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Lubeck: Happy Christmas

Back in August, we organised to rent an apartment in the German town of Lubeck for two weeks, from December 20th rigth through to January 2nd. We were being joined by, at various times, ten other friends; including some of our best mates, Trickey and Sarah, and Gab and Marr´y, who have appeared in this journal before. Also coming along, in fact it was their original idea, were Karen and Benno, and their friends Andrew and Kristen, and Sam and Jane. Karen´s grandparents had been born in Lubeck, and she had always celebrated a German christmas as well as an Australian Christmas, so to be able to spend Christmas in Lubeck was especially special for her.

We arrived in Luback fairly early on the 20th; we were keen to get to the apartment first and get first dibs on a bedroom (the last couple to arrive would be sleeping on a foldout couch). After hailing a taxi from the train station, we got our first glimpse of Lubeck; a beautiful old town with a skyline dominated by a series of extremely thin, tall, green spires, rising up from the huge number of churches in town. The old town itself was an island, surrounded on all sides by a wide river. It was when we got our first glimpse of the river that the taxi driver pointed out the main sites; “This building on left, yellow building, it is discotecque. And here on right, on corner, this also discotecque. You can go here to dance.” Awesome. A bit further on, “Boat over there, also discotecque,” the Germans, they love a good discotecque.

For the first few days, only Bec and me, Karen and Benno, and Andrew and Kristen were present, and the six of us set about turning our sparesly decorated apartment into a shrine to all things christmas. First task was to buy a tree, and after careful consideration, we got ourselves a six foot high bona fide christmas tree. None of this plastic crap, or the typical Aussie pine tree, this was a perfectly shaped green thing that smelt wonderful and was just waiting to be hidden under a mountain of decorations. And let me tell you, we didn´t leave that tree dissapointed. Lights, tinsel, borbels, little wooden things, and one hell of a star. I hadn´t decorated a christmas tree in years, and I´d forgotten how much fun it can be.

That night, the six of us pulled out a deck of cards and began a game of Texas hold ém. Neither Karen nor Bec had played before, so we had to give a couple of quick lessons before we could begin. The other battle was finding chips to use. We had no proper poker chips, nor did we have matches. In the end, we used a mix of Chinese checker pieces, small plastic men used for games like ludo, and some dominoes, giving each an appropriate value for betting with.

After a few rounds, I was out, closely followed by Bec, Benno, and Andrew, leaving Karen and Kristen to battle it out. Karen was soon dominating, and at one point won a small pot with an unbeatable hand, “Why didn´t you bet more than that, there was no way you could be beaten.” Benno asked. Karen pointed to her ´chips´, as well as a whole army of little platic men, she had six dominoes that were lined up next to one another; double 0, double 1, double 2, double, 3, double 4, and double 6, “I want the double 5, and it wasn´t in the pot, so I didn´t care.” she said, as though it were the most obvious thing in the world. Her entire betting strategy hinged on the colour of, and numbers on, the chips she was betting with. And she´d kicked all our arses.

A few days later, Trickey and Sarah, and Jane and Sam arrived, bringing our total to 10, in an apartment with just 3 bedrooms. Karen had explained to us about her German ancestry, and how she had always celebrated a German Christmas on the night of December 24th, as is the German tradition. And so early on Christmas eve the 10 of us headed off to a fruit and veg market to stock up on supplies for both our Christmas eve dinner, and our traditional Aussie Christmas lunch to be eaten the next day. Pork, turkey, fish, parma ham, three types of German sausage, pumpkin, saurkraut, cauliflower, broccoli, carrots, beans, potatoes, dumplings, and some weird vegetable that looked like a small christmas tree (no kidding), and we were set for a mighty feast.

The food was accompanied by some of the cheapest beer Í´ve come across on this trip, as cheap even as in the Czrech Republic. At the nearest supermarket to our apartment, an ALDI, they stocked two types of beer only. Maternus Premium, and Maternus Gold. And no, I hadn´t heard of them either. They came in 500ml bottles. Plastic bottles. It didn´t really bode well, but its savoiur was the price. For a six pack, thats three litres of beer, 1.65 Euros, or about 2.66 Australian dollars. How could we go wrong? And, when we finally plucked up the courage to drink them, they were both surprisingly tasty. Yep, this was gonna be a great christmas.

Before we could tuck into our dinner though, I had one task that I had to fulfill. As I mentioned in a previous post, my beard had started to run a bit wild, and Bec had had enough. Just to give you some idea of its horror, here´s a couple of mug shots that Trickey took, Front and Side . After repeated requests, I finally promised her it would come off on christmas eve. I gave Bec the first ceremonial cut with the scissors, before locking myself in the bathroom for about 40 minutes, slowly cutting and moulding the shape, before emerging with a tribute to everyone´s favourite Australian celebrity criminal, Mark ´Chopper´ Read. For those non-Aussies who have not seen the movie Chopper, with Eric Bana in the lead, I have to highly recommend it. But, I think it was actually a step backwards from the beard, here, see for yourself.

Later that night, with my chin seeing the light for the first time in two years, we hooked in to our German dinner. It was fabulous; one of those huge dinners where calls of “pass the spuds mate”, and “wanna refill there mate?” ring out across the table, tangling themselves with laughter. And then, at around 10pm, with bulging bellies, the phone calls back to Australia began. With the 10 hour time difference, it was 8am on christmas day back home, and for the next hour or so each couple retreated to a bedroom, or a phone booth outside, to call home and talk to their families. Speaking to my family was real treat, we always have a huge chritmas, and this was the first time I hadn´t been either with my family or with Bec´s. Being on the other side of the world though, having 8 of your best mates around makes it a little easier to deal with.

Following the phone call session, Jane and Sam introduced a classic dinner party game, one they called After Eights. The name came from the after dinner mints that were involved, After Eights. The first task was to put an after dinner mint your forehead, and then, using nothing but your facial muscles, the goal was to get it into your mouth. If it fell off your face, you had to put it back on your forehead and start again. I´m not sure whether the beard would have helped or hindered, but either way, the faciacl expressions we produced, and the chocolcate covered faces that resulted, were hilarious.

Christmas day bought with it the usual morning of present openings; with people bringing packages from family back home, as well as all the presents we had bought each other, there was no shortage of things to be unwrapped. After a cleanup we had our second enourmous meal in less than 24 hours. A huge, huge turkey had been in the oven for hours, and was cooked to perfection, thanks to Andrew. There was also a long pork roll that was wrapped with parma ham and baked on slices of apple; absolutely delicious. With no disrespect to the cooks for the Hogan christmas, this was the greatest christmas meal I had ever eaten, possibly the greatest meal I had eaten full stop.

The only thing missing from our German christmas, the first Christmas I think any of us had spent in the Northern hemisphere, was snow. The old white christmas that everyone dreams of. Back home, christmas day is normally associated with 30 degree temperatures and games of backyard cricket. This would most likely be our only chance at a white christmas, but by the end of christmas day, there was still no snow.

That all changed though, first thing the next morning. Sarah cam running into our bedroom around 9.30am, “It´s snowing!! It´s snowing!!” she yelled before running back out. And damn, she was right. It was Dresden all over again; looking out into the street, seeing everything covered in white, cars buried deep under 6 inches of snow, it was hard to imagine the place without snow.

And this, on Bec´s birthday. Not a bad present. Certainly better than your boyfriend shaving off his moustache, which was the best I could offer. Shame, Dave, shame. We´ve promised each other that, whilst we´re travelling, birthdays will be celebrated with copious amounts of good food, which we certainly got our fill of over christmas.

I´ve posted a number of pics from our two weeks in Lubeck to our flickr page, which you can see here.

And finally, I hope everyone had a smashing christmas.

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