How many of you had to make a Season Wheel at school, where you divided a paper plate into quarters and drew a picture for spring, summer, autumn and winter? Growing up in Cape Town, you’d draw flowers for spring, sunshine for summer, falling leaves for autumn and rain for winter. Yet, it was only when I moved to Berlin that I really experienced the dramatic four seasons. In Cape Town it’s too warm for very strong autumn colours, there’s no snow, and there’s less flowering trees. I imagine if you grew up somewhere like Thailand or Senegal where it’s always warm, you’d draw your seasons very differently too, maybe with wet and dry, windy or stormy seasons. And in some countries, it might rain all year round.
Right now it’s autumn in Berlin, and the trees are getting noticeably barer as the last of the golden leaves fall off. It starts getting darker by 3:30pm already and it looks like midnight by 5pm. We’re heading to the long, dark time of year. We had a great long summer this year, with warm temperatures starting in May and lasting right up till October. This was a big contrast to last year, when there was basically no summer, and it stayed cold and rainy throughout the year. This year winter was very long, but spring flew by very quickly as temperatures warmed up fast, leading to a long warm summer. Autumn seemed fairly short as well, since the summer was so long.
As I haven’t posted any seasonal updates all year despite taking a gazillion leaf and flower pictures as usual, I thought I’d do a round up of the months and seasons before we enter winter, to show how the seasons look in central Europe. Unlike in English or German where the month names are derived from the names of Roman gods (e.g. March from Mars), numbers (e.g. September from septem, meaning seven) or the Caesars (e.g. July from Julius Caesar), in Czech, the month names are often related to the season. For fun (and because I should learn them) I thought I would list the Czech month names here too, along with their meanings. Note that in Czech the names of months are not capitalized.
The Czech name for January is leden, which comes from led, meaning ice. It’s typical in our part of the world (Berlin/Germany/CZ) that it gets a little warmer around Christmas, and then at Silvester (New Year’s Eve) the temperatures plunge and the snow starts to make an appearance. It doesn’t always snow much in Berlin, in fact it is often just dark and grey like in the photo below…ALL DAY LONG.
The Czech name for February is únor, which is though to come from nořit, meaning to plunge or sink. A suggested meaning is because of the ice in the rivers and lakes. But maybe it could be because of the plunging temperatures? February can be one of the coldest months. The word nora also means a den or warren – I guess all the forest animals are hiding in their dens during these cold times, and sometimes even the people tend to hibernate! When it doesn’t snow, February can be very bleak: grey, dark and cold. Nevertheless, we try to get outside to make use of what little light there is. It’s important to get some vitamin D from the weak sun!
Luckily, once at year at the beginning of February I have a meeting in the Swiss mountains, and there at least you can always find snow.
The Czech name for March is březen, which comes either from březí (meaning gravid, i.e. referring to the the forest animals that are pregnant at that time, such as hares and rabbits) or from bříza, birch. March can be quite variable. Some years it is still like the middle of winter, and some years it starts to get a bit sunnier or warmer. This year we had a long winter, and it was still very cold in March, as in, frozen. We arrived back from a trip to South Africa, where it was summer, to find that it was still very wintry in Berlin. However, towards the end of March, the first crocuses and snowdrops started popping their heads up.
The Czech name for April is duben, which comes from dub, meaning oak. For some reason this is one of the only month names I can remember, probably because there’s a town called Duben in Germany whose signpost we drive past every time we drive to Czech Republic. This is no doubt because Duben is in the Spreewald, a region in which a people called Sorbians settled, who speak a Slavic language similar to Czech and Polish. I couldn’t find a reason why April is named after oaks, but maybe it’s because the trees start coming back to life in mid-April. It always amazes me how fast everything goes from being bleak and lifeless to being filled with trees blooming with flowers and leaves. This year I tried to take a photo every day of one of the trees next to my building. The whole process from bud to flowers and leaves took only 2-3 weeks.
As soon as it gets warmer, a lot of the other flowers start coming out too. Flowers such as crocuses and daffodils dominate April, and can be seen in many parks. Hayfever usually starts too, as the trees start producing flowers with pollen.
In April/May, the fruit trees such as cherries and plums start blossoming, which draws people from all around to admire their pink and white beauty. It felt like it happened a bit earlier this year, because it got warm so quickly. By the time the Baumblütenfest, a fruit wine festival, arrived in May, there weren’t any blossoms left. You can read a bit about the blossom festivals in and around Berlin here.
We visited the family’s farm in Czech Republic, and for once managed to catch a weekend where the plum orchards were in blossom.
The Czech name for May is květen, from květ,meaning blossom. And indeed, it is every May that the trees in Berlin are in full blossom too. Lilac starts blooming in May, and it’s heady scent is everywhere. At Britzer garden in Berlin you can view a sea of beautiful tulips. In the countryside, bright yellow fields of canola are everywhere. It’s a good time for doing bike rides. This year we did the Spree cycle trail at the beginning of May. It was also warm enough this year to go canoeing again.
Meanwhile in the Bavarian and Austrian Alps, in May the last snow was melting and the spring flowers were out. We even had some typical summer storms already.
The Czech name for June is červen, which could come from červený, meaning red, or from červ, meaning worm. This could be because of the fruit that reddens or ripens in this month, like cherries and redcurrants, or from the reddish pigment made from larvae (worms) that people used to collect at this time and dry in the sun. I wrote a blog post about this red month some time ago. The great weather this year made it a good month for bike rides, canoeing and visiting lakes.
The Czech name for July is similar to that of June, and is červenec with the diminutive suffix ec. I guess this is because in July, more of the fruit ripens. You can enjoy more sunshine, fruit picking and jamming. The blueberries are out in the woods. It’s a bountiful month.
The Czech name for August is srpen, from srp, meaning sickle. Yes, harvest time is here. The fields of wheat and rye turn to gold.
August can be one of the hottest months in central Europe, and some years the heat is followed by afternoon or evening storms. This year, there was not much rain in the north of Germany, leading to drought. We saw the effects for ourselves when we went on a boat ride on the Elbe river, which was very low. We also saw it when doing bike rides in Brandenburg: it was sandier than ever this year, and in some fields only a portion of the cabbages had survived.
In August we went back to the Alps for a wedding, and at this altitude it was much cooler than in Berlin. Luckily for the bridal pair, they had sunshine, but every other day was misty and cool, with some rain. Nonetheless the mountains were beautiful, and it was a nice little break from being stuck in a hot office for weeks on end. Summer is the best time to view the glaciers, since for much of the year they are covered with snow. And who knows for how long the glaciers will remain…
In August many people go on holiday in Europe, and after our short trip to the Alps we took a trip to Majorca with a friend. From misty mountains to sunny beaches, August was great all round.
Back in central Europe, it was time for picking plums and enjoying the rest of a very warm and dry summer.
The Czech name for September is září, from zářít meaning shine, perhaps because the leaves start changing colour. In September you can also usually enjoy a few last warm, sunshiney days. This year there were rather more of them, and some days it even felt like summer. September is also good for the following things: mushrooms, pumpkins, squashes, pears, apples, chestnuts, walnuts and new wine!
The mushrooms only grow after there’s been some rain and then sunshine. This year it was so dry that we didn’t even go looking for mushrooms in the forests like usual. Most years we go with some mushroom-loving friends to look what has sprouted in the woods. One of them is on an eternal quest to find a delicious Steinpilz (porcini), while the other gathers anything tasty and edible, including marrone, Butterpilz and Parasolpilz. The marrone are the most common ones to find. I find them unbearably slimy when cooked, but apparently they are better when dried. We tried drying some one year, but the whole kitchen smelt like mushroom for days, which was enough to put me off marrone for life. However I still love going for these mushroom walks, because I like taking photos of the mushrooms. Most of the mushrooms you find in the woods are inedible and/or poisonous, but they are all very pretty!
September is harvest time for the vineyards. Once the grapes have been pressed, and the juice has been allowed to ferment for a little bit, you can drink a sweet, alcoholic, slightly fizzy drink called Federweißer in German, “burčák” in Czech and new wine in English. It tastes a bit like a grape cider, and usually contains about 2-5% alcohol. As it’s a fermenting drink and changes flavour with time, you should drink it within a day or too, should not keep the bottle cap tightly closed (BOOM!), and shouldn’t drink too much or your gut might get a bit fermenty too. In Germany they serve it with Zwiebelkuchen (similar to an onion quiche) and in Czech Republic it is served with bread spread with lard (known in German as Schmalz). If you visit any vineyard around mid-September, they’re bound to sell new wine by the jug or glass. Last year we did a bike ride in Moravia, the wine region of Czech Republic in September, and this year we did a weekend bike ride on the Unstrut trail in Germany.
The Czech name for October is říjen (from říje, meaning rut, because of the deer that mate around this time).
Even in October we had some good weather this year. A lot of the produce is similar to that of September, but the leaf colours become more intense. We went on a trip to Liepe, known for its storks and migrating cranes, but the storks had already headed south and the cranes had not yet arrived. Around mid-October, we went for a weekend trip to the island Rügen, and found that the Sanddorn (sea buckthorn) trees were full of fruit. These tasty sweet-sour berries are full of vitamin C and are a good anti-cold remedy.
After that warm weekend, temperatures finally started to drop. And with the drop came the change in leaf colours.
For some reason the crows also become very active in autumn – maybe there’s less food around. You see them everywhere, flying around, cawing, looking in the dustbins for food.
I love the line that says “Autumn is the spring of winter”, and I always wish the colourful leaves would stay forever. But with every breeze, more and more of them fall off, until eventually the trees are bare.
November has a pretty name in Czech, listopad, meaning “leaf-fall”. The leaves that turned such beautiful colours in the preceding months finish falling off in November, and by the end of the month all the leaves are usually gone. This year, to enjoy the last colours before this started happening, we took a hiking trip to Sächisches Schweiz (Saxon Switzerland).
Three years ago in November, we visited Böhmische Schweiz (Bohemian Switzerland) on the other side of the border, and were lucky enough to have swirling mists and beautiful colours.
It’s November now, and soon we’ll be in darkest winter. But never mind, the Christmas markets are coming! And some years in November, there is already snow in the Harz mountains, which makes for great weekends away for winter hiking, snow-shoeing or cross-country skiing.
December in Czech is called prosinec, which is suggested to come from prase, meaning hog. Certainly hog (wildschwein) meat is popular at this time of the year in Germany, so probably in the Czech Republic as well. Other suggested meanings are that the word comes from prosinalý, meaning pallid, because of the grey skies, or possibly from prosit, meaning to beg or ask. I guess if you were the grasshopper that fiddled all summer, you might go around asking for food at this time, since the trees and fields are bare. Things look rather bleak, which is why it’s great in Germany that all of the Christmas markets are open, so you can enjoy the twinkling lights, spicy gluhwein and hot caramelized almonds next to a Christmas tree. I’ll leave you with some photos of a Christmas market we went to last year in Wernigerode.