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 minimum...as 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.
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|
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.