It took less than a day after arriving in Germany until I was again confronted with a German peculiarity: the obsession with sunlight. It was Saturday around noon, we had just arrived the night before, and I was discussing with my stepfather the option of taking the car and drive to a beautiful park in Potsdam. And one of the things we had to think of was the time: we needed to leave before 2pm so that we would arrive around 3pm, because we would need at least 2 hours to walk through this park on a warm and sunny November day. We had to calculate backwards, because at this time of the year the sun already sets at 5pm, which means it gets dark and (really) cold. My stepfather said: “We need to leave before 2pm because of the sun” and I remembered when a Brazilian visiting Germany once told me: “Germans are obsessed with sunlight!” Yes wer are. And for very good reasons.
In Berlin the new year doesn’t start in January, but when the sun is warm enough so that people can sit on the sidewalks and have their coffee (and beer) outside the Cafés and Kneipen (bars). And the year ends (at least the fun part of the year), when it gets too cold to do the same. There is a whole infrastructure and an industry to help, make this time as long as possible: wool blankets and now illegal outdoor gas heating systems are only two things to mention.
The face of Berlin really changes once it is warm enough to sit outside: suddenly the city becomes lively and happy, friendly and sociable. The contrary happens each year in September or October, when the last warm days are celebrated: people take every chance to enjoy sitting outside with sun in their face and a coffee in front of them. It is like the end of summer, when it is clear that it will be the last day with temperatues over 30 degrees, because the weather forecast announced a sudden drop and rain for the next days. People enjoy these days in a melancholic way, knowing that there will be 8 months until they will be able to do this gain. Today, in November, mainly smokers sit outside, wrapped in warm clothing. And seeing this everyone understands that smoking is indeed an addiction.
After having lived in Brazil I understand how absurd this obsession with sunlight must seem to many people, where sun is not an issue and temperatures even less. Even on the contrary: in Brazil it is often the sun which keeps the people from going outside. In the summer people prefer indoor are air-conditioned rooms and spend their time inside shopping malls or a nice and cool bakeries. If you want to enjoy the sun, you go to the beach or a lake or to the rooftop swimming pool of your apartment complex. And even there, still wet from your last jump into the water and with an icy beer in your hand, it is sometimes simply too hot. You do not sit in the outside area of a café (which hardly exist anyways).
But trust me, when sunlight is only available between 8am and 5pm and most of the days are spent in a dimly gray – as it has been for the last couple of days – you are truly looking forward to some sunny days. A winter depression is a common medical phenomena which sometimes is treated with a daylight lamp, covering all the spectrum of natural light. And this is why many Germans are obsessed with sunlight. Simply put: there isn’t enough of it (even though Germany is covered with solar panels, which are hard to find in Brazil, but that is a completely different story).