Last night was the first night of Pesach! I spent Wednesday scrubbing my kitchen and oven, and I gave away all my chametz, so I was very prepared. My synagogue held a first-night Seder, and of course I attended. My mom asked me to report back on what was different, but the answer is really: not much. We went through all the prescribed steps. We (well, the children) walked around the room to “cross the red sea”. We opened the door to call for Elijah. We even sang some songs in English (like the song about the four children to the tune of “Clementine”). The rabbi actually gave me a surprise solo—he asked me to sing “My Favorite Things” with the lyrics re-written for Pesach. It went over well.
In traditional fashion, I got pretty drunk on my four full glasses of wine. (I had a bottle to myself, and I finished it.) But I learned that I possess two very important life skills. First, I can still carry on decent conversations in English, German, Italian, and Spanish after a bottle of wine. (We have a very international community at Beth Shalom.) Second, even when I am drunk, I can remember and sing all of Chad Gadya without getting tongue-tied. No one else was singing Chad Gadya, so it ended up being a second, unsolicited solo, but at that point I was too tipsy to care.
The best holiday of the year began last night. It’s not the best-known Jewish holiday, but it’s the one where everyone dresses up in costumes, reads a story in the silliest manner possible, eats lots of delicious cookies, and gets drunk: Purim!
The Beth Shalom community is fairly family-oriented, so we didn’t follow that final requirement, but we had a great party all the same. It began with the reading of the Megillah. American-style Purim Spiels (with, say, Beatles music or Broadway showtunes) aren’t a thing here—I got blank looks when I asked about it—but the reading was still fairly dramatized, with a few Hebrew songs thrown in. It was in German, but we pretended to be reading the Hebrew scroll. (The cantor sang the beginning and the end, and we had to do the rolling and unrolling.)
Germany has a tradition (imitated worldwide) of Christmas markets. Every December, pretty much every “platz” in the city turns into a sea of wooden huts selling mulled wine, candles, scarves, jewelry, sweets, or other trinkets. Needless to say, my fellow Fulbrighters and I have been making a tour of the markets, large and small.
Drinking Feuerzangenbowle (mulled wine, with a sugar cube drenched in rum and lit on fire) with Sonja at the Tollwood Chirstmas market
I’m honestly not sure what these giant windmill-y things are, but all the Christmas markets have them in a vaguely central location. This one is at the Residenz
A sculpture made from recycled metal at the Tollwood Christmas market
“Poor Pig” sculpture at the Tollwood Christmas market. The mouth shot smoke
Rotkreuzplatz Christmas market
Medieval Christmas market at Odeonsplatz. I didn’t get a picture, but there were costumed actors walking around (including one carrying hooded falcons)
Medieval Christmas market at Odeonsplatz
Medieval Christmas market at Odeonsplatz. Stalls sold weapons and cloaks, as well as the usual jewelry, food, and drink
Medieval Christmas market at Odeonsplatz. The “apothecary” sold various sorts of liquor in small vials
Feuerzangenbowle came in an impressive ceramic flagon at the medieval Christmas markets. (It was on fire when I got it, really!) But not a flagon with a dragon, so I didn’t have to worry about the pellet with the poison
Today was a holiday-themed day. After singing a Christmas lessons and carols service with my choir in the morning, I browsed in Christmas markets with a friend before heading to Temple Beth Shalom’s Hannukah party. There, I sang songs, listened to stories about Chelm, and ate enough latkes and jelly donuts to last for eight days. (After all, this is the only Hannukah party I get this year!) After the food, the Hannukah party turned into a dance party, and I learned that my friend Jesse (also American, studying abroad in Munich) knows how to Lindy Hop. I’m a bit rusty (it’s been a year and a half), but we still managed to impress our fellow party-goers.