When I was in my early 20’s, I made the bold (naïve) decision to relocate to Germany for an undetermined amount of time. I was debt-free, had a terrible broken heart, and craved a good, old-fashioned adventure. I was also a hopeless do-gooder and wanted to do some good, but in Europe. The decision making process for my transatlantic uprooting went something like this:
Friend: I want to move to Germany.
Me: Okay. Let’s do it. Where?
Friend: How about Munich?
Me: Sounds good.
One year later, we did it. We moved to Munich.
My friend was smart. She spoke German. She found a job and a work visa before she moved halfway across the world. She had a place to live and steady income and food to eat and a means to communicate with other Germans. I was more of a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants girl at the time, and decided that buying a plane ticket and securing a bed in a hostel was enough for me.
Now, let me just pause for a moment and say this: THAT WAS A STUPID THING TO DO. Foreign country, one-way ticket, no work visa, no job, no place to live, no grasp of German language, my life savings ($1283) and no plan? Yeah. The height of stupidity.
I decided that living in a shared room in a hostel next to the train station wasn’t for me when the Australian guy in the bunk next to mine kept bringing home girls to have sex with and their feet would end up in my bed, rhythmically bumping me in the head, in perfect harmony with their drunken love-making. Sure, I was able to trade one night of “bartending” off the books for my lodging, but this was not working. I was sure I would die of traumatic brain injury long before I ran out of money or resourceful wit.
My friend, who secured employment as a nanny for a wealthy family, also managed to secure a nanny position for me with another wealthy family in the same fancy, suburban community on the outskirts of Munich.
Being an ex-pat nanny (or Au Pair as they call it overseas) had very few benefits, and innumerable drawbacks. When my employer locked me out of the house and confiscated my passport because I was forming a friendship with her daughter, I found my boundary. I packed my bags and left that afternoon. Also, I never let my passport out of my reach again.
I ended up living with some other friends, occupying an empty bed, trying to find myself and having some big feelings in the process. I spent my very first Christmas far away from my family, sad and kind of lost and feeling like I was stuck in the middle of a (more terrible and funny) Tom Green movie.
The things that saved me during that first Christmas?
2. Magical Holiday Street Markets
3. Mulled Wine
Every year, I recreate my favorite street vendor’s glüwine (pronounced glue-vine), and remember that crazy freedom. I’m instantly transported back to those snowy cobblestone streets, freezing hands and feet, warm belly, and everything tinged with magic even while being naively idiotic. This seasonal treat shows up around Christmas Eve in my house. It’s rich, warm, and will transport you to Europe’s most quaint Christmas Markets. It will also give you a pretty good buzz, so beware.
4 bottles of cheap-but-not-the-worst red wine (I chose a red blend from Barefoot)
1 organic orange (I know. Organic. But it’s important because you use the rind)
30 whole cloves
4-6 cinnamon sticks
2-4 whole star anise
3 cardamom pods, partially shelled
2 whole nutmeg, cracked
Give your orange a good roll between your hands or on a flat surface. This will make things juicy. Poke the sharp ends of the cloves through the peel, into the flesh of the orange.
Slice orange in half and place in the bottom of the crockpot. Add spices, wine, and simmer. You know, like you do when your amazing family is getting on every last nerve.
Check your holiday brew after a few hours. I usually toss the star anise about 90 minutes into the process because I like to make sure every spice has a chance to speak for itself. But if you’re into hot red wine that screams “black licorice!”, knock yourself out. You are a person with strong beliefs matched only by a desire to drink all the mulled wine by yourself. I can celebrate that.
You can also make this ahead of time to give as a gift. It stays totally drinkable for 72 hours in the fridge when you have a tightly sealed vessel.
I also recommend drinking mulled wine alone. Maybe in the shower. After you’re safe at home and done with family for the holidays. Process. Feel it all. And then get ready for New Year’s Eve.