After nearly two and a half years in Germany, or, I should add perhaps, twenty-six years of life, I have finally discovered the secret to happiness. You ready? It is: do nothing, eschew the heavy planning that comes with the desire to have something “exciting” to brag about later, keep good friends and—when possible—good food nearby, and keep cozy. Conscientious German readers will recognize this quite clearly as Gemutlichkeit, that fuzzy, faintly Bavarian concept of good living that still permeates German culture today, in which all one needs to achieve happiness and satisfaction is a good mug of beer and a warm fire (and possibly vaulted ceilings in a glowing, faintly Romanesque cavernous beer hall or the dark wood paneling and low ceilings that scream Swiss chalet). But it isn’t quite just that. If two and a half years in Germany and three new years eves have taught me anything, it is that, in the words of the immortal Robert Burns, “The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men/Gang aft agley.” That is, that trying to plan out an evening to the last detail can all too often ruin it completely, while declaring your intentions of being spontaneous, or perhaps even more callously, renouncing the whole affair and staying home, can sometimes lead, as I experienced last night, to one of the best Sylvesters in recent memory.
Having once flown into Berlin the day before new year’s eve and constructed the night from scratch in twenty-four hours, and having once attempted to plan far too much and ending up doing something I hadn’t expected all the same, I was ready for a change this year. Gone was the desire to ring in the New Year with hundreds of anonymous hipsters while loud, boring techno-music blared. Gone was the possibility of a house party, as I had been invited to one the day before (the thirtieth) and another the day after (today, the first), and had little desire to sandwich them around yet another that could hardly live up to either of them. I briefly toyed with the possibility of retreating from the festivities altogether. The long-held plan had been to go up to Parstein and be content, alone together, but then Johannes got a Sylvester gig, and the romantic fireside twosome in my head was reduced to one. Then I was briefly invited up to a rented cottage on the Ostsee, but realizing I could only go up for one day (do to the aforementioned pre- and post- New Year’s parties) and was still expected to pay the full-amount for the five day-affair, I had to decline. Then, the plan that was not really a plan came from a casual observance at a Christmas market with my friend Nicole: we both, we realized, were so sick of New Year’s Eve plans that the best thing we could think of would be to stay at home. Nicole professed a desire to cook, I opined that I would simply run a hot bath and sit there watching a movie with a glass of whiskey in one hand and a bar of soap in the other. In the end I went with her idea.
Aside from one last-minute change (we had to scrap our original plan to eat oysters at KaDeWe or Galeries Lafayette gourmet counters when we found out one day before that both of them would close at two, and went for the much less-known but equally good Austernbar at Hauptbahnhof) the barely-planned evening went off without a hitch. The great thing about having no expectations is of course that your expectations are always exceeded. Since Hauptbahnhof is of course just across the street from my house, the plan was to invite Nicole and her boyfriend Mike over to dinner after oysters. While Nicole went to the last-supermarket-alive (the always reliable Kaiser’s) to collect greens for a salad, I used my brand new pasta machine, bought by us as a Christmas present to each other, to crank out and stamp out sixty or so ravioli wrappers. Popping over to Hauptbahnhof at 19:30, I found my dining companions and reveled in the view of Washingtonplatz and the Reichstag, already exploding with the odd firecracker of amateur fireworks display, through a large wrap-around window on the first floor of Hauptbahnhof. We ordered champagne and a plate of oysters each, bemused by the confetti, streamers, and party poppers covering our table:
The service was impeccable and we were practically the only ones there. On the way out, Mike took a photo of the two of us looking like Russian dolls in our vintage coats and winter fur adornments, which is making its rounds on the internet as we speak:
(Photo by Mike)
We came home and prepared the ravioli, filling the shells with a mixture of ricotta and prosciutto, sealing each pocket carefully with a finger wetted with egg whites. Nicole made a French salad with lardons and a poached egg on top, and we shared wine, and then coffee and some of Johannes’s mother’s famous Rotweinkuchen:
At midnight, we grabbed a bottle of rum and glasses and headed out to the bench just on the other side of the wall from our house. The city exploded with color, fireworks everywhere; not only the large billowing plumes of the professionals at Brandenbuger Tor, but also the small trickles shooting up blithely all over the city from all the mischievous, do-it-yourself Sylvester spirits (one of the things I both love and hate about Berlin at Sylvester is that all forms of explosives are basically legal and even encouraged). From our perch we had a 360-degree view of the city in all its glory, and we clinked glasses of rum as Mike lit up a Cuban cigar for the occasion. It felt like the best New Year’s celebration ever, and all the more special because we didn’t even really need to try. When Johannes came home an hour later we were deep into my favorite comedy special, Eddie Izzard’s impeccable “Dress to Kill,” which now feels like it should be a sort of tradition along the lines of “Dinner for One.” But really, in the end, nothing could beat that midnight view, or the knowledge that, after it was all over, it was only a short one-minute walk around the corner, back to warmth, and coziness, and home.
(Photo by Nicole)