Tag Archives: American

Zwischen Den Jahren

It is on my windowsill now, because I happened upon it while looking for something else. Placing it in full view is the desperate attempt not to forget it when the right moment comes. Again.

My  “Bleigiessen” set  contains one round spoon and six little figures representing good luck: a little pig, a cat, a cent, a mushroom, a horn of plenty and a sun. These lead figures are melted one by one by placing them in a spoon  over a candle. Once melted you quickly pour the lead into a bowl filled with cold water. As the lead solidifies you look for clues to your future in its new shape. Does it look like a heart, a baby, a crown or a star? Will love, offspring, recognition or good luck come your way the next year?

The right time to play this game, which appears to have been handed to us by the Romans, is “Silvester”, the last night of the year: the time of New Years Resolutions, watching the sketch “Dinner for One”, Fireworks and parties.

As  a child I enjoyed the thrill of staying up late at night to see the clock strike midnight and watch the fireworks go off. We had Panettone , an italian spongy light cake with Sekt (the german champagne and yes, I was allowed a sip for the special occasion). From sixteen  onwards I would go out , dancing the night away, getting cold out in parks and on fields, when it was midnight, time to watch the firework and wish a happy new year all around.

Every year there are calls to tone the fireworks down, to be more careful and possibly even ban them. But from teenager to family man to Grampa, they must have a go at coloring the night – undeterred by the danger of involuntarily setting a car, house or even themselves on fire.

Nowadays I prefer to watch from a distance and the safety and warmth of my house as the whistling rushes towards the skies and lights shower upon the world in red, blue and green sparkles. The question”Que sera”  haunts me. We try to influence our destiny in Italy by eating lentils that promise wealth or in Spain by eating twelve grapes at each stroke of midnight and try to predict the future by pouring lead in Germany.

But the carousel of time is relentless and turns just a little faster with every year. No magic at the turning of the year will prevent or allow things to happen and yet we practice our hopeful traditions.

“Zwischen den Jahren” is the time after Christmas up to the 1st of January. It means between years. The words make it sound as if that could be a long time, but it just refers to the last five days of  the year. Time does not stop, yet it slows down for a few frames, during which I imagine that I could really change the world for the better.

“Zwischen den Jahren” one said and the next said and the next and after many generations, lives and places these words come to me. With them my ancestors hope arrives at my door and I suddenly see their wishes that life by and by would become better, happier and easier were for me and are true.

“Zwischen den Jahren” I decide to think of those that come after me and what will be. What if our New Year traditions are about hope? I cannot abandon the hope of my ancestors, my own and that of my children.

I keep the “Bleigiessen” Set in full view and this time I will not forget to use it. Again.



Filed under typical german

Thanksgiving – Typical American or Maybe Not

I remember how we celebrated our Thanksgiving. Turkey baking smells wafted through the house for hours. Breading that melted on our tongues, yams and cornbread were served and we stuffed ourselves so silly that we barely were able to get up from our chairs and crawl to the sofa where we waited for the first signs of peckishness. This was the perfect moment for pulling out the pecan pies and for my mother to start the coffee. So far so very typical.


Except that the talented cook was my Italian mother and I lived in Germany, with my American father and my three sisters. It was the seventies and we gave our German Neighbors many opportunities to shake their heads and wag their tongues in wonderment at our strange habits. We spoke English amongst ourselves, German as fluently as natives, attended local schools, but preferred to shop in a bi-monthly shopping spree at the PX, which was only accessible to special ID Holders and read the Sunday Comics.


For at least the duration of a week after Thanksgiving, my school friends would regard my school sandwiches with envy, as the leftovers found their way into my school supplies. In those days you could only find Turkey in inaccessible American shops. This has changed since, but then I enjoyed an exotic diet.


Thanksgiving was for the family. After my older sisters moved out they made sure to find their way back home on that day. Boyfriends and later husbands, sometime later grandchildren to my parents joined. As our family expanded so did the table and we squeezed around it to share our bread and turkey.


At some point my father always made “The Picture”. Lamplight shone in our eyes and we tried not to squint. We held on to our cheese smile but our facial muscles soon shook from the effort as the preparations stretched and my father looked for the perfect angle, lighting and setup. “Move a little closer”, he said as he climbed on a chair, which wobbled under the tall man’s feet. He climbed down again, took more measurements of the light until he was satisfied, climbed back on the chair and finally we heard the relieving click. Well relieving until my Dad said, “Let’s make another one to be sure” and a collective sigh of “oh no” circled the table. A lot of those pictures have been made over the years as the ritual was repeated whenever we had guests, birthday parties, Christmas or Easter to celebrate saved in numbered albums which we leaf through with enjoyment.


Although we lived in a small town surrounded by farms I did not know any farmers. The land was fast disappearing, swallowed by one suburbia development after another. We lived in one of those new areas. Many of my neighbors came from eastern regions, from which they had fled during or shortly after the war. The new street names were bitter-sweet reminders of their origins: Brandenburg, Sachsen and Thüringen. They grew vegetables in their gardens or even reared pigs and kept hens—more reminders of the land and life they left behind.


The rest of us “Neubürger” (new citizens) had to buy the goods that were offered when it was time for the “Erntedankfest” in church (Harvest Thanks Giving) service.


As a child I did not wonder why I was celebrating either Erntedank or Thanksgiving. It never occurred to me that the celebrations might be related. One was a church celebration that I experienced in a German environment, the other a typical American tradition, which I grew up with, in what I now realize, was an untypical family.


Nowadays the turkey is smaller, not only because we tend to all be on diet, but because European appliances, to which we have switched, are smaller. We can buy the bird in German shops, along with Yams and corn flour. We arrived in this country with little more than a tradition and now our food followed us. The world becomes a bit smaller and more familiar in strange places.


And is that not what Thanksgiving is about, is that not what makes my family so American and so typical after all? We have arrived on unfamiliar shores and are pioneers once more, coming together to celebrate our safe arrival and the making of new lives.



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Filed under Germany, World

Hello everybody interested in German and American culture and traditions

Do you want to know why your grandmother always said “Eile mit Weile” when you scurried through the house? Do you want to know how it feels to do Thanksgiving the American and the German way? Do you want to hear a true German und a Euro-American exchange their stories?

Then this is your blog.  Write your comments and share your view of the world. Join us in exploring the significance of culture and traditions in everyday life.


Filed under World