Freiburg is on the 48th parallel. The long straight border between the US and Canada is on the 49th. So we currently live a fair ways further north than I ever thought I would, and we are still in the extreme southern end of Germany. For comparison, where I grew up in the southern US is the same latitude as Athens, Greece. Why does this matter? It gets dark here in the winter. A lot! And early.
Germany: the Darkening
From early November to roughly March on the other side, it will be dark by at least 5:00pm. This means I come home from work in the dark. In fact, I look out now even in late November at 4:45 when it is getting dark already and realize I still have to work a few hours. Around Christmas it will be fully dark by 4:30. This is insanely early for me and really can take a toll on the psyche. And we are in the south of the country, travel 500 miles north to Hamburg and knock another hour of daylight off.
The balance to all of this dark is that in summer it stay light for a long time. Life in general is often about balance, so we enjoy our long summer days by enduring long winter nights.
I am very attuned to the weather and sunlight. My mood rises and falls pretty closely with the amount of sunlight and good weather we have. A few days of rain, especially in the winter with all the darkness, gets to me pretty quickly.
I don’t really remember being like this in the US. Maybe this is part of my cultural adaptation. Germans love the sun and will sit in a small patch of it at a cafe in the depths of winter like a cat, just basking in the light. On the other hand, maybe this is an effect of being an expat. No matter how adapted I am to living here, it still takes more energy than living in the US. And when the light isn’t there I dip in energy a bit more.
Beyond the mental effects, I notice that I definitely want to sleep more. I also have the urge to eat more to counteract the lack of sun energy. I am sure this is all in my head, but it does seem to match up.
Either way, the lack of sunlight is quite pronounced living here over in the southern US. And I know we don’t have that bad. I have had friends in Scandinavia tell stories of the darkness there in the winter to curl your toes. And even I saw a bit of on my week bus tour through Scotland at Christmas a few years ago. I know now why they go to the pub so much. The pub is warm and lit. Add the German weather pattern that includes a lot of rain and cloudy days and there is a good reason why Italy and Spain are such popular travel destinations.
At least in December there are plenty of Christmas things going on. Christmas markets and parties provide a good reason to get together with friends. In January though it can be hard.
What to do?
My choice would be to hibernate, but meh there still needs to be things accomplished. I still have to head to the office, blogs still need to be written.
Here is my list:
- Spend time out with friends or just among other people.
- Spend time in well lit places.
- Go out and enjoy any sun that happens to occur.
- Set yourself a goal for the winter months. NaNoWriMo is November and could be a good thing to work on in the winter.
I try to make sure I get out to well lit places more. I don’t notice the dark outside if I am in a nicely lit cafe even at night. This meshes with making sure to see friends as well. There is an urge to hibernate at home that will increase the feelings of isolation as well as reduce the urge to put out energy to plan things. I need to fight against these urges and await the coming of spring.