After lecturing at the International Congress of Andrology last week about my research in azoospermia, my wife and I explored Berlin beyond the campus of the Free University of Berlin. We found the holiday spirit everywhere!
Here it was, early December, frigid and wet, and Berlin felt as inviting as a warm fire in a cozy den. This great city was slowing down to enjoy one of the most important holidays of the year in Germany. I guess this shouldn’t have surprised me as it is the culture that invented the Christmas tree during the Renaissance and helped popularize ole’ St. Nick from the Middle Ages. Heartfelt smiles peeking through hats and scarves, bundled up families strolling boulevards, and holiday lights glimmering in windows of all sizes were everywhere. I was quite struck by how simply, quaintly and elegantly Christmas had rolled out in this old European city.
Despite the snow and rain, all of Berlin was out at night, milling about the famous Christkindlmarkt (Christmas Markets). Begun here the late Middle Ages, these markets sell food, drink, and seasonal items from open-air stalls. Here people gather, listen to brass band music, and drink beer or hot mulled wine (Glühwein). Trust me, Glühwein is an acquired taste. But, imagine a melody of mechanical carousels filled with frolicking kids as snow silently falls from the sky.
Deep within these stalls, you’ll fine something that the Germans are famous for: hand blown glass tree ornaments. Believe it or not, Woolworth stores starting importing them into America in the 1860s.
Being German myself, I also realized that here lies the genetic origin of my “sweet tooth.” Delightful delicacies were everywhere, ranging from candied apples, to baked confections, to fruitcake (“stollen”) to ornately decorated gingerbread houses. Quite a sugary spectacle! I could feel the cavities starting just gazing at them.
There is a prescription here for all of us this holiday season: Slow down. Smile more. Make a point to find, listen to, and enjoy your friends and loved ones. Nod to a stranger. And don’t put off living. The world will still turn at the same amazing speed that it always has, but maybe, just maybe, it will become a slightly more habitable place for all mankind.