This winter has been surprisingly mild, but that all changed about two weeks ago. We got our first real snow of the year, and the temperatures dipped well below freezing and have remained there ever since. On one hand, this weather makes riding to the grocery store on your bike much less romantic. On the other hand, the nearby lake has frozen over and we in Damme can partake in one of my favorite childhood activities: ice skating!
Growing up, I, along with every other child my age in western Pennsylvania, took ice skating lessons. I think they were supposed to make me more graceful and feminine, though the actual results varied somewhat. Now that I’m thinking about it, it might be the case that a lot of us alive during the were 90s all about ice skating. There were the Mighty Ducks movies, the Penguins won two Stanley Cups, and the US kept winning gold medals in the Olympics. I wrote a fan letter to my idol, Kristi Yamaguchi, and got an autographed photo from her in return! (It made for killer show-and-tell material.) I remember seeing the Ice Capades at the Civic Arena; I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that it was awesome. There were even ice skating-related scandals. Remember Tonya Harding clubbing Nancy Kerrigan in the knees with a crowbar?
Luckily, no one was waiting at the Dümmer to crowbar my knees. Instead, I was greeted by sunny skies, cold wind and hundreds of my fellow winter sports enthusiasts. My friend drove around the lake to the village of Lembruch and parked. Then, we laced up our skates and headed out across the Dümmer to the village on the opposite side, Dümmerlohausen. According to Map My Run, it’s a 2-mile trip across, making for a 4-mile round trip. I was definitely nervous. Not only was this my first outdoor ice skating experience, it’s been a looong time since my glory days back at the Beaver County Ice Arena. It turns out the muscle memory is not a myth. My body still remembered how to skate, and I only fell once. Success!
Besides being tons of fun, the skating trip supports my theory about the two major cultural differences between the US and Germany. The first is that Germans tend to be very physically active and spend much of that time outside. Going for a daily walk in Germany is a given. It appears to me that everyone does it. During times when I’m thinking, “Now I can sit down and watch TV,” I look out the window and see everyone else outside. You can even still sit outside at a café in the dead of winter; you just use the blankets provided by the café. Furthermore, the physically activity is more integrated into everyday life than it is in the US. I feel that we divide our time into certain “zones” and those zones don’t overlap. We even have different clothes for the different times, i.e. this is “exercise time” and I am wearing my workout clothes. If it is not my exercise time, or I am not wearing my workout gear, I don’t want to sweat or get dirty. Here in Germany, if you can walk somewhere, you do it, and if that walk could just as easily go through the woods as on the sidewalk, you always go through the woods. You might show up at work with mud on your good leather boots, or be sweaty from having ridden your bike there and be totally unexceptional.
At the Dümmer, you could see this mentality in action. In addition to the ice skaters, some people just wanted to go for a walk on a frozen lake. This seemed to me like an unnecessarily dangerous stroll, but you just can’t stop Germans from walking around outside. I even saw a woman pushing a man in a wheelchair around on the lake! Now that’s an example of dedication to exercise and outdoor activity that we Americans just don’t have.
The second major difference on display at the Dümmer is the German dedication to celebration. Even though they don’t have the reputation for it, Germans celebrate something constantly. Just think about the kale party. This is an entire gathering around the fact that a vegetable is in season. Even the daily afternoon break for Kaffee und Kuchen, coffee and cake, is tiny reason to stop what you’re doing and enjoy the company of others. At the Dümmer on Sunday, there were sausage carts, French fry stands, Glühwein stands, skate rentals and guy on a tractor whom you could pay to pull you around on the ice on your sled. Basically, a party appeared just because the lake froze over! I would love to see the look on American face at the suggestion of spontaneously erecting food carts without permits, drinking one or two alcoholic (!) outdoors in the presence of children. This is assuming, of course, that you have the energy for just such a break after putting in your sixth 10-hour workday that week.
The German propensity to party will be on display again over this upcoming weekend when Damme has Carneval. Damme has been celebrating Carneval officially since 1614. So basically, while we were busy establishing the kind of twisted, puritanical cultural foundation that would allow someone repulsive like Rick Santorum to have a shot at running our country, the folks in Damme were establishing a committee to make sure that there was a reason for their community to celebrate and something to look forward to in January and February besides seasonal affective disorder. That’s something for Americans think about.
Here are a bunch of photos. I couldn’t narrow them down, because it was such a cool experience. Check out all the dogs!