That Holiday in Berlin

When I finally got up late in the morning, it was still pretty dark with such a hint of daylight. Outside snow covered everything in the courtyard of a friend of a friend’s apartment where I stayed.

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Christmas Market Berlin (photo: Asatira via Pixabay)

Having just arrived late that night, I was still a little jet lagged. So I closed my eyes for a bit. When I opened them again a few hours later, it was dark again! How long had I slept?!

I’d forgotten that Berlin was far enough north to get some of the daylight distortion that comes with the seasons. The bleakness of its winter made me imagine why these Teutonic tribes constantly sought sunnier shores to conquer.

Holiday Fun and Games

Yet it wasn’t all doom and gloom. Once I finally met up with my friends Thomas and Erin, we moved my stuff over to their cozy apartment. They were in the middle of assembling a hanging star decoration.

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Lovely Holiday Stars

Later we met up with his brother and a friend to visit the holiday market at Gendarmenmarkt near Friedrichstraße. If you ever go, you can’t miss it. It’s all the best of past Christmases wrapped in a bow.

It brought back memories of ice skating at Rockefeller Center, munching on churros off State Street in Chicago, seeing the Marshall Fields window displays.

The Germans know how to celebrate the holidays. There’s nothing like warm mug of spiced Glühwein to brace against the chill, or munch on some currywurst. But, of course, there’s hot chocolate – and the German people know their chocolate!

A Taste of German Food

Now I know that like the county fair back in the States, this isn’t “real” German food any more than funnel cakes and roasted corn is American fare. But there’s still something uniquely different about their spin on celebrating the holidays.

Eventually, we made it to the countryside where we spent the new year’s eve. I sampled one of the traditional German dishes sauerbraten. Unfortunately for my vegetarian friend, it was like that bit out of Big Fat Greek Wedding. They offered him some boiled vegetables.

So when I finally cooked for my friends who hosted me, I improvised a vegetarian chicken parmesan but substituting tofu in place of the breast meat. It didn’t turn out half bad. When I get a chance, I’ll need to make a video.

A Bit of Dancing Tango in Berlin

While dancing tango in Berlin wasn’t much different than other parts of the world, you still definitely know you’re dancing there. The people there have a certain energy that is unique to them. It’s a combination of warmth and austere calm that’s all at once quick with a restrained laugh and politeness for keeping you at arm’s length until they know you better.

That’s probably one of the main reasons why I love to dance tango. Once you connect with someone on an emotional level that’s tangible as touch, there’s no going back to pretenses. The stereotype of the serious, uptight German gives way to another human being sharing a moment of play and self-expression.

So each Christmas holiday no matter where I am and what I’m doing with family and friends, there’s always a special place in my heart for that one time in Berlin.

Post Note: Here are some other places to check out Christmas markets in Europe.

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Photo: Christmas Market in Zagreb via European Best Destinations

Focus on the Journey Not the Destination

“Life is a highway.. I wanna ride it.. all night long” – Tom Cochrane

“I’m just not getting what you’re trying to show us!” I yelled in frustration. It’d been weeks now since I started taking lessons from Miller. He was both a brilliant dancer and teacher. Yet something was just not connecting.

While I had learned the basics from my Argentine tango teacher, I wanted to do the “advanced stuff” – the moves that seemed like all the cool kids knew and kept to themselves. I was ready, or so I thought..

Originally, I had started learning tango as way to improve my aikido practice. But pretty soon I was hooked and never looked back. Unlike swing dancing and other activities, I soon learned that I couldn’t just “dabble” in tango – it was all-in or nothing.

A pivotal moment came early on, when I attended a fairly advanced workshop. Although the instructors themselves were incredibly patient with me, an older Chinese lady pulled me aside between lessons. “Do you speak Mandarin?” she asked in a hushed whisper. Er, yes, why? She then proceeded to berate me in my native tongue, essentially asking what the hell I thought I was doing.

Because of my lack of understanding of the fundamental movements, I had been resorting to “winging it” whenever I floundered with learning a particular sequence. I thought I was being creative, but looking back I have to admit that it was the equivalent of scribbling gibberish in a college level writing course.

Too often we’re more interested in getting to the final destination than the actual journey. In the 1980s kaizen became all the range in the business world, as Americans marvelled at Japanese productivity. Ironically, this process of improvement came from an American (Deming) who taught them this methodology during the post-war rebuilding of the country.

While calling it “kaizen” gave it an Asian mystique that blended well with Eastern philosophy and culture, the scientific methods were very Western. The bottomline was that developing a process of improvement that not only provided short-term results, but also ensuring that success was more than just a matter of luck.

When life forces us into situations where self-improvement is the only way out (like learning to walk) we tend to comply. But other times we resist or avoid it altogether.

Sometimes our personal tastes lead us to have an interest or passion for improving. That was the case of cooking for me. In the age before YouTube and celebrity chefs the only real choices I had available were to find recipes and occasionally catch a public television show with a quirky chef.

Both dancing and cooking involved mastering basics before taking on more elaborate performances. In tango if you couldn’t lead a follower into a cross step, then it was pointless to be shown a more complicated sequence. In cooking if you didn’t know how to prep ingredients, then it was a lot harder to cook even the most basic dishes like an omelet.

Here’s the ironic part – learning to *be* a better dancer also made me a better cook AND ultimately, dare I say, even a better lover in bed. (Come on, ladies, help me out here!)

“How you do anything is how you do everything..”
– Derek Sivers

So, when we focus on the process, success becomes just a side effect of the results. The swordsmen learns to cut through the object. The archer focuses on the draw and lets the arrow hit its mark.

“Goals are for losers” – Scott Adams, creator of Dilbert

Recently, I’ve been reading How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big by Scott Adams where he talks about a key to his success being his own focus on systems vs. results. Adams unabashedly goes through his many starts and stops until finally hitting on his One Thing.

In travel, of course, it is definitely about the journey. Some of the most memorable moments on trips have been the drives or the plane rides.. or often the misadventures when things don’t quite go as planned.

How do you focus on the process, not just the results?