Sunday, November 30, 2008

Giving Thanks the Deutsch Way

I just spent my first Thanksgiving in Germany. It was different. For the eight years that I lived in Brooklyn, Thanksgiving meant fighting the ugliest holiday traffic. I eventually developed various strategies to cope.

At first, I would purchase an Amtrak ticket on the Monday before Thanksgiving. On the following Wednesday, I would catch the subway from Brooklyn to the train station in Manhattan, push through the throng of people trudging through the station, and wait for the train from the secret spot one level below the main floor. One year, I economized and took the bus. I paid economically and psychologically for that decision. The bus never showed up and there was no one in the waiting area who would help, so I hopped a cab to the train station. After those struggles, I would then arrive in downtown Philadelphia. I would either take a lovely commuter train to a neighborhood near my mother’s house and wait for the XH bus that never adhered to the schedule or brave the gross City Hall Station on the subway that took me to the prompt 6 bus.

I eventually tired of that mess and started arriving on Thanksgiving day, about two hours before dinner was served. No travel mess. Just a big, delicious meal with family. There was the traditional post-dinner rounds of embarrassing stories, but once that ended, the movie marathon began.

This year, I was not going to experience any of the Thanksgiving traditions because I was not in the United States. I wanted to miss it but I did not. I didn’t miss it until we made the decision not to mark the occasion at all. Then I missed endless talk show segments on how to create an innovative turkey dinner; the talk show segments that demonstrated how to make a traditional Thanksgiving meal; the thrill of not working on Thursday and Friday; listening to all my co-workers’ and friends’ stories of family fun; the continuous flow of sale ads for Black Friday; the horrible travel; and the general thrill that surrounds Thanksgiving.

As I prepared to teach English Thursday afternoon, everything just seemed so inadequate. No family. No food. No embarrassing stories. No movie marathon. Just soup that I picked up on my way home from German class.

Asmus called me in the midst of my preparations and demanded to go to Thanksgiving dinner. I protested a little, because he had not been feeling well. When he said that he felt fine, then I happily surrendered.

The Hamburg Marriott did not have my nephew but it did have my Asmus. With our first plate of food in front of us [I was determined to follow the American tradition of eating too much on the fourth Thursday in November.], we both listed something that we were thankful for. Fortunately, I was thankful for his entrance into my life and he was thankful for my being in his life. He also said my monologue was too long. Oh well, it seems that one of us is just more grateful than the other.

The cooks at Speicher 52 did a respectable job in replicating the American Thanksgiving dinner. There was an unbelievably-moist turkey, dressing with way too much celery, delicious potatoes au gratin, and sweet potato puree. The other items were delicious but misplaced. Autumn in Germany features lots of fresh corn and that was in abundance on the buffet. There was also various salads. My family eats many things on Thanksgiving but salad is not one of them. However, my favorite salad in the world sat on a table and I had to dig in. I went from full to bursting with a nice helping of Cobb salad. It was so worth it. I trudged from bursting to real problem with the ingestion of pecan pie and creme brulee. I took the pain happily.

The only problem was the lack of couch at the hotel. Usually I would lie until the pain of gluttony passes but we were in the middle of major hotel. I did not want to weather the stares that would naturally follow a Black woman moaning and splayed across a couch in the lobby.
We went home and I tried to sleep with too much good food in my stomach. It was a nice facsimile of the American holiday.