February, at least before climate change kicked in, was undoubtedly the coldest month of the year in Berlin. Not that the weather was great the rest of the year. Without any significant geographic features to protect the broad Teutonic back, so to speak, of northern Germany from the air of the Arctic, the weather was actually pretty lousy year round. Summer was brief and cool. Winter was long and cold. Fortunately, Berlin had much to offer in the way of staying warm. So, in spite of the frigid temperatures, it would be an exaggeration to say we suffered during our three winters in the city.
One of the first pleasant, warmth-inducing, cultural habits I noticed upon arriving in Berlin was the near-obligatory shot of Sambuca, with a roasted coffee bean at the bottom of the glass, accompanying the bill at most Italian restaurants. After setting the bill and our shot glasses on the table, the waiter would light the shots. Just the sight of a blue flame flickering on top of a shot of Sambuca generated a festive warmth. Waiting too long to put the flame out with a coaster was a mistake - the shot glass naturally heats up from the flame, so the learning curve was decidedly steep for those of us new to the routine.
I became accustomed to this civilized ritual and was disappointed on the few occasions when it was not part of a restaurant’s standard fare. Ouzo was the choice of beverage for a similar experience in the Greek restaurant across the street from our apartment. And we kept a stock of what is roughly the Turkish equivalent, Raki, on hand. I’m not sure why we preferred Raki over Ouzo or Sambuca. My guess is it had something to do with the price. Fortunately, there was no shortage of solid, affordable restaurants within a few blocks of our apartment. We would often brave the frigid night air and stroll, bundled up to near immobility, to a warm, noisy dinner of bread, soup, and pilsner topped off by a flaming shot that would provide more than enough inner warmth to sustain us for the walk home and for the rest of the evening.
The weapons that sustained the superpower standoff during the Cold War were as destructive as any man has devised. So destructive, in fact, that it is nearly impossible to contemplate their use and effects. The “weapons” we used to fend off the winter during the Cold War were more than benign. Not only did we contemplate their use on a nearly daily basis, we looked forward to their always soothing and comforting effects. I think there may be a broader lesson here.