While I know we have a few days still to go before the actual day, it seems Christmas starts earlier and finishes later as the years go by. Time was when the shops started to think about Christmas in December, like the Advent calendar…now Christmas is all year round, with permament Christmas shops in every major city and town, across the country and in many others too. To say that Christmas is big business is now a cliche, which everyone understands. Some say the true spirit of Christmas is forgotten. Not sure what the true spirit is? Is it religious, like the baby Jesus being born in a stable with animals and angels and shepherds and kings and such? Or is it some fat old bloke with a white beard, dressed in red coming down your chimney?,(what does he do if you haven’t got a chimney?). Or is it shopping and buying expensive or even token gifts? None of these seem to fit with my idea of a perfect Christmas, (more in my Christmas future blog!).
So what of Christmas 2016? For me it warmed up spiritually if not physically, with my recent trip to Berlin for a few days, last week! Yes BERLIN, and today Berlin hits the news headlines for something terrible. The killing of innocent shopkeepers and shoppers in the Kurfürstendamm Market was terrible news. News which was made more terrible for me as I was shopping there just last Wednesday and Thursday, having a wonderful time full of the Christmas gluhwein and hot alcoholic cholcolat and Bratwürst and Curry Würst and feeling a warm glow with all the other locals and even more tourists in a few of Berlin’s many Christmas markets. We visited about eight out of the over 60 we were told existed. Of those we visited the one in Kurfürstendamm was our favourite. So much atmosphere and great stalls and, unusually, friendly people. (sorry Berlin but you do seem to have a number of rather grumpy people in your shops and on your buses and trains!)
And now this news, Berlin attacked by terrorists as in France and indeed across the world. No where is immune.
So Christmas 2016, for me will be Berlin, in all its culture and history and its present too! Berlin has seen so much tragedy in the past and the city still reflects that. The devastation after the World War II is still evident in the centre as is the tragedy of a divided city following that war and the tragedy of the wall in 1961.
The first time I visited Berlin was in 2006 for my wife’s special birthday. As a German, it seemed appropriate to make that trip on her special day. We stayed at the Adlon, near the Brandenburg gate, and were surrounded by all that history. On that visit, it felt as if I had come home somehow. Not sure why, as this was my first visit. But I had heard so much about this place and had always felt drawn to this city, as indeed to Germany as a country. Looking back, Germany and indeed German nationals have played a big part in my life. From the age of two until five, I was looked after on a daily basis by Lotte, my nanny, I guess you would refer to her as an aupair these days. Sounds grander than it was. My mum was a headteacher in a village school and both my sister and I were looked after by “nannies”, Polish in my sister ‘s case, German in mine. At the age of fifty, I discovered how important Lotte was to me in my upbringing, as I underwent counselling and it was pointed out how much I had been effected by the disappearance of Lotte when I was so young!
The other connection, apart obviously from my wife, is my brother-in-law, who was an escapee from East Germany, in the 60’s. Not actually across the Berlin wall but through its train stations on a cattle truck hiding with his bike. He arrived in the West with his bike and in his cycling gear only! For me he personified all those thousands of successful and unsuccessful people who attempted to cross the borders of a divided country….each one having a unique story to tell.
So Berlin with your heady satire filled cabaret in the 1930’s, a decade whose culture and music, art and indeed politics has always fascinated and astounded me, with your history of devastation and survival, with your determination to succeed and survive often against the odds, today I celebrate your achievements and wish you well. Today in the midst of tragedy you will gain more strength to go on!
Long live BERLIN, for me the true spirit of Christmas 2016!