After all my complaining about finding an apartment in Berlin, it seems like everyone is moving into their home. We moved into our new place – complete with a room for our girl – almost exactly a year ago. While we were away in the States we missed two of our friend’s moves (sorry guys!). We also returned to new neighbors across the hall. And on our first weekend back we even went to a friend’s housewarming party – full of century old wood, food, friends and kids.
To commemorate these life events, you need the proper gift. In the USA, Emily Post dictates that a bottle of wine, a plant, or a loaf of bread or other food item are appropriate. But in Germany? I was a little lost.
I am still haunted by a long-lost Toytown post where an expat couple that had lived in Munich for a few years tried to replicate their Bavarian housewarming success in Berlin. They put a notice on the board that they were having a party to meet the neighbors…which was only attended by the Hausmeister with their invitation and a gruff rebuke that the board was for official business only. I know Berlin can be a little unfriendly, but whoa! WIllkommen in der Stadt.
Clearly, I’ve internalized a bit of angst surrounding proper German house-warming traditions. I must have read that post shortly after we arrived in Berlin in 2007 and it is still with me.
For this housewarming of a German and American I had nothing to fear. I brought a seasonal heather, some Sekt (of course) and some star-spangled suspenders. Cross-cultural gifting at its finest.
Traditional German Housewarming Gift
Some other friends stuck with tradition and gave bread and salt. Wait, what?! Somewhere in the recesses of my mind this sounded familiar, but why? Apparently it is an old German tradition appropriate for housewarmings and weddings. This tradition is actually wide-spread throughout Europe and has even made its way into the Soviet space program as crackers and salt tablets were abroad the Apollo-Soyuz and the Salyut project and have also been offered as a welcome for cosmonauts returning to Earth.
It is supposed to ward off wicked spirits and offer prosperity and fertility. The meaning I like best is that there is bread so there will be no hunger and the salt adds luxury and flavor to life. Include these words for German bonus points,
Wir wünschen Dir viel Glück und Frieden,
in Deiner neuen Häuslichkeit.
Gesundeheit sei Dir stets beschieden,
mit Dir zieh ‘ ein Zufriedenheit.
Dem Brauche folgend, dass zu Wänden,
die neu sind, gehört Salz und Brot,
nimm beides hin aus unseren Händen
dann bleibt der Schwelle fern die Not.
(Extremely rough translation: “We wish you much happiness and peace in your new family life. Good health is granted for your satisfaction. Following the need of new walls, hear salt and bread, Take both out of our hands to keep the need them away past the threshold.)
To class up the gift, go in for some nice German bread (there is lots of it) and wrap it up, like in these adorable Berlin themed tea towels. For the flavor, buy sea salt in a pretty pot and place it within the bread. Some stores even sell these gifts ready-to-go together.
This subject now had me interested so I looked up what else is an acceptable housewarming gift in Germany. A frequent add-on to the bread and salt gift is a coin for good fortune. Other options:
- Wine – Prosperity and good cheer
- Broom – Sweep away bad luck
- Honey – Enjoy the sweetness in life
- Candles – For light and happiness
If you want to gift something bigger, there are some popular German motifs. Oaks were held in high regard by ancient Norsemen and though the practice of collecting acorns has fallen out of favor, cookware adorned with acorn carvings is still popular. Roosters were another common adornment as they are said to keep away trespassers.
Help with our New Neighborhoods
So I learned something new at this last party. But I still have a dilemma. Those new neighbors I mentioned in the first paragraph have yet to be properly welcomed. Hurried introductions took place on the landing as they were moving in, but I don’t want to replicate the Berlin I read about. Bread and salt are too big to sleep through the mail slot. And I know how much Germans like planning. Should I put a formal invite in their mail? Slip in a little gift? I don’t want to bug them while they’re moving in, but don’t want to let it go too long so we aren’t friendly. Like us, they are a young family and our doors look right at each other. It would be good to be friends. How should I proceed? Advice welcome.