• Berlin
  • Seymour Gris: In love with the cold


Seymour Gris: In love with the cold

It's the all-too-familiar sound of a Berlin winter – the expat whine. As if tonnes of us who came here never had the wherewithal to figure out that central Europe had cold winters. Gris? Well, he loves them.

Image for Seymour Gris: In love with the cold
Berlin winter, 1978. Courtesy of the Bundesarchiv

Tis’ the season. The season of expat whining. “Why did I move to Siberia?” Then the heating breaks down or the hot water goes cold or your throat turns into a bacterial menagerie. Your building manager or plumber or doctor has zero sympathy for you, just contempt for your pathetic Zugezogene – “one who has moved here” – arse. “Why, oh why, do I voluntarily choose to stay in this shabby collection of buildings situated on a frozen wasteland somewhere between Moscow and Paris, when I could be warming up under the Melbourne/Miami/Bali sun?” 

For one, you did it so you can stand around at a Weihnachts (or Winter-)markt shivering with a mug of Glühwein as you suffer from imaginary frostbite. And that suffering gives you immense pleasure. Cold makes life more life-like. Extreme temperatures get your blood pumping, a drama imposed from above that feels as your own biological survival is at stake. The pain of outdoor cold makes indoor warmth luxuriant. And the cruel devastation of a Central European winter makes you truly appreciate the miracle of spring: the first green shoots of life poking out of the hard grey earth some time in March that make you feel like crying with gratitude. I deplore winter holidays on some faraway, warm beach. It’s cheating, it’s chickening out from the full experience of making Berlin your home. You have to come back here anyway afterwards. So why not just stick it out?

I once spent a winter in Barcelona. It was so… so-so. Over the two months of pseudo-winter during which temperatures never dropped below 5 Celsius, this usually exuberant city became a dull, mediocre place. December there was lacklustre compared to the whole month of Christmas you get in Germany during Advent. The Mediterranean resembled a grey puddle. I shivered in my stony flat without heating or insulated windows. Where’s the fun in that?

If there’s one thing Berlin does well, it’s the run up to Christmas and New Year’s Eve. January is nice if there’s snow. The nightlife is beautiful in winter, relatively pub-crawl free and those long marches through the icy darkness make the club so much more amazing when you finally get there. February is saved by the Berlin Film Festival. In my book, March is the shittiest month on the Berlin calendar: a drizzly hangover between winter and spring. Only three months of cold to go. Enjoy it while it lasts.