Sunday, December 9, 2007

The Koln Christmas Market

It was an hour and a half drive to Cologne this weekend, on a mission to visit the famous Christmas Markets. I'd heard a lot about the German holiday markets, and had visions of softly lit kiosks, traditional Christmas crafts, regional holiday food, seasonal music. It turns out to have been none of those, but it's a unique and fun time if you have the chance to go.

Cologne (Koln) is a wonderful cosmopolitan city dominated by a breathtaking cathedral. I don't think I've seen anything so large and still so ornate: it towers like a mountain cliff over the Dom Christmas Market below it.

Koln Christmas Market 02 - Catherdral Koln Christmas Market 02a Cathedral

The Christmas Market is split into several plazas across the city, the best one was in the shadow of the cathedral.

Koln Christmas Market 10 - Dom market Koln Christmas Market 09 - Dom market

As you can tell, the first (and dominant) impression of the Christmas Market is of the crowds ! British tourists were everywhere: they fly in on EasyJet flights, some with small children, some in clusters of women on a lark.

Koln Christmas Market 07 - Crowds

Koln Christmas Market 12 - Crowds

Koln Christmas Market 08 - Crowds

The second thing about the Christmas market is that it's mostly about drink, food, and drink. About half the booths serve food, and half of those serve Gluhwein (a hot spiced strong red wine) or Eierpunsch (eggnog, although thinner, more lemon-y, and more alcohol-laden than ours). And every drink comes with a (refundable) souvenir glass. My collection includes:

Koln Christmas Market 27

Koln Christmas Market 22 - Gluhwein and Eierpunsch

I thought that the best food was Speckbrehl, a hot bacon, onion, and potato dish that the Germans were eating by the bowl-full. Sausages were a close second, long ends sticking out of short, fat buns. The apple tart desserts were tempting, but I didn't get to try them (It's a cash economy in the Markets, and euros only stretch so far).

Koln Christmas Market 05 - Spekbrehl Koln Christmas Market 03 - German Food Restaurant

Koln Christmas Market 13 - Sausage Haus Koln Christmas Market 04 - Stirring the potatoes

The third learning was the varieties of the Markets (There was a Market on a boat). They were scattered all over the city, leaving lots of time to see Koln while walking between the venues. The huge pedestrian shopping street connects all of the markets, and it's all open late. Like New York, the department stores fill their windows with Christmas scenes. I was taken by the jungle scenes in which all of the animals wore leopard skins or grass skirts. Curious ecology, and even more curious modesty, on the part of the Germans.

Koln Christmas Market 16 - Christmas Ship Koln Christmas Market 17 - Christmas Ship

Koln Christmas Market 29 - Xmas Beasts

In the end though, It was nice that it was still all about Christmas. The chestnuts were hot, and the lights were beautiful at night. There were lots of children,the churchbells rang every hour. There were decorations and ornaments and gingerbread everywhere. No regrets, except, in retrospect, I wish I'd plunked ten euro on a paper star...

Koln Christmas Market 25 - Nativity

Koln Christmas Market 19 - Christmas Decorations Koln Christmas Market 15 - Lights

Koln Christmas Market 14 - Marionettes Koln Christmas Market 18 - Gingerbread House

Koln Christmas Market 21 - Village Koln Christmas Market 24 - Ornamets

Koln Christmas Market 26 - Stars


Angela Rhodes said...

Seems like this was the place to be last weekend! We hired a car and drove down there too, and actually ran into several people from Amsterdam also heading towards the Cologne Christmas Markets! Funny :)

Angela Rhodes said...

Will you go again this year?

Dave Hampton said...

Hi, Angela, thanks for your notes! Yes, absolutely, I will go this weekend. My parents would like some stollen and I ahve a number of cookies and treats that I need to pick up. The drive is about an hour from Maastricht, so I will spend about half a day there, enjoy the Gluhwien and Eirepunch, collect the cups, enjoy the sausage, squeeze through the crowds, enjoy the music and the spirit.