Do you remember waking up early as a child on Christmas morning to try to get a peak of Santa putting gifts by the tree? This is what I did. Well today I am in Cologne, Germany and it's beginning to look a lot like Christmas in the plazas.
Why do I say it's beginning to look a lot like Christmas?
Because of the German Christkindlmarkt. These are temporary markets built to replicate the quaint, German, cottages/shops ~ they even include the traditional German costumes ~ it's very festive! Generally they are located in the town plaza and adjacent pedestrian zones. And the shops are filled with crafted ornaments, small gifts, holiday food and 'gluvine' (a Dutch-German hot spiced wine sold in Christmas themed coffee mugs - very cute & collectible). In many towns of Germany and Austria, the season of Advent is ushered in with the opening of the Christmas Market or "Weihnachtsmarkt". In southern Germany and Austria it is sometimes called a "Christkindlmarkt" (literally meaning "Christ child market"). On opening nights onlookers welcome the "Christkind" acted out by a local child.
Aside from the Christmas craft shops - Popular attractions at the markets include the Nativity Scene, Nussknacker (carved Nutcrackers), caroling, Giant Gnome Carving demonstrations (with chainsaws), ice skating and mutual celebration of the season.
What do I like? The traditional German food ~ Gebrannte Mandeln (candied, toasted almonds), traditional Christmas cookies such as Lebkuchen and Magenbrot (soft gingerbread), Bratwurst, aromatic cheese, potato pancakes, and for many visitors one of the highlights of the market is the Gluvine ~ a hot spiced wine (with or without a shot of rum or brandy). I highly suggest a mug (or two) to keep your body warm and your spirits festive - especially when the cold winter air dips below freezing. (NOTE: You can keep the festive gluvine Christmas mug or you can return it for US$3). Enough of the gluvine... I need to enjoy shopping in the markets for toys, Christmas tree decorations and other hand made crafts.
I don't want to give away any secrets, but I believe Santa will have a few extra stocking stuffers this year.
As Pat Smith, Eddie Reed and I explored the market, we discovered that that each plaza had a different style of Gluvine mug. Needless to say, after a couple of these mugs, we were definitely in the Holiday Spirit and ready to eat.
After Potato Cakes, Salmon from the Fish King, Bratwurst and Donner Kebabs, we decided to call it a day. So with our bellies stuffed like Santa and our Sacks packed by local elves, we sloshed through the rain filled puddles to our hotel for a long winter's nap.
FYI - Nearly 4 million tourists come to Cologne, Germany in this 4 week period just to experience this festive Christmas Market. I have to admit, the experience definitely puts you in the Christmas spirit. More so than any other place I've visited. I don't know about you, but I really feel like we won the lottery today.
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