Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Ich traume über wiess Weihnachts

(I'm dreaming of a white Christmas...actually literally it means "I dream about white Christmas" but I think my translation into German fits the meter of the song a little better than a more literal interpretation, don't you think?)

The Germans know how to do this Christmas thing. Every store is decked out in holly and evergreen, Christmas carols play over loudspeakers and hot beverages are always close at hand (if not snow).

Actually, interesting side note on this last point. It only snows on Christmas (Weihnachts) about every 15 years. This isn't all that weird for me. It's rarely snowing or even below freezing at home on Christmas. We usually need to wait until January and February to get some serious sledding in.

It is weird when you consider Bonn, Germany roughly shares its line of latitude with Prince Albert, Saskatchewan where they will be experiencing a high of negative 23 degrees Fahrenheit today. I sit roughly parallel to central Quebec and Newfoundland but probably won't see more than a few inches of snow this year.

It's all because of that wonderful Gulf Stream that drags warm equatorial water and air up from the south, otherwise we'd all be freezing out butts off here in Europe. One of the big questions as the polar ice caps melt, is what will happen to the Gulf Stream with a sudden influx of freshwater. All that less-salty, light water from the Greenland and Arctic ice caps could put a lid on the dense, warm, salty water traveling from the south, plunging Europe into a deep freeze. That's right, Global Warming could cause Europe to freeze (Prothero 2006, p. 248-249, 312). But we won't worry about that right now. It's Christmas.
One of the central features of the German Christmas celebration is the Christmas Market (Weihnachtsmarkt or Christkindlmarkt). As far as I can tell, every town in Germany sets up a series of stalls in the center of town. These wooden huts are populated by potential Christmas gifts ranging from quaint (handmade Christmas ornaments), to cool (complicated marionettes), to kitsch (day-glo T-shirts). From between the stalls rise massive luminary and Ferris wheels, creating a fair-like atmosphere. Furthering the Fair vibe are food stands selling wurst, fried fish, roast beef sandwiches and potato pancakes (Reibekuchen). A brightly lit food stand in the foreground and a Ferris wheel in the background with real Germans generally populating the all ground at the Bonn Weihnachtsmarkt.

Of course, if you're going to snack, you need desert, so roasted and glazed almonds and peanuts abound along with chocolate covered fruit and gingerbread cookies (Lebkuchen) that are usually in the shape of a heart with phrases like, "Ich liebe Dich" (I love you). Actually the Lebkuchen remind me a little of Necco Valentines Day hearts, only on a massive scale. These heart-shaped gingerbread cookies are roughly the size of a plate and come equipped with a ribbon that loops the thing around your neck for easy snacking while keeping your hands free to wrap around your Glühwein.

An exclusive Christmas market in Berlin that required admission. It wasn't too steep, but the line was enormous so I didn't get to see what the upscale markets of the capital look like.

In case you don't remember from my previous Berlin post, Glühwein is German mulled wine, served hot in a souvenir mug that usually says the name of the town you're in. You put a deposit on the mug when you buy your beverage so you can walk away with it or get your Euro fifty back. The Glühwein is served from an open-air bar (remember, no open-container laws in these parts) where you can also pick up hot chocolate, beer, punch or order a Feuerzangenbowle. This is a rum/mulled wine punch that's made by soaking a sugar loaf in rum and lit on fire on a grate over a large bowl of Glühwein. The sugar caramelizes and melts into the wine with the rum and every one shares. The main attraction, I think, is playing with the flaming sugar. This operation is usually performed behind the bar, so I don't think it's ordered very often. The staple way to warm up at a Christmas market is to wrap your paws around a mug of Glühwein.
The ice rink is a staple of the Weihnachtmarkt. When I first saw this one, there were about four kids between the ages of six and twelve wallowing on the ice. As I watched, another three went down simultaneously. All those bodies falling in front of you must really test your maneuverability.

The Christmas Market is gets kick started at the beginning of Advent with the lighting of a Christmas tree. The whole fair runs through December, all day and well into the evening. Quite a production. Bonn's market winds through most of the downtown area. However, in larger cities there may be multiple Christmas markets that are separated from each other. This past weekend I met Erin in Cologne for mass at the Cathedral where the light and vapor combined to make these images possible:

Near the entrance. This shot was taken over the heads of dozens of Asian tourists.
Light filtering through the stained-glass windows.Looking down the west wing of the cathedral.

We then proceeded to hit all the Christmas markets of Cologne. They had the traditional markets set up near the cathedral, newer, trendier markets further out in the city, a medieval Christmas market set up by the chocolate museum and even a floating Christmas market on a cruise ship bobbing on the Rhine.

The gangway to the floating Christmas Market on the Rhine. My battery decided to quit on me, so I don't have a picture of the boat. Erin does though. Maybe I'll make a link...Regardless, note the very trim Santa welcoming everyone in. Apparently in the six hours he takes to get to North America, all those cookies and glasses of milk take their toll.

A train that takes you from market to market if you feel like shelling out a few Euros and getting chummy with your neighbors. Erin and I opted to take a brisk stroll around town.

Erin and I drank our fill of Glühwein, ate wurst and smoked salmon and ordered this: Dampfnudel

It's a bready dumpling doused in vanilla sauce and cherries that is, as you can see, roughly the size of your face. Oh, Christmas.

I was hoping to learn some traditional German Christmas carols by wandering through the markets, but instead they import Bing Crosby and Andy Williams to bring the Christmas cheer. I guess I'll just have to be content with Stille Nacht (Silent Night) and O Tannenbaum (Oh Christmas Tree), though I haven't heard either of these with German lyrics.

Even as I look out my window, I can see mistletoe growing on a tree outside (granted its a parasitic species and probably not that great for the tree) and have "We Three Kings" stuck in my head. My family and Carolyn will be here in less than a week to enjoy the festive Christmas spirit with me, German style.

I hope your preparations for the holidays are coming together and you have a Christmas carol stuck in your head, too.

Froh Weihnachts! (Merry Christmas)

P.S. Ohio is actually parallel to Southern Spain and Sicily. Crazy Gulf Stream. I hope it stays in operation long enough for me to see Copenhagen before it gets blanketed in glaciers.


Erin Davis said...

i'm stealing the picture of me for my facebook...i'm getting sick of the crazed ax picture.

Matt said...

That was one reason I put it up (not that the crazed axe isn't a good look). The facebook album of all the images I took is waiting until I have Nürnberg pictures from this weekend. Need to combine and plan, don'cha know.

Mama B said...

Your Dom photos are wonderful!

Carolyn said...

I may have to try this Feuerzangenbowle of which you speak. And maybe the Dampfnudel, too. Only a few more days to wait!

The pictures are lovely, as well.