Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 23/12/2016 (1026 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
They have an expression in Germany, gemütlichkeit, which describes a place, and/or a general state or feeling of warmth, friendliness and good cheer. It embodies social acceptance, peace of mind and well-being.
My husband, Rob, and I meandered through the Breitscheidplatz Christmas market in downtown Berlin Monday evening. I sipped my 20th glass of glühwein since arriving in Germany earlier in the month while Rob sampled the mulled cherry beer. We were surrounded by people who had gathered to visit, laugh and celebrate the Christmas season amid many stalls that sold drinks, cookies, chocolate, sausages, roasted chestnuts and Christmas trinkets.
The market wraps around the Gedächtniskirche church, a building that was firebombed in the Second World War. The damaged, broken church tower remains and serves as a memorial and reminder of the dark past. But the Christmas market illuminates the sense of community and peace during the holiday season. Gemütlichkeit.
That all changed Monday night.
Our family trekked to Germany for Christmas this year to spend time with my husband’s family and to show our children, aged seven and 10, the wonderful markets my husband had experienced as a child.
Maybe it’s because we’re from Winnipeg, where you’d freeze your face off in about 35 seconds if you tried to stand outside and purchase a Christmas ornament or sip a mulled wine. Or, maybe it’s because Christmas in North America has evolved into spending hours in shopping malls or ordering presents online from Amazon. I’m sure all of that exists in Europe, too, but to be able to saunter through the narrow, cobblestone streets lined with handicraft stalls and winking white lights in small medieval towns, or to enjoy the spectacularly lit trees, carousels and the Christmas community of the larger markets in cities such as Frankfurt and Berlin is a truly magical experience. Berlin was our eighth market.
Rob and I sipped our mulled drinks and debated whether we should stay for another. If our kids had been with us, we, no doubt, would have stayed in the market for dinner. They can’t get enough of the curry wurst, crepes and traditional flammkuchen — a baked dough covered in cheese, onion, bacon and potato. But since our kids stayed in Frankfurt with their grandmother, we decided to skip the bratwurst and head to a proper restaurant for dinner.
As we arrived at our hotel 10 minutes later, my husband received a travel alert for Berlin on his phone. A truck had plowed into the market where we had just been. It was presumed to be a terrorist attack.
We never made it out for dinner. We opted to have a quiet drink, toasting our good fortune, while also lamenting the death and injury toll that was emerging in news reports.
Berlin was quiet and subdued the following day. The police announced the attacker was still at large.
Throughout the city, flags flew at half-mast, and makeshift memorials of notes and candles for the Berlin attack victims popped up at tourist sites and closed markets. Police were present everywhere.
Rob and I didn’t stay holed up in our hotel as was suggested by the travel advisories. We visited the Neues Museum, full of artifacts, art, culture and history thousands of years old; I saw the captivating Nefertiti Bust (1345 BC) and an original copy of Homer’s Iliad.
We went to the Holocaust Memorial and to the Berlin Wall Memorial. We saw historical examples of the best and worst in humanity, examples of both destruction and hope.
The attack on Monday night didn’t just target a market but shattered everything that market stands for: warmth, peace of mind, friendliness, good cheer and happiness.
We acknowledge we are very lucky to have left the market just before the terrorist incident occurred, but we are equally grateful, over the past month, to have had the opportunity to experience and share with our children the markets, but more importantly the traditional German ideal gemütlichkeit — the very ideal Monday’s attack tried to destroy.
Daria Salamon is a Winnipeg writer.