says we should also continue to try and influence other eastern European countries to join our union.
Finally, Poppa says generally we Germans need to be more assertive, and not so risk adverse. I’m not sure what that means exactly, but Poppa says it often. Can you be more assertive? Our history is just that. We can expect to be included in all the important decisions of the world. Decisions not only in Europe, but in Asia and Africa too. We should show the world how we Germans can do things. But it will mean that we must do some things in the world that cost us money and maybe even some soldiers’ lives. I hate war, but Poppa and Mommy say sometimes it is necessary. Can you help?
I know that this is a long list of things that I would like you to do. If you can’t do them all, can you at least try to start them so that maybe the person who becomes chancellor after you can continue them? That would be great.
I also want to say that Poppa told Mommy that he had never been prouder to be a German than he was right now. He said it had to do with 25 years of East Germany and West Germany being reunified and all of the things that Germany did correctly, but the list is too long and you are very busy. Mommy said Poppa was proud to be German because Germany won the World Championship in Brazil. Mommy is usually right more than Poppa.
I wish you a very happy new year.
Ingo Fuchs, 9
Tiefenbach, Upper Palatinate, Lower Bavaria, Germany
I met Jim here in Munich in 2002, in a month warm enough to drink a beer while sitting in a beer garden. He was sitting alone at the same table as four of my friends and me, reading a USA Today newspaper. He seemed like a nice enough fellow, typical American Midwest, neat, organized, thorough. I later learned he was extremely polite when spoken to, but rarely spoke first, especially to strangers. And like many from that geographic location in America, he enjoyed a beer.
After he came back with his second Maß (one liter beer) and had knocked a good third of it down, Jim looked at my friends and me with those eyes that asked ‘can I join your conversation’? Mark, one of the four guys I was sitting with, also from the Midwest, invited Jim to join in which is customary in Bavaria, especially in beer gardens.
Jim proceeded to tell us about why he was in Munich (on a two-year contract with Siemens), what he enjoyed about living in Munich, difficulties he’d had adjusting without any German language skills, etc. Though Jim said that he mostly liked living in Munich, I felt he may have been embellishing his time here.
We started talking about some cultural differences between the USA and Germany, a subject which never grows stale and is always entertaining. After each of us had told a short anecdote, Jim took his turn. This is what he said.
“One of the most embarrassing moments I’ve had in Munich had to do with my birthday. I had only been here for a month or so, and had barely settled into my job and department. There was one guy in my department, Reiner, however, whom I’d built up a pretty good relationship with. We both played volleyball, and he’d invited me a few times to play with his sports club team. I was neither the best nor the worst, so it was cool.
So one Friday at work, after I had left a meeting from a different department from another area of Siemens-that place is fucking big-I saw Reiner leaving another meeting room to take a phone call. So I stopped and waited for Reiner to finish his call. It was only a minute. I glanced into the room and saw about 20 people and different balloons.”
“Hey Reiner, how are doing?” I asked.
“I’m just making (sic) party with friend from school times,” he replied. His German was good but not great. “It’s his birthday today and we eaten cake and drunken prosecco (sic).”
“Oh cool,” I said. “Next Wednesday is my birthday. Maybe you can bring some of your friends and come to my office. I’d love to have some cake and champagne, and meet some other guys and gals from our department. Don’t worry, I’ll buy.”
“OK, Jim, we can make that. What time should we come?”
“Let’s do it at the end of the day. Say, around 4pm,” I said.
“Perfect,” said Reiner. “Have a nice weekend.”
“I didn’t see Reiner the next Monday, but I did see him on Tuesday. I reminded him about my birthday party the next day at 4pm. He assured me that he and about 12 of our colleagues would come to ‘make party’. The next day I finished my work at around 3:45. At four, right on time, Reiner came to my office door and looked in. He had about 15 people in tow.
“Is the party in here or in another room?” Reiner asked.
“It’s in here. I think it’s big enough for up to 20 people,” I said.
“But where are the balloons? And the cake?” enquired Reiner.
“I thought you would bring them,” I said, crestfallen. I had heard the Germans could be a bit cold and insensitive, but I never imagined they could be this cruel.
“You said you will buy (sic),” said Reiner.
“Yes. I would give you the money after the party,” I said, confused.
Reiner laughed. “I think we have a culture difference, Jim.” He then said a few sentences in German which I couldn’t understand. Everybody laughed at the punchline. Reiner turned to me.
“Here in Germany,” Reiner continued, “It’s up to the person with the birthday to buy all of the things for the party, and bring them too. I think in America the guests bring everything. Sheisser!”