I had always intended, in my vague plan of what I’d write here when, to write something about Christmas in Germany. I was going to describe the Weihnachtsmarkt and enthuse over the delicious Glühwein that comes with it, and how cheering it is to walk through the bustling crowds on the way home from work. I was going to tell you about how the lights twinkled, transforming the miserable darkness of winter into something quite magical. I was going to recount all the Christmas traditions my colleagues had brought into our office, and how different – and how similar – the festive season is here.
I haven’t written this particular post, though. What I hadn’t anticipated was that I’d fly home a week earlier than planned, cutting short my time to ‘research’. (I had, of course, sampled the market by mid-December, and it was wonderful. It spanned across streets and streets of the centre, selling lovely treats like fur insoles for shoes – a dream come true – and delicious pots of jam. Every possible ledge gave way to strings of lights, glittering and sparkling. Everything smelled of pine cones and cinnamon and Christmas. But still. I was going to spend the final week practically living there).
I’ve written about my health here before and I can’t believe it’s sneaking it’s way in again. I had hoped I’d reached a turning point from which I would get better and better, but one Friday found myself once again in the doctor’s waiting room, my heart pounding, my limbs aching and struggling to catch my breath (these were the symptoms, not my nerves). Clearly running out of ideas of what to do with this perpetually-not-well English girl who was becoming all too much of a frequent visitor, he signed me off work for a week. (I believe his exact words were – “I don’t know what else to do with you. See if the English doctor does.”). Although I was, on one hand, horrified that he wasn’t able to just “fix” me, I realised with something verging on pure ecstasy that if I didn’t have to work for the next five days, I could go home now. And so, after some last-minute-flight searching and a hurried bout of Christmas shopping, I caught the Sunday morning bus to Berlin and was back in the glorious Midlands in time for dinner.
Home felt eerily familiar after more than four months away. I think I’d somehow expected it to be more overwhelming. The biggest change by far was Macie, our lovely border collie, who has deteriorated into the gloomy depths of old age. She’s blind and glum, crashing into things on her walk, and so thin that you feel each ribcage as you stroke her. I spent a glorious three weeks basking in the familiarity of old faces: a Christmas dinner with school friends; five days in Cornwall with Sam, with Christmas services at the Cathedral; Christmas proper with my lovely family; a boxing day trip to Lancashire; several rounds of cousins; New Years Eve with my much-missed Oxford pals in London; and the beautiful wedding of an old friend in Bristol cathedral. And – perhaps most eagerly anticipated of all – a visit to my childhood GP, who took one look at my blood test results, realised the German doctor had made a mistake, and that I wasn’t anaemic after all. I stopped taking the iron tablets (or, pills of the devil), and I’m feeling MUCH better (although not quite as better as I’d like to be). I’ve had as many blood tests as I have fingers and I may still be battling off some sort of virus but I’m fine.
I landed in Berlin on Monday. “It was minus twenty in Poland yesterday,” the lady at the check-in desk had informed me with an almost sadistic smile, “so it’s probably the same in Leipzig. Enjoy.” She was actually wrong by a whole eleven degrees, but the slap of icy air each time I step outside will take some getting used to.
And so here I am, back in my strange antisocial flat which has all of the cons of communal living with none of the pros. I have three and a half weeks left at work, which is something of a relief. Leipzig is bitterly cold – never above zero – and the sky is so dark with snowy fog that you’d be forgiven for thinking the sun hadn’t quite made it out of bed. (I feel his pain). I’m filling my remaining free time here with the good bits of year abroad: evenings with friends, free concert tickets, and a trip to see Felix in Hamburg next weekend. Nearly there.