Germans are not known to be positive thinkers but in the summer, their optimism soars: they plan picnics and Grillparties, street fairs and bazaars, outdoor concerts, plays and movies. Schedules are set and invitations sent out far in advance. Days before the event, equipment is hauled and food prepared, booths and stages are decorated. Always, the weather follows its own agenda and more often than not, on the day of the event it is cold. Or rainy. Or both. This does not deter guests and spectators. They follow the German rule Es gibt kein schlechtes Wetter, nur falsche Kleidung - there is no such thing as bad weather, only wrong clothing. They would never give up on the chance of having a sunny outdoor event, so they make the best of things.
Even though – or maybe because – Germans cope well with inclement weather, they have a love affair with the sun. As soon as the winter chill disappears, people spread out blankets in parks or settle on park benches, their faces turned towards the brightness like sunflowers. Cafes and restaurants move tables outdoors and patrons shift in their chairs to catch every warming ray. It seems like everyone lights up and has a spring in their step when the sun comes out. Germans continue chasing the sun in the depth of winter: when the clouds part, they might sit by an open window, just to feel the warmth. Right by the heater, of course. Stately old homes feature a Wintergarten – a glassed in veranda that lets in the rays but keeps out the cold. Sunshine is a precious commodity because most days in Germany are grey. Even in the summer. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, right? And everyone is happy when the weather report promises freundliches Wetter – friendly weather.
“Geht an die Sonne” my mother would command when the clouds parted and shoo my sister and me out the door. If you didn’t rush outside immediately to catch the cherished beams when they appeared, they might be gone, swallowed by those clouds. All adults agreed that sunlight, like fresh air, was a requirement of health and a boost for wellbeing.
Imagine my predicament when I moved to Northern California years later to go to graduate school. In the Bay Area, days usually begin and end with low coastal fog, but for the most part, the sky is clear and bright. I would feel antsy when the fog receded mid-morning and sunlight spilled into the lecture hall or the library. It seemed almost sinful to stay inside. I should be rushing outdoors to catch the rays before they disappeared! I’ve lived thousands of sunny days in Berkeley and still notice this primal urge to go outside and “take advantage” of the sunshine.
Nowadays, Germans are aware of UV rays and the dangers of sunburn. Reluctantly, they put on hats, open brightly striped umbrellas on beaches, and slather on sunscreen before going out to worship the sun god. But the love affair continues. Even when German weather reports on television and radio sound like doomsday dispatches - showers, sleet, dropping temperatures - they always predict the expected hours of sunshine. Even one predicted Sonnenstunde (sun hour) keeps people hopeful and focused on the positive.