Fröhliche Weihnachten [Emma Kennedy, Freie Universität Berlin]

“So this is Christmas!” sings John Lennon in the famous festive tune. Well, not quite yet John, but apparently nobody has told Berlin. Apparently the highest temperature this week will be -3°, and as I write this it’s snowing, which is lovely to watch from my fourth-floor window. I had a friend visiting over the weekend and so the last few days have consisted of all manner of holiday activities, from ice skating to Eierlikör sampling (it tasted a little like condensed milk spiked with alcohol, think I’ll stick to Glühwein), with a visit to six Weihnachtsmärkte in one day being the angel on top of the tree for festivity… It’s been interesting to learn about the Christmas traditions in Germany and how they differ to those at home – as well as cosy old Nikolaus (Santa, of course), German children have to contend with Knecht Ruprecht, a frankly frightening looking black-bearded character who leaves a sack of coal if they’ve misbehaved during the year!

I don’t quite know how I reached this point but classes are now finished and it’s only 3 days time I fly home for a 13 day winter break. As much as I love the festive atmosphere in Berlin, I’m glad to be heading home to spend the holidays with my family. I know students from China, Russia and Australia who are staying around as it’s too expensive and time-consuming for them to fly home, and I’m glad that I can get back to Scotland relatively easily (weather permitting!). That said, I’m already excited about coming back to Berlin in the New Year. Taking advantage of the crazy prices at the recent Ryanair sale, a friend and I booked £4 tickets to go to Stockholm for the weekend, which is apparently a bit of a tradition for Erasmus students here, as the flights are so cheap. Perhaps January is not the ideal time to be heading to Scandanavia but for that price, who’s complaining? Spirits will not be as high in February with the beginning of the exams but the material I need to study is pretty interesting and hopefully I’ve left myself adequate time to prepare, so I’m not worrying about that just now!

Today, however, is set to be slightly stressful – I’m preparing to move all of my possessions into my new flat. Not particularly enjoyable at the best of times, but I feel the snow dampens the fun factor even more. This is the third flat I’ll be living in in Berlin – for various reasons, the other 2 didn’t work out, and the city’s fairly lax attitude towards renting (no signing of contracts and fixed lease agreements like you’d expect in the UK; it’s fairly easy to find a place here, even for only a short amount of time and subletting is common and generally accepted) has meant it’s been easy enough to move. Easy in a legal sense, that is. Schlepping back and forth multiple times on the U-Bahn trying to carry your whole life in an assortment of suitcases, duffel bags and Lidl plastic carriers, is not quite as simple, but as I’m moving before Christmas, at least everything will be sorted before I fly home.

As the New Year approaches, I’m feeling rather reflective about my time on Erasmus. I’ve already have learnt far more through being here than I could ever imagine (or write down in a blog!) and I know there’s still more to come. I have managed to forget all my original worries about moving to a different country, and simply had a great time instead, quickly falling in love with the city and meeting lots of amazing people. I know my language is improving, which is satisfying, but I also have a long way to go before I reach a level that I’m comfortable at, and I’m going to try my hardest to work on that in the new term. There’s plenty of excitement to come as I return next year for the second part of my first semester, but the most exciting thing for now is the prospect of going home and eating mince pies – a festive tradition that somehow never made it to Germany!

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