And just like that, the advent time has come to an end. The neighborhood christmas market which has decorated my doorstep for the last 4 weeks closed its shutters for the last time last night and is packing up to leave this morning.
The very last envelope of my advent calendar will be opened.
And the last few Plätzchen will be eaten.
My German friends will decorating Christmas trees and celebrating later today and my family and friends in the UK will be eagerly awaiting Christmas morning. Whatever the differences in customs, a lot will be the same across the Channel. A time to sit back, a time to eat, a time for wintry walks, a time for party hats and silly jokes (in the UK anyway), a time for stories by candlelight, a time for old-fashioned games and above all, a time spent with loved ones.
However you are celebrating, Merry Christmas one and all.
It seems to me that I have an unknown penchant for cities beginning with the letter ‚B‘ (see Brussels, Barcelona, Berchtesgaden). Or at least fate seems to take me there. A family get-together this weekend was a wonderful chance to discover Basel. And what a pretty little city it is.
The beautiful old-town was a perfect Swiss combination of German orderliness and French charm and was completely free from cars, and in quite a few streets seemed to be completely free of people.
Probably because the blazing sun on this summer weekend took the residents of the city down to the Rhine. And the Rhine had a completely different character to the one I am familiar with from my time in Duesseldorf – clear, blue and full of swimmers and pleasure boats.
And so after a wander around the old town, we too took a stroll along the hot riverside paving and cooled off by diving into the Rhine and drifting pleasantly down stream to a handily placed beach bar.
This seems to be a city with an astounding quality of life. The weekend was rounded off with a Sunday morning walk along the Rhine, a strong coffee from a riverside cafe and the promise to visit the city again.
One of the things I like about living in Germany is that I feel more a part of Europe and much more a European. And it’s purely an emotional thing.
Our summer holiday saw us driving through southern Germany, Austria, Italy and France in a matter of a week. Miles of breath-taking alpine scenery, picturesque hilltop villages , sprawling towns in the valleys below and lakeside panoramas. The border between these countries was more marked by the change in architecture, town planning, traffic signs and toll charges than the largely redundant border controls. This free passage is something I never take for granted.
As we dined on delicious pasta and took in the romance of the Italian lakeside towns, as we breakfasted on coffee and scrumptious croissants in a simple French bar, as I conversed with American wedding guests who marvelled at the diversity and charm of Europe and as we returned home to beautiful Munich (and finally to some good German bread), I could only hope that Europe is not dying.
As the Greeks head to the polls today, as the nations decide on the future of Europe, I hope that in a non-political, non-financial and completely emotional way that our neighbours will be ok and that I will one day stand in awe of the Acropolis and dip my feet in the Aegean sea and still feel as if I am in the heart of Europe.
I left Duesseldorf with my heels dragging almost exactly one year ago. And as great a city as Munich is, with its wonderful backdrop of mountains and lakes, Duesseldorf will always have a special meaning for me. The time when a foreign city and country started to feel like home.
How lovely it was to spend a weekend in Duesseldorf again. To arrive just in time to enjoy a sunset walk along the Rhine.
To walk familiar streets and notice everything new and old. To feel instantly at home and yet view the city as a guest.
To discover new sides to the city.
To be bathed in sunshine.
And to be reunited with friends. Ah, Duesseldorf.
Everybody seems to have advice for expecting parents. And I’m not averse to listening to it. It mainly seems to centre around get as much sleep as you can (which is not as easy as said with an increasingly uncomfortable belly), relax, go to the cinema lots (done pretty well on this one) and enjoy the time together before your relationship changes in an indescribable way, forever.
A weekend aways exploring a new city seemed like the perfect thing to do. And we couldn’t have picked a better place than Venice for our last trip away together as a couple.
A city so different from any I have ever seen, drenched in wistful romance and encumbered with so many bridges and steps that the idea of going there with a small child just seems silly. And what do you know it? A 6.5 hour train journey from Munich.
Being an early riser, I was rewarded with this wonderfully warm, springtime light on our first morning.
The city is perfect for aimless wandering. Every second turn seemed to lead onto a lively square with the next bar ready to serve you an espresso in the sun.
The mixture of fully renovated facades mixed with more run-down buildings, added charm and made it feel less like a full-blown disney land. The vaguely present images in my head of Canaletto’s Venice were however not disappointed.
And the sight of Gondoliers in their wonderful costumes was to me, fitting rather than kitschy.
Watching the sunset whilst sitting along one of the city’s many promenades, revelling in that glorious light….that’s something which will surely stand us in good stead for the chaotic weeks and months ahead.
Maternity leave starts officially tomorrow and I realise that it has been a very long time since I have had the prospect of such a stretch of time to myself. And what is the first thought that comes into the head of a doctor? That’s a good time to prepare for an exam. We just can’t help it.
Last weekend saw the rewarding completion of another project. The pleasure of learning the beautiful melodies of Mendelssohn’s Elias has accompanied me through much of the autumn and winter and the performance, when it finally arrived, was a thrill and a self-proclaimed success. A packed audience at the beautiful great hall of the Ludwig-Maximilian’s University in Munich made for an impressive setting.
And the central project of maternity leave has not been completely forgotten. There’s finally time for a yoga class, swimming, making an attempt to prepare the nursery and deciding which bits of the 100 recommended things to buy for your baby are really necessary and which are not. And hopefully a little more blogging.
Munich for the last few weeks has been barely snow-free. A proper winter. After the heavy snowfall on Boxing day, the snow keeps coming intermittently in varying amounts. Enough to keep the walkways either covered in snow or glazed with ice until the next batch arrives.
Without the hassle of a car journey to work through snow and ice, I’m learning to appreciate the pleasures of winter. The glistening snow reminds me of the tacky christmas cards that use glitter to mark the snow. The wonderfully dampening effect of the snow on the usual hustle and bustle of city life. The beauty of the parks and open spaces, decked in a permanent layer of white. The comforting draw of Munich’s many breweries.
For me, the sight of so much snow is sort of a novelty. Whilst I wince at the sight of every pensioner who glides his or her Zimmer frame over the slippery surfaces, seemingly oblivious to the dangers of a fractured hip, or look in awe at young mums striding without a care with tiny babies slung to their chests, the locals here seem to be used to the terrain.
Talk at work on a Friday centres around the centimetres of snowfall in anticipation of day trips to the alps or the cross-country skiing hotspots in and around the city. Even the works outing is a one day ski-trip.
As I write this from the cosiness of our still relatively newish home, with light snowfall and a howling wind as a backdrop, I can’t help thinking that the joy of spring will be a particularly special one this year.
The crowds of Oktoberfest have thankfully dissipated and the streets of Munich are back to normal. And just as the celebration of October came to a close, it’s arrival has brought a mixture of perfectly sunny autumn days and blustery, rainy grey days. I’m the first to bemoan the loss of sunlight and to dread the arrival of the cold. But walking through Munich’s old town last night on a crisp and almost icy evening, wrapped up in oversized woolen knits, wandering aimlessly into a shop or two, killing time before my dinner date, made me think it’s not so bad.
Not to mention that another gem of the city was once again on show; the high-class street music in Munich doesn’t cease to amaze. The musicians pop up quite unexpectedly in various corners of the city. Indigenous South American singing at the busy Viktualienmarkt, string quartets in grand alleyways, piano solos on a grand piano at the entrance of department stores and gentle guitar verses at a secluded courtyard cafe – the music always seems to fit the surroundings and makes you stop in awe and reach for your purse. Quite often you imagine you must be hearing a recording blasting from a shop front, only to find the artists playing animatedly in front of you.
I find myself slowly warming up to this city.
Friday night at the movies hasn’t happened for a while. And when it did this weekend, it was special.
The reason for this was the beautifully cosy independent cinema theatre in the centre of Munich. A short walk from the stunning buildings surrounding Odeonplatz, turning into a charming old arcade lead us to the basement cinema at Theatiner Film.
And suddenly the romance of a Friday night movie was all too clear. The film itself – „Qu’est-ce qu’on a fait au Bon Dieu“ – provided for an evening of laugh-out-loud comedy and a little bit of French practice. The story of a set of conservative French parents and their 4 daughters who each choose a husband from a different culture and religion, very much to the clear dismay of their parents. The film is ridiculously full of every imaginable stereotype and cliche and has a predictably rosy-hearted ending, but I nevertheless found it easy to warm to.
As we left the cinema, we left with one mutual thought – thank goodness that neither of our parents made a fuss when we brought each other home for the first time many years ago.
I have a few moves behind me: several times with my family as a child and more than a few times since. It’s taught me that you can make a home anywhere. That happiness can be found within the walls of any city. And that there are good people everywhere.
Saying goodbye is still never that easy though. And I think it might be getting harder every time.
On the bright side, a move away invariably means a new beginning. A completely new perspective to life, a chance to discover the corners of another city and the opportunity to meet people who will influence your life in a way you couldn’t have imagined.