Put on your baggy jumper and loosen up, dollface

Homemade soup? Gingham? Bare wood? I’m sorry, I think this picture has grossly overstepped the EU certified coziness limits.

The season of mists and mellow fruitfulness is over, folks. Now that December’s kicked in, we’re looking into nothing but the season of damp and mother-schmucking-freezingness. The first frost rolled over us last week, and from now on it’s going to be a series of long dark nights, wearing a minimum of five layers of clothes and constant intravenous mainlining of hot tea. Hurray!

Though the winter makes life a lot harder in several respects – the beginning of a period in which I spend 90% of my income buying, losing and then replacing umbrellas and pairs of gloves, for one – it’s not going to get me this year. I know it’s game now; I now grasp Berlin winter, a time where each day I would stand on the train platform and think, ‘This is a temperature that is beyond cold; this temperature is making my spinal cord hurt. I am certain that this temperature is against the Geneva Convention.’ My first Berlin winter was such a relentless time of simultaneous bitter cold and quite overwhelming depression that I often found myself in slack-jawed amazement at quite how freezing and bleak the situation was capable of becoming. I used to climb into bed at night and lie there with my poshest tutor’s voice echoing in my head with the words he once said to me at a formal dinner: ‘Oh lord, not Berlin? No, dreadful city. Especially in winter, bloody appalling – why on earth would you want to go there?’ (This was long before I got to know the man more thoroughly and realised that his default stance on everything was one of profound and sardonic disdain).

Then there were a couple more winters spent in the UK, each one a long, relentless fiesta of wet, grey everything. Steamed-up buses and biker’s bum, that delightful pattern of the round wet buttock-patch and the intersecting stripe of mud that appears on every outfit you own after you spend five minutes cycling around Oxford in December. Stupid flavoured lattes and nothing – absolutely nothing at all – to do. After two winters like those, I began to realise that the freezing, punishing winters of Berlin are a thousand times more bearable than a grizzly UK winter for several reasons:

  • (yes, bullet points) In Germany, you are allowed to wear stonking great wadges of warm clothing when the weather gets nippy. It is completely socially acceptable to sport a coat the size of a Russian nuclear bunker, a ginormous furred hunter’s hat and boots that could accommodate a family of hibernating bears. The clothes are produced with that in mind; shoes and boots are made with real manly tread on the soles for grip on slushy pavements, rather than the usual polished cardboard that shoe-soles are made with in the UK. Coats are made in the way they ought to be made, with decent hoods and fuzzy linings and enough pockets to store two gloves, a handful of tissues (some used), a box of throat sweets, a touch-screen phone that you can’t actually use because of the gloves, and some keys that your fingers will probably be too numb to use by the time you get home. Children wear padded onesies that were clearly first designed by a humanitarian genius. I saw a man the other day wearing a combination bike cape and coat which had a small plastic window on each side of the hood so that you can look left and right before crossing the road without having to yank your hood out of the way. Genius.
  • There are things to do in the evening: namely, Christmas Markets. Who cares that they’re schmaltzy and touristy and mostly sell stuff you wouldn’t ever think about buying? The point of a Christmas Market is not to buy stuff or absorb any semblance of humble Christmas spirit. The only Christmas spirit you need is the extra rum in your delicious mug of Gl├╝hwein which you and your friends can sip while marching around the stands and smelling the aroma of roasting nuts while laughing at the tat on display in the gift stalls. Eventually, you all get too cold and then just go to the pub or home to blissful early sleep.
  • German central heating is the bomb, in that bombs reach a lethally high fiery heat within milliseconds of the first explosive reaction taking place. I don’t know what it is about German radiators, but they seem to achieve delightful toastiness in just moments, while in public buildings they are simply always on, so that stepping off the street into any establishment whatsoever is a moment of pure carnal joy.

 Fundamentally, I simply enjoy the fact that when winter begins, everything is given a lot more wiggle room to be relaxed and imperfect. We’ve agonised through months of summer, a time when you are expected to look gorgeous like a cherry blossom whilst coping with skin-crispingly relentless heat. We’ve felt the angst of the season where every day is supposed to be a perfect social wonderland, flitting from one delightful engagement to the next, seemingly never needing to waste the sunshine by doing anything as inelegant as washing the dishes or pulling slimy clots of hair from the shower drain. Summer is a time to be aspirational and go-getting, and to wake up every morning thinking that you must make the most of the day. Winter is the time to give yourself a break and to wake up thinking of nothing at all save the bleary remembrances of the dream you were having and a faint aspiration to perhaps make some porridge. 

In winter, you can finally be easy on yourself and live a more comfortable, fluid existence. The weather is determined to be unpleasant so you can feel justified and happy in making up for that in other ways; you can dress for warmth and cuddliness without having to care a jot about the fact that you look like the Stay-puff’d monster from Ghostbusters. You can go to the cinema and watch utter trash and it is wonderful. The Berlin discounter supermarkets bring out all their baking supplies, so you can stock up on all kinds of crazy ingredients (small phials of butter-rum flavouring? Multicoloured candied peel? Every kind of nut you can imagine, ground, flaked, crumbled or even sculpted into an effigy of Samuel L. Jackson?) and then spend afternoons baking, then pawn it off on your friends and co-workers. You are allowed to get a little squidgy around the edges and you are allowed to wear ridiculous hats (the more ridiculous the better, frankly) and, frankly, the world just seems to develop a bit more of a sense of care-free humour. Dogs appear on the streets in hilarious tiny coats with little fur-lined hoods. Burly, scary-looking men wear large, fuzzy mittens. Kids start making lanterns and Christmas knick-knacks at school and proudly parading them along the pavements. 

And then, at the end of the day, you can get home and make this soup. Dear lord, people, this soup. You need this soup to be in your mouth immediately. 

***Roast-pepper and pumpkin soup with rosemary***

Ingredients (makes 4 servings):
1 small or 1/2 large butternut squash/pumpkin
3 red peppers
3 medium onions
1 large carrot
2 cloves garlic (unpeeled)
4 sprigs rosemary
1/2 litre chicken/vegetable stock
olive oil
salt and pepper 

1. Set your oven to 200C and chop the peppers into small pieces, about the size of a computer keyboard key. Throw the chopped peppers onto a baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil and stir the pieces about to get them coated. Place the garlic, still in its peel, on the baking tray, then pop the whole thing into the oven for 15-20 minutes.
2. While the pepper is roasting, dice the onions, carrots and squash/pumpkin. Keep the skin on the squash; it’s delicious and has tons of fibre and vitamins in it, and it will soften completely when cooked. 
3. Cook the onions and carrot with some salt over a medium heat in a pan until the onions are translucent, then add the pumpkin/squash, the rosemary and the stock and bring to a boil.
4. Turn the hob to a low heat and let the mixture bubble quietly until the pumpkin is cooked through. Remove the peppers from the oven when they start to blacken a little at the edges. Squeeze the garlic, now roasted, from its skins directly into the saucepan, and toss in two thirds of the pepper pieces.]
5. Puree the whole lot (be careful to remove any woody rosemary stems, although it’s a good idea to keep the leaves in the mix) and return to a low heat.
6. Stir in the remaining roasted pepper pieces, and add salt and pepper to taste, plus a glug of milk to loosen the texture if it’s too thick for your liking.

Happy Winteristmanksgivukkah!

Rose T