It’s December 15th here in Berlin, and tomorrow we start a hard lockdown, or, I should say, we start another hard lockdown, where all shops except basically groceries and pharmacies will be closed up tight. My friends in the Netherlands started a similar lockdown today today and theirs runs until January 19th – ours is nominally until only January 10th, but with caveats that it may be extended. So with this all front of mind, I decided to suit up, head out, and enjoy as much as I could of this most odd and unusual conclusion of this most odd and unusual year.
If you’ve been following this blog at all for the past few years, you’ll have a dim recollection that Christmas Markets in Berlin are among my favorite things on the planet. I’ve been fortunate to have been here for part, if not all, of the last six Decembers, so I’ve seen my fair share of the local offerings (which I am told pale in some in other cities, but so be it). I’ve been to somewhere in the neighborhood of 20 or so in Berlin and other German cities and a few more in places as far-flung as Vilnius, Stettin, and Marseille. For someone who loves the spirit of the holiday (but dislikes the commercial aspect, the religious aspect, and has weak family ties), it’s the perfect solution to the midwinter doldrums, particularly in these northern latitudes.
So it was with more that a bit of regret that I saw this, one of the only markets even open at this moment, the one at Breitscheidplatz, reduced to…
You can just make out, on the other side of the security bollards (installed since the truck bomb in 2016, a few little huts where normally dozens are crowded around with lights and greens and hordes of happy revelers. And even these modest outposts will have to close, I believe, on the morrow.
Here’s a close-up of one of the street huts, a fairly standard one selling the amusingly named “Little Quark Balls” and the Hungarian favorite, Langos (a fried doughy thing). Note the disinfectant…adds a certain “je ne sais quoi” to the greasy offerings, or so I’m told…
But just walking down the street, Berlin’s famed Kurfürstendamm, things looked, well, more or less normal for a December afternoon. Folks were out strolling about and queueing for shops and chatting with friends. Not surprisingly, Berlin’s edgy humor was, as often is the case, on full view:
Not surprisingly, having been given exactly two days to prepare for a four-week Christmas-and-New-Year’s lockdown, people were doing their level best to get everything done by asap. Although Escada and Versace have given up the ghost and just shut down entirely, Louis Vuitton, still functioning, had seen fit to give people appointments (Termin) to make sure everyone got their LV swag in an orderly fashion:
A little further away, I was more enchanted by a line at a local bookstore. Take that, Amazon:
But it’s always the small things that continue to enchant me in this faire city. One store showcased a number of lovely small nativities from around the world, just cuz. This one from the Czech Republic seemed particularly appropriate for this year…making do with what we have, and being grateful:
So about this time my Grinch’s heart was beginning to soften. But what almost moved me to tears was when this ‘brand ambassador’ ran out of her shop and sat down in front of me, imploring for a bit of a cuddle. How could one possibly resist?
Sweet boo. I do miss canine energy. So when I spied this shop sign a few steps further, I almost hooted out loud. Yes, hearing ads for dogs “exclusively here with us.” Free consult included:
I headed away from the fancier neighborhood back toward my more modest neck of the woods. And here, of course, another line, this one for TKMaxx, the local version of TJMaxx, this one much longer. This line in actuality extends twice as far as you can see here, everyone queueing patiently. Thank god for iPhones:
Nearby was the most curious “COVID compliance” sign I’ve seen yet. I think the translation is: “Don’t cucumber. Mask for the beet. We abide by the Corona rules.” Clearly my German is still not yet quite up to par. Corrections grateful accepted:
Quick update – my translator chimed in once this blog was published. Rumgurken means wandering around, aimlessly, and vor die Rübe would be cover your head. I think it liked the earlier version…so basically “Wear a mask and stay close to home.” (Better with vegetables.)
Well, by now as is so often the case, I was cold and thirsty. Happily, this past weekend I had discovered a lovely little delicatessen not far from my house that served up a damn fine white wine “Glühwein” with orange slices, so I dropped in for another dose. The proprietor graciously agreed to pose for me pre-dip:
It was, as it had been before, absolutely smashing, and he assured me that since he was indeed a delicatessen he was allowed to stay open. I told him I would be back regularly. It may not look like much, but damn, this stuff is fine:
Back home again, much improved from my five kilometers and my brief brush with conviviality, I thought I would show off one of my treasures from today. I “elfed myself” with a lovely pair of 15 euro knock-off pearl earrings from my favorite German and Thai jewelry store. Merry Christmas to me.
….and now I will bid you a fond adieu on this quickly darkening afternoon as we begin our Advent retreat, with the thought that we must, all of us, all together, everywhere, set our intention and find our inner resolve to endure this period as one world, one people, one family, and do what it takes to get this nasty virus out of our lives forever. Wear the damn mask, do the damn social distancing, make your damn peace with Zoom. In the immortal words of Nike:
With that exhortation, please accept my warmest wishes to you and my fervent hopes and dreams that 2021…brings us all more health and happiness. Not a high bar, but fingers crossed. ❤