It’s impossible to live in Germany and NOT talk about the weather. Wherever you go and with whomever you speak, the first topic of conversation is always the weather, not because Germans like small talk (in fact most Germans are still wondering about the necessity of small talk at all), but because German weather forces us (those crazy enough to live here) through cycles of joy, frustration, madness and utter desperation on a weekly, if not daily, basis. It would be entirely unthinkable for me to live here and not write about the weather – probably more often than you would like to read, and I’ll go ahead and apologize now for it – because the weather really is just that dramatic.
I was all set to write about the positive way Germans deal with their bodies; they are comfortable in their own skin and allow others to see them that way too. As I was cooling off at the swimming pool last week in the 37 degree weather (that’s Celsius, of course, which is around 98 degrees Fahrenheit) admiring the various swimsuit styles, the topic seemed a very appropriate one. Alas that was last week and any images of Germans basking in the hot, summer sun have been washed away by the incessant rain falling from gray skies. This week I sit at the computer hovering over a cup of hot tea and wrapped in a sweatshirt, my brown skin the only reminder of those four days of summer. At 12 degrees Celsius (54 degrees Fahrenheit), it’s really no wonder.
Growing up in the Midwest, I knew to expect hot and humid in the summer and cold and wet in the winter. Of course there would be days in the summer that weren’t quite as hot as others, but I never wavered in my decision to pack away the long pants for the duration of those three to four months. In winter I would suffer through the bitter cold days with everyone else and play in the snow with my brother and be happily surprised in case the sun decided to shine. But the promise of that very hot summer always pulled me through those gray days of winter.
Ah, the glorified summer days of northwest Indiana. I have forgotten the over 80 % humidity that makes breathing difficult. The swarming mosquitoes that cover and bite as soon you step foot outside after dusk are only a vague recollection. Air-conditioning turned up so high you shiver when indoors has long been ignored. What remains in my memory are the warmth and the sunshine; what I savor most, however, is the Beständigkeit.
Beständigkeit, what a wonderful German word! It means reliability, consistency, stability. A rough definition might be: if you are expecting something to happen because it has proven so in the past, then this expectation will be fulfilled. The summers in the Midwest will be hot and humid because they have always been hot and humid. And this word is so wonderful because it explains in perfect detail exactly what German weather is NOT. There is nothing – and by nothing, I mean absolutely no tiny part or detail – of German weather that could be considered beständig. The month of May was warm with the perfect amount of precipitation the last two years? Can we expect May this year to be similar? ABSOLUTELY NOT! According to the German Weather Service, May 2013 was the “the second wettest May since measurements first began in 1881”. Of course this could just be one of those freak incidents by which no definition can be made. But it seems to me freak incidents characterize German weather.
My father-in-law attempted to explain this unbeständigkeit (another fun German lesson: add an un- to the beginning of many adjectives and it becomes the opposite!) to me one evening when I was again praising Indiana summers and desperate to understand why exactly the weather here always has to be so darn different all the time. According to him, Europe has a relatively small land mass, which gives the weather fronts (for example the cold and warm weather fronts) much more influence. These fronts develop over the ocean (to the west of Germany), over England and its surrounding bodies of water (to the north of Germany), over the southern European countries and Africa from which we often get our hot weather – love these! – (to the south of Germany) and over Russia from which we get our very cold weather – don’t love these – (to the east of Germany). These fronts are constantly moving and changing, resulting in weather that does the same. Apparently even our weather is heavily influenced by the European Union.
We’re getting geared up for our family reunion, this time in Germany. My brother asked for some advice as to what they should pack, weather-wise. Helplessly I shook my head and shrugged my shoulders.
“If I could tell you that I would be a millionaire,” I told him. He looked at me strangely. (It was over Skype, so maybe I misunderstood; everything looks a bit strange with Skype.) Perhaps it was an odd response, but you see, no one can forecast the weather here more than a few days in advance. It would be like foretelling the winning lottery number or properly prophesying the next Cub World Series win.
“The best advice I can give you,” I continued, “is to be prepared for everything. It could be incredibly hot; it could just as well be chilly and rainy. Most likely we won’t have snow, but around here, you never know.”