Liv Hambrett

Germany + Australia + Culture + Motherhood + Home

German Culture, Life in Kiel

The Sick Season

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.


  1. Anja Nohlen

    1 January, 2017 at 1:56 pm

    Hi Liz, it must be Northern Germany. We moved from Ireland back to southwest Germany this summer and none of us had a cold ever since we left damp-grey-cold Ireland, no infection, nothing.

  2. Jordan Wagner

    1 January, 2017 at 9:33 pm

    Oh no! I was hoping that you and the kids would avoid all the illnesses. Since October, my boyfriend and I went from cold (him) to cold (me) to cold (him) to chronic cough (me) to stomach virus (me) to cold (him) to cough (me). I *think* after 2 months we are finally illness free!!!

  3. Swantje

    1 January, 2017 at 10:56 pm

    Erkaeltungstee is the worst ever. I did drink it religiously too.
    Totally agree with the previous post by the way: I grew up in Norddeutschland (Hannover) and I vividly remember its wintergreyness and its Nieselregen and those dreadful periods of sickness after sickness after sickness.

    Sending heaps of sunshine- xx from Austinmer

  4. Susan McLaughlin

    1 January, 2017 at 11:12 pm

    Gesundheit… x

  5. Lina

    2 January, 2017 at 1:30 pm

    I just had the worst cold and cough for 2 weeks – in sunny Melbourne with 33 degrees outside… also liebe Gruesse von “daheim”, we can do it too…

    But I admit, it was the only bad cold this year – living in Ostfriesland was worse!! Gute Besserung. 🙂

  6. Agnes Nielsen

    2 January, 2017 at 2:01 pm

    Probably more to do with what type of ‘bugs’ your body is used to/grew up with. I grew up pretty much as north as you could get in Germany and i don’t remember months of being sick. The odd cold but not endless time in bed either. I moved to Australia and i got sick a lot more here than at home, especially the first few years. Also once I had my child he brought ‘stomach flu, colds etc home from day care. I remember him and us being sick a lot in the first couple of years. So my theory is you build up resistance to certain flu and cold bugs and weather conditions and over time things get better :).

  7. Sonja

    3 January, 2017 at 1:08 pm

    It might have more to do with the fact that you have young children than where you are – all my friends with children are sick all winter long, childfree people – not that much. Kinder sind kleine Bazillenschleudern! 🙂

What do you think?