When I was in Madrid, staying with my frined Amanda, I had a conversation with Moritz, one of her German roommates, about words that don’t translate well to other languages. As an example, he used the German word Gemütlichkeit, which he explained as the “feeling of being around a fireplace with your friends, comfortable and drinking hot chocolate.” We determined that “coziness” was the best equivalent, but that it didn’t quite capture the essence of the word.

Gemütlichkeit, it turns out, is what Munich was all about.

I was met at the airport by my friend Adriane, who was my JET neighbor in Japan, although she wasn’t a teacher — instead, she worked as a cultural relations liaison, making foreign visitors’ stays smooth affairs, translating various materials, and the like. She’s trilingually fluent (way better than me at Japanese), and a brilliant, lovely person. She took some time off and played tour guide everywhere, which was amazingly generous of her.

Munich at this time of year is stuffed to the gills with Christmas Markets, which I’d seen a little bit of in Edinburgh and Madrid. In Germany, the Christmas Markets seem to come in several themes, with some focusing on arts and crafts, others focusing on food, and one memorable market patterning itself after old medieval times.

They had a LOT of good food there. Tragically, I was still not feeling 100%, due to my recent bout with Parisian food poisoning, and so I had to pace myself. Still, it must be said that any reputation Germany has for bland food is undeserved. Not only did they have a lot of very well-prepared meats, but their wines and beers were, naturally, top-notch. My favorite treat was Glühwein, which is heated, spiced wine. Everyone would wander from market to market in the cold, and then gather around a glass of Glühwein to warm up. I’d had a glass in Edinburgh (after swimming through an ocean of fellow patrons to order it), and it was delicious. The Munich Glühwein was even more so. I actually bought some packets to bring home, so I can make it. It never gets cold here, so I plan on using it for skiing/snowboarding trips, and in my upcoming Japan trip.

Most of our adventures around Munich proceeded at a leisurely pace. Partly, it was because I was still not in tip-top shape, and partly because we were always tethered to the phone, on the possibility that Air Berlin might, at some point, deliver my missing luggage, but mostly? Munich is a small town, and there’s not a ton of tourist spots. I was tired, and happy for a bit of a break. One of the fun things we did, though, was ride the ChristkindlTram, a Christmastime train that meanders through the heart of Munich over the course of 30 minutes. It’s mostly for kids, jam-packed with people, and its speakers play horrible, overwrought Christmas tunes, but I didn’t care.

The impression that stayed with me was of happy folk of all ages, joking and chatting away, sipping the Glühwein they could buy on the train, bonding as a real community.

In other words, Gemütlichkeit.

The “coziest” part of my short stay in Munich, though, was definitely meeting up with a large group of Adriane’s friends at a bar — however, it almost wasn’t cozy at all. As we sat around, drinking delicious beer and chatting, the conversations drifted towards America’s standing in the world, Neo-Nazi resurgence, and Hitler’s legacy. All of which made this tiny American Jew quite uncomfortable, initially. I know how ridiculous that sounds, but realize, now: I went to Jewish school when I was quite young, where I was told that not only was I one of the Chosen People, but that many races and tribes throughout the centuries have made it their mission to destroy us. Years of this tried to instill in me a victimhood mentality, where all Christians, Arabs, Germans, and Amalekites were out to get me. My fifth grade homework was to make political cartoons of Saddam Hussein. I literally thought Christians were my enemies, at least until it was pointed out to me that my mom was Christian. I’m miles and miles better now, but suffice to say, it’s something I’ve had to wrestle with repeatedly over the years, and nowhere more than here.

I know. It’s all in my head. Thankfully, with every passing year, there’s less of it, and more of this:

New jokes. New places. New names. New faces. New people to love. New words.


Thank you, Adriane.