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October 1999


Hallowen offers fun and thrills for all.

I like being scared. This is a personality trait that, to my amazement, even the bravest of my friends don’t share with me. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not yearning to be held at gunpoint — and if I were, Munich would definitely be the wrong place to live. It’s just that I’m missing some mystery. The sad truth is that as a member of the Adult Club the only time my adrenaline meter registers above the calm level is when I suddenly realize that I might have left a burner on at home or when I find out that my latest work assignment is due tomorrow and instead of next week. I guess it’s not surprising that Halloween became my favorite holiday fairly early on. I was fortunate to grow up in the Hartford, Connecticut suburbs at a time when trick-or-treaters covered the lawns of our neighborhood like ants on a honeybun, costumed and crunching through the autumn leaves, schlepping pillowcases full of candy through the blustery night. The coolest grown-ups gave us an extra treat by turning their living rooms into haunted houses, where recordings of rattling chains and ghoulish sounds would boom from their hi-fi speakers. Kids too old for treats set their sights on the other “T.” Creeping from yard to yard, they toted the traditional materials of mischief: toilet paper for draping trees and bushes; shaving cream for scrawling messages on and darkening the neighbors’ windows and unprotected automobiles; eggs for throwing at just about anything and anyone; and the truly evil Vaseline for smearing on screen-doors, permanently rendering them useless. I enjoyed the dressing up and the candy collection rituals, and although I drew the line at petroleum jelly, a bit of mild vandalism is always exhilarating — but this isn’t what made October 31 my day. When I moved to Germany 15 years ago, I mourned my loss. Occasionally a well-traveled acquaintance or an Amerikanistik student would pose a question or two about Halloween, but, for the most part, my favorite autumn event was all but unknown. Every year I searched in vain for an appropriate jack-o’-lantern to ward off sinister spirits. On more than one occasion, I tried to get some friends together to watch scary movies by candlelight, but this turned out to be even more difficult than finding the pumpkin. I had all but given up when a wonderful thing happened — cable TV arrived. Thanks to the popularity of American sitcoms, the word began to spread. Suddenly, those beautiful orange gourds appeared at the Viktualienmarkt, made their way to the neighborhood green grocer, were bought up by the management of trendy night spots who then carved them and placed them in the windows of their establishments as decoration for — was I dreaming? — Halloween parties. Though, at first, these soirées weren’t very different from any other costume affair, they have improved with every year. In fact, last October, my daughter’s school class announced they were forgoing the usual St. Martin’s lantern procession in favor of a Great Pumpkin bash, and would I give them tips on the correct way to celebrate? It almost made me weep sweet tears of happiness, drawing those little bats and spiders and skeletons. Of course, the atmosphere here is not the same as at home, where everyone everywhere is aware of the significance of the festive day, but it sure is a start. Halloween is that one night of the year when anything can happen. It’s when spirits roam the earth again and witchcraft is at its most powerful. It doesn’t actually matter if you believe in sorcery or seances or immortals, everyone knows someone (who knows someone) who believes they have had a supernatural experience, and if even only one of these stories has a shred of truth to it, there is that tiny chance that something similar could happen to you. Come to think of it, feeling a jolt of fright feels much like being really surprised, and the older and more jaded we become, the less often we experience that emotion. As children, most of us felt a delightful tingle when thinking that the old neighbor woman down the street might be a witch, or that, if we just looked long and hard enough, we’d find a secret passage somewhere in the cellar. This, for me, is the nature of All Hallows Eve — a night when we can be innocent again. <<<

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