People like to moan about the winter here in Berlin. From about the middle of September, or whenever the supermarkets break out the Christmas chocolate – whichever comes first – the grumbles of a city fully used to an expecting sixth months of grey skies, dark afternoons and cold, cold, cold temperatures begin to sound. When it finally comes, with the first cold snap of minus temperatures or the initial dumping of a load of snow that sends taxis sliding down the street and kids temporarily insane with the possibilities, people walk hunched and huddled against the biting winds that come, of course, from Russia, and look for sanctuary in the cozy cafes or the warmth of their own apartments. I think it is why Christmas is such a big deal, bringing light, cheer and mulled wine to the streets that lifts the mood for a month or two before it is all of a sudden January and – then – most brutally of all, February. Somehow the shortest month of the year always feels the longest.
Then again, some of us like winter. Those of us who can count the number of childhood snowfalls on a couple of hands and get as excited at the first falling flakes as those children I mentioned in the first paragraph. And I can’t help feeling that Berlin is at its most, well, Berlin-est in the grey and cold. It is how I first experienced the city, and how I spent my first months here, and I find the streets – whether in the half-light of winter daytime, or the soft-light of inadequate streetlights – at their most atmospheric when the nights draw in and the snow starts to fall. And yes, when the manic and cheerful breakfast DJ in his warm studio gleefully announces that it is minus eighteen outside you do wonder and question how romantic this place actually is in the depths of January, but I think the winter is a fundamental part of what makes Berlin what it is, and giving the locals something to grumble about is just an added bonus.
Words & Pictures: Paul Scraton