Friday, July 17, 2009

2 x 1

Hamburg, Germany


A year ago, at exactly midnight on July 15, my water broke. The contractions began in earnest about 3 minutes later and continued every 90 seconds thereafter for the next 11 and a half hours. At exactly 11:11 am, I gave birth to a baby girl. She was beautiful, even though she looked like a little old man who had been in the sauna too long. She was mine, even though she felt strange. I marveled at her tuft of black hair, her caterpillar fingers and her puzzled eyes for the next 3 minutes or so - before she was handed off and I was told to get ready to push when the next contraction came. Right. More contractions and eventually, 19 minutes later, more baby. Henry was blue and slightly confused, as though he expected to come out somewhere else.

So on Wednesday, in celebration of these moments exactly one year ago, we rounded up the troops, put out a spread, poured a few glasses of Sekt – or the German equivalent of Champagne – and turned the front yard into an FKK strand. That is – the mothers got their drink on and the babies got into „Frei Korper Kulture“ literally, free body culture or the infamous German nude beach – i.e. they got into their birthday suits!

The front yard overflowed with: 10 children all between the ages of 1 and 2: Max, Louise, Liv, Felix, Maya, Miko, Anton, Fritzi, Amalia and Henry; plus eight moms, three dads, one babysitter, one neighbor and two grandparents.


There are a few unwritten rules that Germans unwaveringly, religiously and uncatagorically follow with regards to birthdays:

1.) There must be cake. There ABSOLUTELY MUST be cake.

2.) If it is your birthday, YOU bring the cake.

3.) Herlichen Gluckwunsch zum Geburtstag or "heartfelt happy wishes for your birthday" is the equivalent of Happy Birthday. AND it is NEVER UTTERED ALOUD BEFORE MIDNIGHT OF YOUR ACTUAL BIRTHDAY. You are seeing a friend today, but will not see her tomorrow which happens to be her birthday? For GODS SAKE, do NOT wish her an "early happy birthday"! NOOOOO! Germans will look at you as though you have just run your fingernails down the chalkboard, scraped a fork over your teeth, stuck your fingers in your armpits and then smelled them.. you get the picture.


When I play the, „If I were to open a restaruant/café/bar/store, it would be a...“ game, I always come back to one example: an American-style deli in Berlin called Barcomis, created by an American woman, Cynthia Barcomi. She has a real deli counter and real Amercan baked goods: bagels, muffins, brownies, cheesecake. And when I say real American baked goods, I mean they taste like your childhood, like your mom used to make, like the corner bakery; NOT like so many of the Starbucks rip-off chains in Germany who sell something that looks the same under the same name – but leaves the palate more homesick than ever, falling short in what seem like the simplest ways – the blueberries in the muffins have no flavor, the brownies crumble into cakey clumps when you bite into them, the bagels – don’t get me started. Barcomi’s menu includes comfort foods like grilled cheese sandwiches, tuna melts, BLTs and various chowders – again, done right. Barcomi’s is an institution in Berlin with a loyal local following and lots of tourist traffic as well. Ms. Barcomi, after constant prodding from zealous fans, has published two cookbooks including a „bake book“ with her favorite baked goods. I picked up a copy while in Berlin last month and decided that the birthday party was the perfect opportunity to try both her white cake and her chocolate fudge cake recipes - because although they share a birthday, they shouldn't have to share a cake, right?

After a round of "Hoch sollen sie leben" and "Happy Birthday" we helped the kids blow out the candles and then offered our guests their choice of white cake with Henry's handprint or chocolate fudge cake with Amalia's toe imprints. Despite the toes, the chocolate fudge cake was the undesputed champion with 3/4ths of the cake gobbled up on the first round and half of what was left dusted off for seconds. My kids too prefered the chocolate to the vanilla - which is no surprise considering the frosting was made with a large bar of bitter chocolate, a half a pound of butter and a little double cream (which was part inspiration, part improvisation).

Mmmm, finger-licking good!

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