I used to think the most intolerable part of a north German winter was the grey. The grey sky, the grey trees, the grey water, the grey air. Days of no colour that bled into one another, January indiscernible from February. Second to the grey was the wet, the needle rain, the Schietwetter, the drizzle, the downpours. Oh, and the cold, of course – the thigh-numbing wind, the ducking and darting from overheated shop to overheated shop. (I am used to the cold now, it doesn’t bother me as much as it used to. Although I dream, I dream, of beaches.)
But now I know that the most intolerable part of winter is actually the fact that, for months on end, everyone is sick. Dastardly colds, the flu, the stomach flu, they cycle through the general populous, knocking cities out like dominoes. As you stagger to the finish line of three days of efficiently throwing up, efficient because you have to be while your kid projectiles all over every piece of spare bed linen you own, someone in the family starts coughing threateningly. A week later you are all hoiking up vast amounts of phlegm and splashing seriously weak eucalyptus oil over every piece of spare bed linen you own. Your toddler develops a Honigfenchel addiction and considers it part of bedtime routine. You use the word ‘Schleim‘ about three thousand time over the course of th day. After about a week, you stagger out of that cold, thrilled the baby can now breathe without a litre of Otriven being pumped into his nose every night, and then the toddler’s nose starts streaming. Again. Your throat closes up. You genuinely start drinking Erkältungstee because you are that desperate and when you are desperate you start to think like a German, and thinking like a German means believing a bag of dried unhelpfulness dipped in boiling water will cure all that ails you.
We are crawling out of a fortnight of sickness (when I say ‘we’, I mean the kids are crawling out, I appear to be crawling in …) which began precisely a fortnight after die Lüdde got over a cough/runny nose combo. I have come to realise, through sheer positive thinking, Netflix, enough chocolate and wine, and a good coat, I can do grey, I can do cold, I can do wet, I can do days on end finding ways to entertain a toddler while the Spielplätze outside are off limits … But I don’t know if I can do the sickness. The constant, hoiking, coughing, sniffing, vomiting sickness. That sense of never quite feeling well.
I had a chat with a couple of other immigrant ladies the other night, about why the sickness season in Germany is so dire (and dire squared when one has children). Dire in that, when a bug goes around it is both vicious and so widespread it knocks out the country. Dire in that, there is a period of health that lasts about a month, before the next bug barges in. And we were a varied bunch theorising: a few Americans, an Australian and a Finn. I have always theorised it is a combination of no sun, low light, low vitamin levels, and the completely unhealthy overheating of indoor areas which means you go from freezing outside, to overheating and sweating inside, about four times a day. An American tossed in her theories of population density and lower levels of hand-washing. I then began relentlessly questioning SG as to whether he believes Germans are less hygienic and whether or not his colleagues wash their hands enough.
Anyway. We’re surviving, if not thriving over here, and the end of this latest bout is in sight. It is a fresh, new, shiny year and I love fresh, new shiny years. Let’s clink Erkältungstee cups and drink to good health, even if only for a couple of weeks.