One of my favourite Advent traditions in Germany is the advent wreath or ‚Adventskranz‚. Traditionally, the Christmas tree only gets it’s turn on Christmas eve, which makes this piece of greenery even more special. Furthermore, it’s not the sort of wreath that you just hang up on a front door – with on average 1 brief glance a day – but one adorned with 4 candles (and of course the prerequisite Christmas/wintery themed decorations) taking centre stage in your living room. Having been presented with a (fully decorated) wreath 4 advents ago, I have come to associate it with cosy December evenings and look forward to lighting a new candle every Sunday as Christmas approaches. This year I have been presented with a bare wreath. Hmm. The Germans love their handicrafts and delight at any opportunity to ‚basteln‘. Along with the art of baking, ‚basteling‘ seems to be a must-do for every German woman. I feel like this is a test. Or at the very least a further initiation into their ways.
Archive for November, 2013
I’d forgotten how much fun a good book can be. I mean one which has such a riveting plot that you don’t want to put it down. Where you look forward to a quiet evening at home. Where picking it up feels like a reward for the day. Where the idea of a 5-hour train journey with this book in your hand seems like a guilty pleasure. Where at the back of your mind you know that you will be sad when it ends. In other words a real page-turner.
I wasn’t expecting all that from this year’s Booker prize winner ‚The Luminaries’ by Eleanor Catton. But it is just that. Finely crafted, elegantly told, intriguing characters and vivid, bleak scenery – a good old-fashioned story book. I’m only 200 pages through and struggling at times to find a comfortable reading position with my beautifully bound hardback copy, but I am hooked. And I can’t think of a better way to greet the winter nights.
Preparing for exams is never particularly fun, but it doesn’t have to be all dreary. Sitting cosily at a desk with endless mugs of tea, going on walks to clear the head, getting lots of sleep, daily visits to favourite cafes, pottering around at home, time to yourself and time to learn – actually pretty luxurious when you think of it. Looking back at my ‚holiday snaps‘, I can’t help but think that it was quite a nice time.
To me, November the 11th recalls images of red paper poppies pinned to coats and memories of english lessons spent studying the solemn words of the great war poets – the words and vivid imagery of ‚For the fallen‘ and ‚Dulce et decorum est‘ memorised for ever. The 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month is marked by a 2 minute silence across the UK as a way of remembrance for those fallen since the first world war.
Although a national day of mourning does take place later in November in Germany, the anniversary of the Armistice is not observed. Still, the 11th of November has a relevance for 2 different reasons.
St. Martin’s day is celebrated widely across Germany today. A religious saint’s day where it is common to see children processing through the streets carrying paper lanterns and singing St. Martin songs. My favourite part of this tradition however is the tasty man-shaped sweet bread which is available – a ‚Weckmann‘, who is actually supposed to be a bischop holding a staff, but has somehow wandered over the years into a man holding a pipe.
In Rheinland, the part of Germany that I live in, the 11th minute of the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month is the start of carnival season, which culminates in heavy celebration in February/March. It’s not unusual however to see grown-ups dressed up in fancy dress today.
Needless to say, each country has its own traditions, but the stark contrast of these celebrations falling coincidently at the same time could not be bigger. In the spirit of cultural integration, I did make sure that I got my ‚Weckmann‘ for breakfast though.
Lots of people snore, although hardly any of us would care to admit it. Some persistently for years, some just on evenings when they have drunk alcohol. Snoring in itself is not a disorder, but it may in some cases indicate an underlying obstructive sleep apnoea syndrome (OSAS). As our society becomes older and well, obese, OSAS is an increasingly common disorder. The disorder is caused by a collapse of the upper airways during sleep, resulting in episodes of cessation of breathing often terminated by a so-called arousal which disrupts the normal sleep cycle. This results in an overall poor quality of sleep, leading to daytime sleepiness, tiredness and loss of concentration.
Patients however seem to accept all these daytime symptoms and seek help often only due to the growing complaints of their bed partners – when snoring becomes unbearable. Complaining about this to the right person, should get you a sleep study.
The presence of sleep apnoea is comparable to suffering from high blood pressure. If left untreated, it increases the risk of cardiovascular disease. This is primarily due to the stress response caused in the body after each apnoea and arousal. The cornerstones of treatment are weight loss and the use of a sleep mask delivering continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP). Although a couple of other options do exist (for example dental devices and operations).
Apnoea tends to occur first in the REM stage of sleep, when muscle tone is at its lowest (the reason why we don’t physically act out our dreams) and when lying on your back, logically due to the effects of gravity. Going through some books this weeks, I came across a funny solution to mild, position-related sleep apnoea. Sewing a tennis ball into the back of your t-shirt will force you to sleep on your side, thus potentially limiting episodes of apnoea. It’s clearly not a cure for sleep apnoea and will help only a few, but it’s not very often that simple solutions are offered in the field of medicine. And I wonder if it’s not just worth trying out on a snoring partner.
First we wrote letters, then at least we exchanged long rambling e-mails, but now interactions are often just a mixture of sharing short messages and posting a few pictures here and there. The contact may be more frequent, but there is nothing to grasp onto. Nothing to flick through and think back on.
All the more reason to hope that postcard writing never dies out. How nice to know that someone was sitting happily somewhere – perhaps at the hotel breakfast table, on a bench looking out onto the lake, drinking an espresso at a busy cafe or sitting on a secluded beach – their mind bursting with new impressions and they took the time to put pen to paper and send a small piece of it to you.