Germany: The Christmas Market Extravaganza! (Mike)
Traveling in Europe during the winter has its advantages.
A few weeks ago we flew into Germany and caught a train to Nuremberg, home of the world’s biggest and best Christmas Market, the illustrious Cristkindlesmarkt (this was actually one of the shortest words that we encountered during our trip). Nuremburg’s old town is a perfectly preserved medieval village and our AirBnB apartment was perfectly located right within the old city walls. As we stepped out of the apartment, our cheeks were stung by the cold winter air, and it occurred to us that perhaps traveling to Bavaria during the dead of winter was a mistake. However, as we turned the corner, we stopped and found ourselves in front of an amazing site: a Christmas bomb of immense proportions had just been dropped on the city and we were smack in the middle of the festive aftermath.
Literally hundreds of highly-decorated wooden Christmas booths lined the streets and plazas. Lights were strung on every street and twinkled from every window. Clydesdale horses pulled delighted German children around in painted carriages, their blond hair flowing from their beanies and their rosy red cheeks shimmering with Christmas glee. Choruses sang classic Christmas carols from the steps of a massive Gothic cathedral. Friends stood in between the booths, talking and laughing, holding steaming mugs of gluhweine (hot red wine with mulling spices). Model trains whizzed by and silver bells were a-jingling. For the love of St. Nick, there were even chestnuts literally being roasted on an open fire in front of our eyes (note: they are delicious). There were thousands of people in the streets, most of them German. It was pure yuletide pandemonium. And we loved it.
There was so much to see that our strategy was to take a lap to get a sense of what our options were. Our approach ending up being as follows: we first went for the chestnuts, just to have something to munch on while we continued our recon operation, we then went straight into the belly of the beast and ordered two sandwiches made from Nurenburger Rostbratwurst, meaning small sandwiches with three delicious sausages, filled with sauerkraut and mustard. Holy moly, were those good. At this point, our faces and fingers were feeling a bit cold, so we warmed up with our first order of gluhwein (which, if I remember anything from six years of German class, means either “luck wine” or “happy wine,” something along those lines – nevermind, I actually just looked it up and it means “glow wine,” so I guess those six years of my education were wasted), with gluhwein still hot in our mugs, we made our way to the lebkuchen (gingerbread) booth and bought a giant cookie. The gingerbread here tastes completely different than ours back at home, with hints of citrus, and it is fantastic.
As we coasted from food booth to food booth, we passed all kinds of stalls selling different kinds of ornaments (a favorite being a little man made of dried figs and other fruits…weird, but fun), lights, decorations, magnets and other tourist trinkets, and a giant version of the candle-driven windmill thing that Cousin Eddy destroys with the lightest touch in the movie Christmas Vacation (I couldn’t resist touching the large German version to see if I could get the same effect, but of course, German engineering being what it is, the thing didn’t even move), next came another sandwich, this time made of pickled herring and onions, then we refueled and reheated with a new version of gluhwein called the Feuerzangenbowle (another relatively short name) which was basically gluhwein with a bunch of hot rum and sugar set on fire and then dripped into the mug (now I understood why all the Germans we passed with mugs in their hands were laughing hysterically in the cold whilst clapping each other on the back – after about three of these, you couldn’t feel feelings, let alone the cold), finally, to top it all off, we opted for some potato pancakes the hilariously named “Kartoffelpuffer” (sounds like it could be the missing Fifth House from Hogwarts). Whew. After all that, we promptly sneaked in to Nuremburg’s most famous and popular sausage house. After all that eating, it was finally time to EAT.
The restaurant was completely decked out for Christmas and featured hot-tempered waitresses wearing traditional leiderhosen. As we sat at a communal table in the corner and watched the roaring fire in the middle of the room where the sausages were being prepared, the German couple next to us started giving us recommendations. “Oh, you’re from America, how great! Well, now that you’re at the Christmas Market, you should try the sausage sandwiches” “Yeah, we have, they are great.” “Oh, well don’t forget to get some gluhwein” “Yeah, we already had three each” “Oh, wunderbar, well tomorrow you should make sure to get some potato pancakes.” “Um, we already had those.” What about the lubkuchen, already ate it…and it went on and on like that. They recommended some 10 food items, all of which was had already tried. Finally they asked us what we were doing at a sausage house after just eating so much food. Fair point. The German madchen-waitress was sehr wuntend (disappointed/angry), that we only wanted one plate of sausages and pretzels and two beers for the two of us. “That’s not very much food,” she scolded. But it was the right move considering we had no business eating anything, let alone a huge plate of boiled sausages and onions. I think I brushed my teeth about 6 times that night, but to no avail.
The next day we woke up and did it all over again after a breakfast of boiled eggs and bread with butter and Nutella in a cozy cafe overlooking the river. Once we had our fill, we hopped on a bus and headed over to the old Nazi Rally Grounds. It turns out the Nuremberg was basically the spiritual capital of Nazi Germany, and during his rise to power, Hitler staged several national Nazi Party rallies just outside the city with hundreds of thousands of soldiers and followers marching around and paying homage to the Fuhrer. Today it is the center of a huge museum which explains how Hitler was able to take over Germany. The museum does not flinch away from the uglier parts of German history and explains how Hitler created an “us versus them” mentality in Germany by uniting people of “pure” German decent against Jews, Gypsies, and other disfavored social groups, ultimately dealing with these groups by sending them to concentration camps to be executed by the millions. The museum finished with some footage from the famous Nuremberg trials, where many high-ranking Nazi’s were put on trial and eventually executed for crimes against humanity. This was the first time an international court held individuals accountable for war crimes. Several of these Nazi officials committed suicide while still on trial but, amazingly, many denied their involvement – despite a mountain of evidence – until their final breath. At the very end of the museum, you could step outside onto a platform and look into the remains of the center of the rally grounds. On a drizzly and cold December day, you could almost hear the echo of marching boots. It was a great museum and gave us a lot to think and talk about on our train ride the following day to Salzburg, Austria.