Once painted over with a white paint, walls are largely back to their raw concrete faces. It’s easy to make out the black spots here and there filling up the nooks and crannies of the wall. The morning is cold and wet, there’s a slight fog and somehow the moisture penetrates everything. It’s hard to feel comfortable let alone warm and no jacket is saving us from it. It feels very claustrophobic as we scuffle along. At least there’s a roof over our heads, though our feet are still on the path outside. The way everybody’s moving there’s a constant grinding noise. Small rocks and dirt carried in from the walk here.
My hands feel so cold, they’re red and it’s a struggle to move them. I can’t seem to really catch the warmth. Stuck in line, I’m so close to getting inside. Though what for I still wonder. 10 minutes later I finally reach the first steps and get inside the building. I see the reflection of the fluorescent tubes in the hall below. Lines and lines of stalls showing the goods. The fluorescent light illuminating the white sheets on the tables. Glimpses of trinkets and tools. The first step I take, the same grinding noise continues. The steps themselves are dirty, mud from outside smeared out on them. Moist and glistening, it’s spread out throughout the concrete faces, not taken from the outside in, but moisture permeating through the concrete itself.
As I get further inside there is a warmth coming from just the group of people being inside. It’s a moist warmth and while it does help me to get to a pleasant temperature. The air also becomes thick with moisture, with everybody breathing. It feels heavy and it explains the scuffling well. At face value the idea sounds fine, being here, it’s uncomfortable at best. As I step down and reach the ground level, the view becomes clear. A converted industrial building or a bunker, equipped with only the bare essentials, a minimal set of windows in the distance and spaced fluorescent lights. The least attractive christmas market I’ve had the displeasure of visiting.
Dragged along by a friend, she systematically scuttles along the lines and I follow. Each trinket, each piece of cutlery or crockery, each mock tool or ornament of the same dubious quality. Single use reminders of how nostalgia sets us to do things we objectively know are bad ideas. To begin with the uncomfortable large group of people here. It’s busy in a way that is beyond uncomfortable, thick coat or not, people bumping into you, however slightly, is something we’ve actively avoided so much over the past year and a half, it’s bizarre to get back to a place where this suddenly is possible again.
As we scuffle along, the chamber seems to amplify the grinding noise. It has a strange effect and I feel as though I’m slipping into a trance. Salesmen agreeing prices and customers half-heartedly trying to haggle them down. Their voices echo strangely in this curious building. It doesn’t take long until I find that my own voice is participating in the echoing cacophony. Caught in the moment and fed by the nostalgia I buy a set of handmade glass Christmas tree ornaments, a wooden pen, a set of dinner plates and matching cutlery for a Christmas dinner I doubt I’ll ever have.
Even just the idea of being together with people I love, however few, seems to nourish my soul. The solitude of last Christmas still going through me and the prospecto of another similar one drives me to find change in my life. Though my luck tends to vary, I’ve felt the year might be different. Even in this oversized concrete casket, the Christmas spirit burns strong. It finds warmth with these strangers and we find each other caught up in our collective nostalgia as we scuttle along this concrete relic.
Eventually we find our way outside the building and both my friend and I find ourselves with a collection of bags with items that are objectively bad and we could never have bought if not drunk on the lack of fresh air and the trance-inducing murmur of the market. It takes us a few minutes to recover, oxygen flooding back into our brains, it takes some effort to hold off the overwhelming urge to indulge in immediate regret, a preemptive buyers-remorse. We move the bags to our backpacks, both out of practical considerations but also at least a bit to hide our shame and to hide the evidence of our financial transgressions.
Yet the lingering sense of nostalgia remains and the desire to feel this family connection feels strong still. I can’t help but find a wanting for warmth in the upcoming holiday season. To find that connection out there with someone wanting the same. Though in this case my friend must feel similar. Her demeanor is a bitter combination of longing for warmth and a longing to break the loneliness.
Hungry from the morning we head out to lunch together. The conversation is quiet, for the first time in a while I feel uncertain with what to say and what to do. Luckily where there is a Christmas market, food is never far away. Bratwurst, hot chocolate and other fantastic things whose biggest achievement is the ability to not only deliver excessive calories but to combine this with clogging your arteries at the same time. After which I find myself satisfied and my head comfortably rolls on my friend’s shoulder. It’s easy to find cynicism here and I certainly know I do. But today I think I might have found a way to celebrate Christmas slightly differently. At least in better company.