Friday, January 3, 2014

Just When You Thought It Was Over

Just when you thought you had safely put away any thoughts concerning the chaos associated with the holidays, I am here to give you one last nudge of Christmas.  Yes, I realize the cruelty of showing you Christmas pictures. Enough already, you say.

Yeah...well...I will keep the Christmas part of this to a best as I am able.

As you know I have been doing some posts about my recent trip to Germany and a big part of going to Europe in the winter is going to the Christmas Markets. (AKA Weihnachtsmarkt in Germany). The Weihnachtmarkt   is a street market associated with the celebration of Christmas during the four weeks of Advent.  The history of Christmas markets goes back to the Late Middle Ages in the German-speaking  part of Europe.

My regular readers might remember that I am not a shopper.  Actually, that is an understatement.  I abhor shopping.  So no one was more surprised at how much fun I had shopping in Germany.  Not the  actual act of buying stuff per se but the atmosphere surrounding the Winter Markets.  

When I last left off  on the post  Next Stop Cologne we had spent the early afternoon touring the Cathedral of Cologne which happens to be the backdrop for one of the largest of the seven Christmas Markets that were in progress in the city of Cologne. Each of the seven had a different theme and unique quality about it.

It was still early in the afternoon on a workday, (Tuesday) so the crowds were relatively light.

This would not remain the case as the day turned into evening.  BUT..even early in the day there is a festive mood that permeated the city as the people milled around looking through the hundreds of booths  containing local crafts and food.

As a person that lives firmly in suburbia surrounded by big-box stores and can only associate Christmas shopping with the aggravation of  increased traffic and long checkout lines, I have to say this was close to shopping nirvana.  Cheerfulness abounding with happy friendly people walking around with smiles on their faces.  Seriously...this might be what it would feel like to be caught up in the Twilight Zone.

There is no way in the space of a blog post to give you an inkling of how pleasant of environment this is but here is a slide show of some of the sights that transpired during the day into the evening.

It's not just the Christmas Markets, however, that make Cologne a fun winter destination.  One could argue that the most perfect time to visit Germany would be in October for the obvious reason: Oktoberfest.  I would of argued that point anyway as prior to this trip I would of said Spring is the absolute best time to visit Germany because of Frühlingsfest.  Frühlingsfest is Oktoberfest's little sister that happens in the Spring....think smaller crowds, prettier weather and non-stop beer. 

I have to tell you though, even the beauty of Europe in the Spring, can't trump the wonderful festive atmosphere that comes with these winter street markets.   And while the beer may not be as free-flowing during the winter festivals, at least not in the same proportion as Oktoberfest there is always Gluhwein. 
Gluhwein is a hot mulled wine that that is sold at numerous booths at every Christmas Market.

"Glühwein," which literally means "glowing wine,"  most often comes in a limited-edition, seasonally inspired and creatively adorned ceramic mugs. For a small additional fee, you can either keep this cute little mug as a memento of a visit to a particular Christmas market - often the year and name of the
town or city where you purchased your cup of Glühwein is inscribed on the mug - or you can return it to get your deposit back.  As the proud owner of a number of these little mugs that will collect dust in the back of my cupboard,  I would be a typical American that thought they were to cute to part with.

Due to the fact I can't drink alcohol, our mugs would of been doling out Kinderpunsch.  Yes...I am in the minority of adults that have the shame of ordering Kinderpunsch instead of Gluhwein.

Outside of the Christmas Market shopping, I find European cities so much more interesting as far as shopping goes.  Most German cities still have a thriving city center...what we would call a "downtown" in the U.S.  I realize there are cities such as NYC or downtown Chicago  still have urban shopping districts but so many of the city shopping  areas around the states have migrated out to suburbia.  The commercial sprawl that has become a mass of chain merchandisers and big box stores, no longer allow for strolling streets and peering into pretty window displays.  It was a huge treat to walk around and stare  into the pretty windows decorated for the holidays.  Even those that didn't have seasonal decorations were fun to see.

Seems like this would be an honest merchant

A cute bookstore with a familiar face..if you are from Kansas
The city centers are very pedestrian friendly

Even during the winter people use sidewalk seating
The merchants provide lap blankets to go with your coffee and pastry
Aside from shopping, eating and drinking,.... there are a number of interesting things to see and do.

If you plan a trip to Cologne,  be sure to bring a lock.  Yes...a lock. Not because you need to protect your belongings but to add the the fence outside the train (Bahn) station. There is a custom there where people put locks on the chain link fence to denote their love...something akin to carving your initials into a tree but decidedly less destructive to trees.

locks of love

Many have little notes attached, nearly all have initials or names.

So...that's it for today.  On a future post, I will be visiting castles and forts but for today we will stop and put Crabby Pants on a Merry Go Round...because in alter-ego land we can and not look foolish...or if we look foolish, we don't care.


ravenjanedoh said...

I loved Germany, and now I know I have got to go back during the winter! (My brother lived there for a few years, and always told me about the Christmas markets.) I also hate shopping - very similar to the grinch. But now that you mentioned it, I think it's because of the obnoxious people here who are so rude. This made me so nostalgic; something the usual Christmas doesn't do... :sign:: I HAVE to do this. And thanks for the info on the markets!

Robyn Engel said...

I'm intrigued by the locks of love. That looks really special, very cool.

Be well, Cheryl. I always enjoy the adventures you take us on.


Wendy said...

I LOVE the lap blankets idea. I am fond of being outside at all times, and have been know to have a picnic in Feb with a lap blanket (yes okay, under a covered picnic area). It seems to me that somehow the Europeans simply know how to enjoy having fun. They stroll on streets with large sidewalks because it is expected they will walk. They walk to the bakery everyday for fresh buns; they enjoy sitting outside with a lap blanket! I have never been there but it sure does come across in your traveloge. Love the fact that you get a Real mug for your drink. Most catchy song accompanying the slide show. I noted the Santa Claus outfit is more classically St. Nicholas, not like the Coke Santa. I imagine the festive atmosphere at the markets meant you ended up with many a collection in your bags. And one of them was Crabby Pants 'purchase' of an appropriate warm hat- did it match yours?

Agent 54 said...

Very nicely done. Love the slide show with the music. Now, I have to go to Germany someday.

Cheryl P. said...

I do hope you get the chance to go visit Germany in the winter months some day. It is such a different experience than other times of the year. I agree that it very easy to become grinch-like in the present U.S. environment where shopping has taken on the feel of gladiator versus the lions. I am pretty sure my blood pressure rises every time I have to go into a big box store and defend my little square of real estate in the aisle, while guarding the onslaught of rude cart pushers.

You nailed it with the word nostalgic. Walking down streets with beautiful window displays, couples arm and arm, parents with happy children throws me back into a different time. sigh....

Cheryl P. said...

It is cool, Robyn. That fence just goes on and on with thousands of loves...each with it's own unique attachment or marking. Had I had the time to figure out a hardware store before we had to leave Koln, I would of loved to put a lock on it.

Hope your new year is off to a great start. Take care of yourself.

Cheryl P. said...

I thought those lap blankets were awesome . I was tempted to take a picture of people using them but it seems like it would infringe on their private moments with friends.

I think that is what one of the true pleasures of travel is that one can look into the lives of people living differently from themselves. Germany (as well as other eastern European countries, seem to have a pace that allows and encourages strolling arm in arm as a routine...not an aberration. Everything is conducive to spend quiet time together without the hustle and bustle that has pervaded the area I live in.

As far as Santa..I rarely saw the more current view of Santa. St. Nicholas is the common Santa there. There is much more a sense of Christmas being associated with the Christian faith ....they seem farther removed from the gift buying/giving, jolly ole St. Nick, devoid of any religious correlation, that seem more common in the U.S.

You would of appreciated the atmosphere of "family" there. I noticed a difference in how families interacted with their small children. Very calm, very nurturing...I never once heard anyone screaming at their child.

I did buy a couple of angora wool hats. Wool "everything" is cheap...unbelievably Germany. One of mine is very similar to Crabby Pants'.

FYI ...We came across a small ice rink where a lot of kids were skating..I thought the penguins were a cute idea for little skaters.

Cheryl P. said...

Thanks, Timothy. I would hope that if you enjoy traveling, you get a chance to visit that part of Germany. It is a great adventure.

Chubby Chatterbox said...

You;re making me eager to revisit Germany, but our next vacation, soon to be announced, will take us in the opposite direction.

Cheryl P. said...

HHMMMM...Can hardly wait to hear about it. You are far more adventuresome than we are, so I am sure it will be someplace fascinating.

Debra She Who Seeks said...

I'd love to experience the Christmas Markets in Germany some day!

AletaObrien said...

I've heard of the locks before and thought it was such a neat idea. Ok, I will admit, I would have brought those adorable mugs home too! it sounds like a wonderful experience! You have me wishing to be in Germany for Christmas next year! What a dream!

lisleman said...

Lap blankets - now that is a nice touch. Thanks for sharing those interesting pics. Looks like you had good weather.

Iluvbeingagrandpa said...


Cheryl P. said...

I didn't think it would be as much fun as it was. If you ever get the chance...go, Debra. Great fun!!!

Cheryl P. said... need to go in the Spring, Aleta. I have been reading about your B&B trip and you being cold at 45 degrees. I am really used to cold weather so, I didn't think Germany was cold at all but you would of froze to death.

Here in Kansas today the high will be 12 degrees Fahrenheit (for you Canadian readers, I didn't want you to think it was 53 degrees) with a wind chill of 40 below zero. Now that is cold.

Cheryl P. said...

And people use them. Nearly all the coffee shops had groups of people drinking their coffee covered with their blanket. Really quite cute. The weather was fairly mild. The first day in Amsterdam was cold...really bitter, cold...that will be my last post probably late next week.

Cheryl P. said...

Tchuss to you or as we would say "Cheers".

AletaObrien said...

Oh my gosh, I felt a chill going through my bones just READING that!! Today the highs are 65 and I'm wearing short sleeves (long pants though). Feels nice. But the crazy weather will be highs of 45 tomorrow. We call it Doctor Weather in the south. Because we don't get "real winters" - just "cold fronts that actually make it to the south, then warms up, then another cold front that comes down south, then warms up." Ugh. You never put away your summer cloths in the south :)

Cheryl P. said...

There are times I miss living in Dallas for that very reason but I guess I can acclimate to this horrible cold weather as my baby (OK so she is 40...she is still my baby) lives here with her babies. I hope little Gregory always lives in warm weather places so you can stay warm and nearby.

Lauren said...

What a fabulous vacation. I am so jealous but can enjoy the trip vicariously via this post. Thank you for sharing your amazing vacation with us.

Cheryl P. said...

Thanks, Lauren. It's been kind of fun putting these together for my own journal of the trip. We had such a good time.

Lady Jewels Diva said...

I'd love to go to the German xmas markets, they look fantastic. We also have paved streets we call malls, with department stores, discount stores, eateries. And what you would call a mall we call a shopping centre.

Cheryl P. said...

I really enjoyed the feel of the shopping districts in Germany. The U.S. can't make up their mind. First we had urban "downtowns" with shopping, then they went to huge shopping centers (we called malls) then they started building more individual big box stores and strip malls, Now the new trend is building open-air shopping centers that feel like old "downtowns." We are such a fickle bunch here. As I am not a big fan of shopping, I guess the Internet is my shopping center.

Hope you new year is off to a good start, Lady Jewels Diva.

Riot Kitty said...

From Jesus to the Wizard! I love the locks - that's so neat. And I love open air markets. Box stores suck, and I hate shopping, too.

Cheryl P. said...

I hate everything about shopping in the U.S. today. It was pretty fun not to see any big box discount stores anywhere in Germany.
Yes, that lock thing was cool. I wish I had known in advance so I could have brought a lock with me.