A Wandering Jew in a Christmas Market
After a two-hour nap which I would have preferred to be a three or four-hour nap, I drag myself out of bed. I really feel as if I could sleep the whole night through but, as any international traveler knows, if I try that now, I’ll be awake at 3:00am. Besides, Glüwein awaits.
Jen, whose house and cat I will be sitting for, has E-mailed and we’ve planned to meet at the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtnis-Kirche Christmas Market for a cup of Glüwein. I haven’t yet decided what to do about my phone – whether to pay ATT to get it unlocked and attempt to get a local service for a limited time, whether to buy a prepaid phone and attempt to switch cards in different countries, or whether to attempt to work it out using only Wi-Fi. (Attempting is not the same as accomplishing. When traveling, sometimes the best you can do is attempt.) In the meantime, I E-mail Jen the phone number of my hotel and she calls me so we can arrange a meeting time and place. We agree to meet at 6:30 at the H&M store near the Ku’damm (the main drag in Berlin). Note to self: H&M is like Starbucks, there’s one on every corner so, perhaps, it’s not such a great idea to say “I’ll meet you at the corner H&M.”
I get directions from the hotel front desk and walk the fifteen-or-so minutes towards the H&M. I see the Christmas Market and get a little choked up as visiting a German, Swiss or Austrian Christmas Market is the top item on my “bucket list.” The lights are beautiful and the tiny wooden booths are filled with food, Christmas decorations, handcrafts and Glüwein. Yes, I’ve found it! I’d wait for Jen, but the Glüwein is calling me. I step up to the booth and order the traditional Glüwein. I notice the option to order some with rum, amaretto, and various other alcohols added but, considering the lack of sleep lately, I decide to pace myself and stick to the traditional one made with only red wine. Given the choice of a traditional mug or a to-go cup, I go for the traditional mug, which means I’ll stay and drink it in the tiny adjoining wooden shack. The lady hands me my Glüwein along with a chip which I’m to return to get my €2 deposit back for the mug. I’m not sure why I need the chip as the mug seems like enough collateral to return to get my €2 back. I take my first sip and I’m in heaven. Not to insult Starbucks, but this is so much better than Pumpkin Spice Latte.
I drink up my Glüwein and head across the street to the H&M. I begin getting nervous as 6:30 comes and goes and I see no sign of Jen. I don’t have use of my phone and texting (only via Wi-Fi) due to my indecision of phone option attempts. At 6:40 Jen appears. She had been waiting at the other H&M (again, we might as well have arranged to meet at Starbucks). We cross the street to wander through the market where we watch the kids flying on the children’s amusement rides. The air is filled with the scents of sausages, cinnamon, candy, and fried and baked goods. I quickly learn that, if you plan to go to a Christmas market, you should fast for a few days before. Oh, and if you’re diabetic, perhaps you should speak with your doctor prior to it.
We walk and graze on sausages, candied almonds, Frische Schmalzkuchen – fried dough with powdered sugar, very much like the beignet found in New Orleans (um, wearing black was not the best idea) – and roasted chestnuts which, with apologies to Mel Tormé, are pretty disgusting. Oh, and of course, we order up more Glüwein which we drink while sitting at a table in one of the wooden booth areas while getting to know each other. This seems like the German, Christmas version of Food Truck Friday in The States. After a couple of hours of walking around and enjoying all of the traditional foods, we walk back to my hotel, say goodnight and make plans to meet in the morning.
I wake up refreshed and raring to go. The problem is that it’s 2:30am. Darn that jet-lag. I took the lightweight route and popped a Melatonin before bed (oh, and the Glüwein). Apparently I should have gone with the Ambien. I know, it’s hard to imagine that, after not sleeping well for two weeks prior, and waking up at 4:14am to catch my flight, which also had me barely sleeping on the overnight crammed into seat 19A watching both Frozen and the Northern Lights (see Northern Lights), I should even need to take anything. I learned from my international tour managing experience that when you fly across the Atlantic, you will always wake up in the middle of the night for the first few nights. I’d hoped the Melatonin would get me through but, as I lie in bed for nearly two hours, I finally pop another Melatonin, pick up my Vanity Fair and start reading. By 5:00am, I’m back to sleep.
When 9:00am rolls around I just want to roll over and go back to sleep but, as hotel check-out is 11:00am, and I’m meeting Jen to get the layout of the place, I drag myself out of bed, pack-up everything I’ve taken out of my suitcase (how could I have possibly taken out so much on one night?) and stop by the Carisma Bakery before checking out of the Berlin Plaza Hotel. While the location and the price of the hotel were excellent, the service was pretty darned unfriendly. I grab a taxi and arrive at Jen’s place ten-minutes later
After buzzing me in, the two of us, along with my luggage, cram ourselves into the tiny elevator (all of the elevators here in Germany are tiny and I have no clue as to why) which we ride to the fourth floor and then climb the stairs up another floor to come to Jen’s place. As I mentioned previously, Jen and I found each other through Trusted Housesitters. She’s an Australian opera conductor. By this, I don’t mean that she only conducts Australian operas (are there any Australian operas?), but an Australian who conducts all kinds of operas. She’s also the servant to a cat named Siegfried, who has a few emotional issues due to a bad kittyhood. Jen is going home for Christmas so Siegfried requires a temporary servant. Enter me! Something new to add to my resume. I used to work for a Mouse (hello Disney) and now I work for a cat. Apparently I’m moving up the food-chain.
Jen introduces me to Siegfried who runs away faster than the last man I dated. I grew up with dogs and, due to the unconditional love that most dogs supply, I take this a little personally. Jen and I proceed to walk around her flat (a very nice flat at that) where she shows me how to work the appliances on which all of the markings are in German – this should be fun. She instructs me on the uniqueness of many of these appliances (I’ve never had a dryer that you need to empty the water out of after each load). I learn about Siegfried’s food schedule expectations, as well as to always close the kitchen door as he will crawl through a space in the wall which apparently will make him disappear (I think it might be the door to Narnia). And don’t get him wet and never, ever feed him after midnight . . . oh wait, that’s not Siegfried, that’s Gremlins. I also get to meet Kayla, Jen’s new Brazilian roommate who will be visiting family over Christmas
We head out around the neighborhood where Jen shows me the grocery store, her favorite bakery, the drug store which apparently is different from the pharmacy or Apotheke (still figuring that out) and a few other local places. We stop for lunch at her favorite Italian place before heading back to her flat where I change my clothes and we head out for her to do some last-minute shopping and me to head to the ballet (see, I’m classy).
Tomorrow – Everything is Beautiful at the Ballet