The Seven Sleepers

This is a story of a city that has been cold, grey and rainy for most of June. Temperatures hover around the lower sixties and people are beginning to look hollow with fear that this summer in Berlin could be as shitty as the last.

Berlin is infamous for its miserable winters and for that reason, its residents need long, warm, bright days to balance them off and keep them from losing their minds. Last summer did not provide so this year, everyone’s walking around like a shell-shocked veteran, jumping at the slightest raindrop and dark cloud.

At these moments, I wonder why anyone ever settled here in the first place. Slavic tribes began wandering around Brandenburg in the 6th century, and Berlin was officially founded in 1237 -a date that makes me shiver when I think about what winter must have been like then. I took out a book from the library called “Berlin in the Middle Ages” to try to figure out what drew people to this dark, cold plain so far from the sea. The very first chapter begins with this sentence: “Berlin is favored by nature… offering a temperate climate and good conditions for human settlement…”

About a week ago I got a postcard from Amanda who was traveling in Turkey, a hot Mediterranean country from which almost ten percent of Berlin’s population comes. The card was from Ephesus, which Amanda writes is an impressive ancient city that was “Ionian, Persian, Greek, Roman and Egyptian all at various times.” This makes perfect sense -a coastal city in a warm climate, no wonder so many different populations settled there over thousands of years.

Ephesus is also the site of the Seven Sleepers, a legend which has particular pull for Berliners right now. The story goes that in 250 AD, seven Christian youths fled persecution from the Roman authorities by hiding in a cave in Ephesus. Inside they fell asleep and did not wake up until some 300 years later, when they were shocked to find the city had become Christianized. There is also an Islamic version of the story with a dog that entered the cave with the seven youths, as told in the Qur’an.

Today is Seven Sleeper Day in Germany -not another Christian holiday but a carefully observed date of meteorological importance. According to farming folklore, the weather today is a good indicator of how it will be for the next seven weeks. When I lived in Berlin in 2000, this proved to be quite accurate. It rained on the 27th and then almost everyday the rest of the summer, with a brief respite in August when it was dry and warmed slightly before dipping into a brisk, cold fall.

I am happy to report that the weather this morning looks promising -it’s a bit warmer and it’s sunny and dry so far, though the weather report is less optimistic:

I will attempt to translate some Seven Sleeper sayings:

Das Wetter am Siebenschläfertag sieben Wochen bleiben mag -the weather on Seven Sleepers Day seven weeks will so stay

Wie’s Wetter am Siebenschläfertag, so der Juli werden mag – what the weather’s like on Seven Sleepers Day is how July wants to stay

Wenn die Siebenschläfer Regen kochen, dann regnet’s ganze sieben Wochen -when the Seven Sleepers cook up rain, seven weeks will it rainy remain

We’ll see what the Seven Sleepers cook up this summer, and it better be sun.

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