I went to the Christmas Markets in Berlin last month. We got caught in a blizzard (which is actually pretty standard for our family holidays) and generally had great fun.
Here are some observations.
- They offer hot dogs in Berlin that are half a metre long. As a direct consequence result I ate a hot dog that was half a metre long. There is something about dramatic numbers and challenges that is inherently attractive – also there is something about Bratwurst that is inherently attractive.
- The Christmas Markets start in late November and it really doesn’t feel too early – that means that 6 weeks a year in Berlin are full of festive cheer. Over 10% of the year. So whilst (seemingly) half of the UK is moaning about the merits of Christmas jumpers the Germans are already holding a nationwide festival of hot dog eating and beer drinking that takes up almost every street. It doesn’t feel ‘less special’ for starting early, it feels wonderful because of the consistency of positivity and the community feel. The best solution to cynicism is enjoying yourself.
- When you get a mug of hot chocolate with rum (as I may have done once or lots)or mulled wine you rent the glass it comes in as well. You pay a deposit of more than the manufacturing cost of the glass and then elect whether to take it back or not. It’s a glass or a memento. Nobody loses either way. The English may be a nation of shopkeepers, but the Germans have invented a deliberate win/win situation where every time I steal from a shopkeeper they are delighted at the profit. I don’t know an organisational parallel, but I’d love to find one (perhaps ‘I’ve hijacked this meeting so we can spend the time taking work off you’?)
- The underground in Berlin works by you being required to have a valid ticket. End of story. If you don’t have a ticket and you get caught then you are in trouble. For most people this means that you don’t have to bundle your way through the bottlenecks caused by the hateful TFL barriers, you don’t have the kerfuffle of the Oyster card not working for the person in front of you. They assume you have a valid ticket and therefore wouldn’t want to inconvenience you by putting up barriers. I know plenty of organisational equivalents for this. Trust people, remove barriers, everything flows better – doesn’t mean you can’t punish noncompliance or you are weak – it means you are confident you recruited adults.
- The coming together of cultures was wonderful. It was very confusing knowing how to speak to the waiters when they know you are English – but you are ordering in an Italian restaurant in Germany. Generally, people find a way to communicate. Often this involves grinning and stupid hand gestures. I have no idea why I thought I could mime ‘pepperoni’ or why I thought I needed to – but what you do in the moment doesn’t always tally with what you know to be sensible. I feel smaller every time I travel for understanding how much I don’t know – feeling smaller is often a spur to growth.
- You forget, when working in London, just how little space there is. You get used to it. The wider streets in Berlin made everything more relaxing. Every trip out of the hotel felt at a different pace. That lack of intensity is a holiday in itself. I resolved when I was back in London to go for a walk around the parks and squares at lunch. I haven’t managed it once – I’m trying to work out if that is because of London or me. I probably know the answer.
- The zoo was grim and would fail the ‘beermat test’ – please check out my slightly more downbeat post here
We’ll be going next year…I’d encourage you to as well