Everything you have heard about how Europeans take their August vacation seriously is true. Munich is a ghost town. The light over our floor’s elevator door will remain un-repaired until the electrician comes back, sometime at the end of the month. The porta-potty in our driveway, now with us since early July, remains uncollected. Scheduling doctor appointments or even obtaining prescription renewals is left for later in the month. Stores remain open, trams keep running but Beloved reports that this is a great time to catch up on professional reading as the phones at work have gone quiet.
One of the words Germans use for holidays, especially shorter ones around Easter or Christmas is the word “Pause,” which seems to mean the same thing it does in English – “a break,” Like Christmas break. At the same time the Holiday Pause feels different then the American Spring Break. Back home, Christmas and Spring breaks are more for people who are in school and a problem for families whose children require supervision. Most American adults keep working through the whole break. Here in Munich, the whole city takes a real pause from day to day life together. The attention shifts from ordinary time to perhaps family time, or just go hiking or skiing time.
The city thins out during the pauses, but when it comes to August, everyone is out of town. At night I look out at my neighbor’s buildings and see only dark windows. Neighborhood restaurants post signs saying they are closed for Urlaub and come back in September. Traffic markedly reduces. There’s not even enough cars around to form a proper traffic jam most nights.
We don’t do this in America. We keep working week in and week out. Europe simply heads for the coast or the mountains. They still have travel agencies here, real people sitting at real desks in real brick and mortar buildings. Department stores, camping gear stores, all offer travel agencies within the grounds of their building.* European friends ask us, fairly soon after getting to know us, “How do we survive on only two weeks of vacation?,” as if this is some tragic misstep in an otherwise mostly civilized country. They are right to be concerned. We should take August more seriously.
Beloved and I take our days and spread them out over a year. We build up four and five day weekends, once every month or so, and then we go see something. I’m not sure if we could spend an entire month sitting by a lake because we’re still too eager to see everything. Furthermore we don’t have the extended family structure, the patterns of life that would support such an extended stay in once place. We are more like butterflies with a limited range of time in Europe.**
So we plug in our fans during the heat waves and close up the windows long enough for the thunderstorms to pass by. We ride our bikes out to Munich’s living room – the English Garden – and watch friends in Shakespeare plays. We hang out in a field, surrounded by so many other Munich citizens, and play together in improv jams while close by three young women play guitars and teach each other songs. A little further on, a group of young men try to attract the attention of the girls and their guitars. Its August.
Those who remain in town know how to enjoy the summer nights. On our way home last night, we passed along the bi-monthly Rollerblade night. Hundreds of people, young and old, out roller blading together with police making the way clear all around Munich’s inner city. Its a sight to see.
This is the season of Urlaub. This is August.
Dear America: I commend this tradition to you.
*They also have grocery stores which is another difference I’ve gotten used to but that’s another day’s post.
**How limited, at least another two years. After that…