Christmas in Berlin
Terra Robinson, is an American Black Chick in Europe. As For many, the holidays signifies time spent with family and eating wonderful food. Terra, shares an adventure in Berlin and reminds us, that open hearts and attitudes, lead us to the unexpected and surprises that make our days and shape our impressions of people. Read more about Terras’ adventures at American Black Chick in Europe.
While living the expat life has some definite benefits-learning a new language, a deeper understanding of a new culture and the all round coolness of living abroad-there are some downfalls. One of the biggest becomes most apparent right around the holidays: the long distance from your family and loved ones.
Christmas was definitely one of those occasions. Given the generous amount of Christmas leave (nearly 2 weeks) at my current job and the (relatively) close proximity to their home countries, most of my European friends spent time with their families for the Christmas holidays. But given the distance, the exorbitant airfare prices and my (at the time) limited intern stipend, I simply couldn’t afford to pay double (or in a couple cases triple) what I made in a month to fly back to the US. So I decided to stay in Europe.
In desperate need of a break from Brussels, I hopped on a train the week before Christmas and hit several southern German cities with two American friends who flew over for a few days before heading back to spend Christmas with their families. On Christmas Eve, I escorted my friend to one of the Berlin airports before going to my hostel, checking in for the night and passing out from exhaustion.
I woke up quite early the following day. As it was Christmas Day, I didn’t expect there to be anyone out or anything open, as I knew from previous Christmases spent in England and France. It had been snowing in Berlin the day before and had continued snowing throughout the night. Armed with a beautiful blanket of new snow, a camera and no family nearby to spend time with, I decided to make the most of it and take a (very cold) leisurely wander around the city in a rare moment of quiet emptiness.
As I wandered the streets of Berlin marvelling at the strange, but striking beauty of the city my stomach started to grumble. Knowing that Berlin has one of the largest Turkish populations outside of Istanbul and hoping at least a few of them decided to open shop that day, I wandered over to an area of town I knew had some Turkish bakeries to grab a couple of pastries and hopefully warm my freezing toes.
I thanked God when I saw a tiny bakery that appeared to be open. As I walked closer, I saw someone leave. Yes! My toes wiggled with excitement. I walked into the bakery to see a lone, middle aged German woman behind the counter and two tables, one occupied by a customer closer to the display case and right next to the radiator and another empty one right next to the door. I politely ordered my pastry and coffee using the rusty German I’d stopped learning a decade earlier and headed to the empty table next to the drafty door.
When the German lady brought my coffee and pastry, she insisted that I join her and the other customer at the table near the radiator. “Aber es ist kalt! Hier sitzen,“ she ordered me. My toes and I certainly couldn’t refuse. We started chatting, with her mainly asking me questions about myself and my trip while I tried to respond in what I was quite sure was piss poor, heavily American accented German.
Whenever I’d gone to Germany in the past (this was my fouth trip to Deutschland), someone in my extended family would comment on how they couldn’t believe I was travelling to where “those” racists Germans lived. Although I have had a handful of unpleasant racial incidents in my travels, Germany is not one of the places where that had been a problem. Quite frankly being American has a lot to do with that. Yes, visually I’m definitely black. But as soon as I open my mouth and people hear my accent, most Europeans peg me as American. Here, my nationality comes before my race and I have no doubt that this often shields me from some of the uglier racists incidents I’ve heard related to me by fellow (non-American) folks with brown skin.
Despite the fact that I was speaking German, I’d assumed that the bakery owner knew I was American by my accent. But at some point, she asked me where I was from. Die Vereinigten Staaten, I answered. And she looked genuinely surprised. She had no clue that I was American. She took an interest in this half frozen black chick with a wee ‘fro thousands of miles away from any family, making sure I was warm, comfortable and (at least for a short time) had some company. Small acts like these throughout my travels typically make my day. But this little middle aged Germany lady made my Christmas.
That night, as I headed back to Brussels, I realised what could have turned out to be a horrible and lonely Christmas wasn’t. And that German lady warmed my toes and reminded me why I still remember the small acts of kindness throughout my travels.