Tag Archives: New year

A country on stand-by

“I can´t get into the internet! I can´t do my post.” When Francesca phoned yesterday, she was desperate. Disaster started when she agreed to switch to a faster DSL-line with Deutsche Telekom. For six weeks, nothing happened, till  Wednesday 31st. At 11:30 a.m. the technical service from Telekom called. “We switch you to the new line now”, they said. “Please wait till the new year”, Francesca begged. But it was too late. They switched, and the DSL-line instantly went dead. Since then Francesca tries to lure a Telekom serviceman to come to her house. To no avail. “Zwischen den Jahren” (between the old and the new year), Germany is a country on stand-by. 

“The biggest surprise in this is that anybody worked on Wednesday 31st at all”, I said. “Aber Ausnahmen bestätigen die Regeln–exceptions prove that a rule is true”.  As a rule, “Zwischen den Jahren”, work is down to a minimum. In the offices, one man or woman “hält die Stellung” (keeps the department going). Just in case the phone rings. Which it never does. So, time in the office is spent pleasantly with winnowing files on desk and desktop. At home, shelves are reorganized, kitchens restructured, closets cleaned from old junk. Seen from the perspective of the new year,   what seemed of utter importance in 2008 becomes disposable in 2009, and is consequently disposed of. 

During the quiet days”Zwischen den Jahren”, the country recharges. Normally, this time ends on January 1st and is only interrupted by Silvester, New Years eve.

 On this day, December 31st, shops and offices close at 12 o´clock so everybody can get ready for the New Year celebrations. While Christmas is the time for family,  Silvester is the time to go out. Private parties, public parties, special events in cinema, opera, restaurants, hotels … nobody stays at home on Silvester.  Unless to watch “Dinner for one” on TV. This slapstick comedy about an English lady and her Butler  has been broadcasted on Silvester for 45 years by now and never lost its popularity. Its catch phrase ” Same procedure as last year?– Same procedure as every year” has become a typical German saying. Don´t be suprised if a German starts to laugh, seemingly out of the blue, when somebody says “Same procedure as …”. Those few words start a movie in every Germans head, of a butler serving the role of four men at his ladies 90th birthday, stumbling drunkenly over a stuffed tiger.

At midnight, church bells start to ring. Everybody goes outside to light the fireworks. Family, friends and neighbours hug and kiss. “Man prostet sich zu”–glasses full of Sekt, a German champagne,  are joined. With “Frohes neues Jahr” best wishes for the new year are exchanged. Soon after, because of the cold, everybody goes back into the house.

The next morning, January 1st, is a public holiday. In the south of Germany, we eat a Neujahrs-Brezel for breakfast. This pretzel can be made from sweet dough (my tradition) or bread dough (my spouse´s tradition), but it is always huge and finely decorated. Its special form symbolizes the the circle of life, when every ending becomes a beginning. 

Usually, “Zwischen den Jahren” ends on January 2nd.  This year, though, because January 2nd falls on a Friday and nobody bothers to start work on a Friday,  it lasts till January the 5th, in southern Germany even till 7th because of “Heilige Drei Könige”, a public holiday in those states of Germany that used to be catholic. On this day, children called ´Sternsinger` go from house to house, sing and collect money for poor children around the world. As a thank you and a benediction, they write in white chalk over your entrance door: “20  C+M+B 09”. The initals stand for Casper, Melchior and Balthasar, the name of the three wise men, and as well as for  “Christus mansionem benedicat”,  Latin for “That Christ shall benedict this house”. 

After Dreikönig, the row of public holidays end. Life goes back to normal. Which, unfortunately, doesn´t automatically mean that the serviceman from Telekom will stand in Francesca`s door. Nowadays, the old German saying “Wenn es dem Esel zu wohl wird, geht er aufs Eis–when the ass feels too comfortable, he tries the thickness of the ice” changes to “When you have nothing else to worry about, change you telecommunication system”.

But this is another story.

©Truegerman

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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.

@Francesca

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