Watching the Beast from abroad, I’ve a serious case of Irish snow envy
It snows in Germany of course, but it’s cleared quickly and there’s little excitement
Fionnuala Zinnecker: ‘The snow that falls and falls and falls and sticks and stays and covers your garden and goes up to your knees, that’s the real snow. The exciting snow. That stuff in the mountains isn’t the same at all.’
The Beast from the East is a green-eyed monster. I walk the boys to school in Südpfalz in Germany, where we live, on bright, dry mornings all week. So dry there’s not even frost. My cheeks are flushed from -7°C and the wind chill factor, my face stings as the warmth of the house hits it. In the mirror I see Aunt Sally from Worzel Gummidge looking back at me, all red cheeks, pale face and hat-flattened hair. I text my sister, “Have you snow?”. “Small bit” she says and sends a photo of her street, where the roofs of red-brick houses are dusted in white and the road shows signs of traffic having passed.
The following morning, unprompted, she sends me seven seconds of video, the only sound the strange squeak of shoes on fresh snow. No one’s chanced driving down the road. I drive to work in the harsh cold. In the office I tell my colleagues about the Taoiseach’s tweets, the supermarket shelves cleared and the seemingly unique Irish attitude to snow. They smile, amazed that snow can brings things to a standstill. The afternoon brings more videos - tobogganing, snowballs, serene gardens. The green-eyed beast blows a cold wind over me as I walk to school to collect my boys. At home I whip out my phone excitedly to show them what’s going on back home. But it doesn’t matter to them.
We live in the second warmest part of Germany, with mild winters and humid summers. In our village on the bank of the Rhein, we don’t really get snow. The last time we got any amount was 2010. Even then the council had snow ploughs out before first light to clear and grit the roads. My sons don’t remember that. Snow, to them, just a drive away in winter. Ninety minutes to the Black Forest, three hours to Allgaeu, seven to the Austrian Alps. If the snow doesn’t come to you, you go to the snow. Simple.
I don’t share my children’s attitude to snow and I doubt I ever will. The snow that falls and falls and falls and sticks and stays and covers your garden and goes up to your knees, that’s the real snow. The exciting snow. That stuff in the mountains isn’t the same at all. They know it is coming - how much and when - and clear it up, plough through it as it falls, leaving the slopes pristine and the streets neat.
Longing to share in the Storm Emma buzz, I phone my mam, then chat to some friends in Ireland on WhatsApp. We get on to talking about the snow just as the fourth and final of our party arrives to the chat group. Their kids love the snow. Work, they tell me, is cancelled or being done from home. The shops are out of bread in Dartry but in Dublin 8 they aren’t, but avocados and tonic are. One city, different priorities.
We coo over photos of their children making snowballs and planning an igloo. The children are in bed as we chat, jaded from the exertion, the thrills, the cold and the excitement. We laugh together over who has stocked up on what. These are conversations I never have in Germany no matter the weather. Inside I am jealous of the current crisis, the stockpiling of food, the comparing of stories, the days off and the snow day fun. I give in and type “So jealous. We’ve no snow here”.
On Friday, instinctively on waking, I walk to the bedroom window and throw back the curtains. Reading the updates in the paper on my phone before bed seems to have set my mind on snow watch. There’s none, of course. I could have told myself that without rising from the bed at all. When it snows in Germany you get woken by the sound of your neighbours clearing their stretch of footpath, not by the funny light or the quietness outside. You wake to the guilty feeling that you weren’t as prepared as the neighbours were. You throw on some warm clothes, search the shed for the big, curved, snow shovel and head out to do your community service.
For the rest of the day I avoid the paper and try to forget about snow as I sit in the office. I barely notice the tiny flakes that begin to flutter past me on the walk to the car at 5pm. I smile the whole way home and when I get there, the garden is covered in an inch of snow. Perhaps the Beast dropped it on his way back East.