Germany is a secular country, despite the anachronistic church tax. It is also a diverse country. So when I prepared for my Preschool English sessions last week, I could safely assume that not everyone would be celebrating Christmas. I chose a winter topic rather than a religious one. A lesson with an abridged version of Frosty the Snowman and a carefully controlled target practice involving Styrofoam snowballs and a pyramid of paper cup snowmen is a hit. We make snowmen greeting cards and only two kids want me to write Merry Christmas on their cards. When I ask them about the holidays, they tell me it will snow, which it almost certainly won’t, but I don’t tell them that, of course. Everyone is united in a fervent belief in snow. I wish them happy snowy holidays.
Not unlike in the U.S., most people here wish each other “Schöne Feiertage” rather than “Frohe Weihnachten”. That said, Christmas traditions are alive and well, and for the local Christmas Market the medieval part of the city is cozy with beautifully decorated wooden booths selling everything from gingerbread to salmon baked on open fire pits. People stand huddled together close to the fire sipping mulled wine out of ceramic cups—no plastic anywhere in sight. The accent is on relaxed togetherness, on lighting up the darkness. There are candles everywhere these days, even in shop windows. Real candles.
This morning, on my way for some last-minute shopping, I hear my favorite holiday greeting so far: “Ich wünsch’ dir was.” I wish you something. Something good.
After my return to Europe last year I became an avid Facebook user, eager to keep in touch with friends I left behind, and also to help me document and cope with the challenges that came with the big move. The first few months Facebook was a lifeline that initially served to console me, but eventually tethered me to my previous life so tightly I found it difficult to fully engage with my new surroundings. I suspended my account only to return a month later, feeling I was missing out. Nothing had changed, which was both a relief and a disappointment. A couple of months later my account was compromised and I suspended it once more. Again I returned, caught in a seesaw of “not-with-you-not-without-you”.
What has caused my definitive break with Facebook, however, isn’t fear about my data and the company’s cavalier conduct concerning user privacy. Although it should have. The reason my love affair with Facebook is finally over is what I want to call the Flaschenpost-Effect. Flaschenpost is German for message in a bottle. No matter how important the events that shape us, when we turn them into social media posts, they become one-dimensional. As Facebook-users, we are ourselves as flat as avatars. We “like” and “heart” each other’s posts, but when we see each other in person, we tend to make absolutely no reference to anything we saw or read on the other person’s timeline. As if our virtual realities have nothing to do with us. Online posts do not, as a rule, start conversations even if they may start revolutions. Each one is a message in well-sealed bottle, bobbing up and down in a vast ocean of bottles. We get glimpses of words and pictures through thick glass, but rarely take one out of the water to pry open the cork and pull out the rolled-up paper inside.
I have to admit that my blog feels much the same to me these days. Still, I place this missive in a bottle, and toss it into the vast, polluted sea.
Today, tomato seeds are making their way into space in their own interstellar greenhouse. The special satellite with its self-contained mini-ecosystem was built by the German Aerospace Center, traveled to California, and was launched today in Los Angeles. Tiny organisms produce the nutrients and oxygen necessary for the twelve seedlings to develop. While they won't be landing on the moon, I couldn't help but imagine them on its cold surface: tender leaves unfurling under the blue light of their interstellar orb, fruit red against the white and ancient moon dust while far away their sisters shiver on supermarket shelves.
I paint and write and live mostly in a country of my own making. I've shown my work at cafés and galleries in the US, Spain, France and Germany. Among my children's books are El Loro Tico Tango (The Parrot Tico Tango), El Fandango de Lola (Lola's Fandango), both published by Barefoot Books, and the stories for the Tikitiklip Precolombino series of children's videos (Producciones Ojitos, Santiago de Chile).