Monday, December 28, 2009

Weihnen auf Weihnachten

[ Crying at Christmas ]

Literally, yes. Emotionally, not so much. Let me explain.

Christmas at the Sebode house with Inge, Andreas, Moritz, my other host sister Janna, and other family members was incredible - Truly a great experience. They made me feel so at home and truly like a son in the family. With great opportunities to skype back home and say Merry Christmas and Wesołych Swiąt to everyone back in the States [ and in Poland – how cool to call my family in Europe!] the was no homesickness at all during this very important season for family gatherings. My Grandpa must have brushed up on some Deutsch skills and impressed everyone in Germany who heard him on the loudspeaker when he greeted me with a hearty “Wie Geht’s Ihnen?” – a formal greeting of “How are you doing?” when I was on the phone with him.

[ Some warm images from home for the holidays, as well as some of my favorite decorations in the house - many a few generations passed down. ]

[ Thought this was funny - it reminded me about the "shitting paper is over" back in Saarbrücken! ]

Christmas at the Sebode house was filled with just as much excitement, great new traditions and many packed days of celebrating with an even greater amount of food [which you will see in the upcoming photos]. The preparations of the tree, the cooking and other errands around the house and in town that I could help with really made the holiday feel more festive to me and more that I was part of the family.

On the 23rd I helped Inge dice up some vegetables and prepare some other ingredients to be used over the next few days – I must say it was extremely impressive. At my house back home – albeit we cook for several dozens of people – the cooking is a project for the WHOLE family over several days with everyone boiling, mashing, pinching and rolling ingredients for excellent Polish cakes, soups and locally famous Crachiola-Partynski Pierogi. In Germany however, Inge impressively, and in extremely organized fashion, had the entire menu set up and ready to go for the holiday festivities – and most importantly it was extremely delicious.

Along with the vegetable dicing, we had to prepare der Meerrettich – the homemade horseradish – to be used for the succulent Gewürzt Lachs – Marinated Salmon. Inge warned me it would make me tear up – but I figured it would be like dicing onions – a bit of watery eyes.

Shaving the root on the cheese grater – Woosh! – the misty cloud rushed up into my face – they must make pepper spray out of this stuff.

I couldn’t even blink – I was crying like I was just forced onto Santa’s lap like a petrified 2 year old. The tears were streaming down my face, eyes blod shot – this stuff was intense!

Taking turns with Inge – crying together over the great bonding experience that it was! – we finally grated that root down and mixed it together with the sauce that would complement one of the best main dishes of the first evening of the festivities – December 24thHeilige Abend.

Finnische Specialitäten Weihnachtsmarkt

[ Finnish Themed Christmas Market in Hanover ]

Very similar to seeing the Mangha Japanese Culture Museum in Kraków which nostalgically combined my travels to Poland and Japan together in one building, there was another surprise in Hannover for me that brought back some other memories. One street in the Weihnachtsmarkt had a very special theme and that was ‘ Finnische Specialitäten’. It was an entire section full of reindeer skins, Lappish themed stands and tents, steaming selections of frying fish as well as drying racks of bright pink-orange salmon. The bottles of lingonberry jams as well as all the Salmiakki specialties had me beaming.

Like Poland, I had a very generous offer from my very-missed host family in Finland, the Salminens, to come to Turku and experience a Finnish Christmas, yet I had to explain that this year was an important time for me to bond with my German host family and friends and grasp as much German culture as I could. The pictures from the Finnish-style Weihnachtsmarkt really had me missing Jarno, Anna, Saani, the little twins and Fanny as well. The plan is to see them later this year for sure while I am here in Europe. The Christmas Market was definitely a surprise for me, brought back some great memories, and emphasized the fact that I have great family and friends all over Europe now and for that I am truly grateful.

Hyvää Joulua!

Weihnachtsmarkt Hannover

[ Hanover Christmas Market ]

After our very scenic – and frigid – tour along the red line in Hannover, we semi-skated [our feet too cold to actually walk] to the Weihnachtsmarkt and caught the festive sights of the stands, great smells like always – as well as borrowed a bit of the heated steam trailing off from the crepe stands.

Hannover’s Weihnachtsmarkt was different than Göttingen’s. Back in Göttingen, the feel is more of a cozy town and the market centered in the middle market-square. In Hannover, it seemed to branch out on many streets, weaving around the department stores also with ornate décor perfect for window-shopping.

With just days before Christmas, the market was packed and every corner had stands with steaming hot chocolates and Glühwein as well as enormous seasonal favorites of Wursts and thick slices of pork on crusty Brötchen rolls. The entire atmosphere is remarkable – something I doubt could be found anywhere else – and was the perfect finish to another great trip with friends to another city, as well as our last warm wishes to each other before we went our separate ways for the holidays.

Sunday, December 27, 2009


[ Hanover ]

The day after our festive holiday party, my friends coming from all over Europe and myself planned a day trip to enjoy the city of Hannover and its Christmas Market now covered in a thick layer of snow. I was excited because it was my first time to visit the city with my semester ticket and it was also another opportunity to experience another unique Weihnachtsmarkt in Germany.

With leftover cookies and snacks from the night before, we had a great time probably entertaining the entire car of our train singing away to some great 90’s nostalgia, and before we knew it, the hours flew by and we were in the central and capital city of Niedersachsen in Hannover.

It was incredibly cold – the type of temperature that makes it regardless how many layers you put on – it still penetrated right through you. For me, it was normal – for my Mediterranean friends, well the below 0 Celsius degrees were pushing them to new limits. In fact, I had was very excited watching their reactions of “wow, the snow really crunches like in the movies!” since for a few, this was the first time in their life that they saw snow that actually “stayed on the ground!”.

Hannover has a very convenient red-line that tourists can follow to make a complete journey through the city and visit all the important landmarks. Unfortunately it was covered in snow – but with our map we still found our way around. Through the impressive shopping streets – After all, Hannover is one of the largest cities in this part of Germany – we past some very modern business quarters.

Like many historical parts of Germany, it is incredible to see the old and new side by side, and often times the memorials of the struggles and trials the cities went through during the war to become what they have today. The Hannover Aegidienkirche stands as a roof-less skeleton representing the complete destruction of the city during the war – giving an awe inspiring realization at its surroundings that give no other hint to a destructed past.

Further along the red line was – “is that a church?” – “no, that is the Rathaus!” – yes, the Altes Rathaus, the old city center that was so big, it had me in disbelief that it wasn’t a church or former castle. The Rathaus in Munich, when I visited in October, was also impressive, but this Rathaus in Hannover had a sprawling garden and lake behind it that separated its greatness and accented the building as a singular landmark.

The inside was incredible, with spiral staircases and multiple levels – it was a good excuse to sit and observe the building while letting our toes defrost. Through the back, we past some pretty magical wedding ceremonies with the reception back dropped by centuries old architecture and a winter wonderland out the windows of a glass-shimmering frozen lake and snow frosted bridges.

We all took our opportunity to walk around the lake and took in the scene from many angles from the different bridges. It was a beautiful place and definitely a beautiful image from north-west Germany.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Freunde, Geschenke und eine Weihnachtsparty.

[ Friends, Gifts and a Christmas Party ]

I have met some great friends while studying in Göttingen, some from around Germany and some in the same position as me struggling with German everyday, living abroad from around Europe through the Erasmus program. The faces will be recognizable from our many spontaneous trips together over the past few weeks, and before we all went our separate ways for the holiday break, we got together to celebrate Christmas our own way.

We all brought fun, semi-homemade gifts for each other, food and desserts to pass and heated up the pot of Glühwein complete with the spices. Even just being in one of the student housing buildings, it still felt so festive with everyone sharing big hugs, brushing the snow off their hair coming through the door with cheerful, "Merry Christmas'! " just like the big family that we have become.

The night was filled with laughs, great stories about how the holidays are just a bit different everywhere else - in Germany, Hungary, Spain, Italy - as well as my unique mix of Polish and American traditions.

The gift giving brought out the best from our inside jokes - mine especially could only be understood within our group, but let me assure you, it is priceless.

Christmas is just days away, but spending it here surrounded by so many different traditions and languages, all within the perfect Christmas setting of Göttingen covered in snow and lit up by the Weihnachtsmarkt, has made me so appreciative of the great friends I have and not only what I am learning here, but sharing as well.

Kellemes Karacsonyi unnepeket,
Froehliche Weihnachten
Buone Feste Natalizie
Feliz Navidad

Merry Christmas!