It is said by some that ‘life looks better in spring’; while
this is normally true, in Germany life most certainly looks better at Christmas time. Perhaps this is due to our vision of the ‘perfect Christmas’ as Americans, namely the small town, tradition-oriented customs.
The first sign of Christmas in Germany is the Christmas markets. Every large city has a Weihnachtsmarkt for the entire Advent, they begin roughly the end of November. Even small villages have Weihnachtmarkte, but only for one week or one weekend. Traditionally this was where one would buy all of their Christmas gifts and specialties. Even though today there are many more shopping opportunities, Weihnachtsmarkte are very popular. I had the pleasure of attending the opening of the Bremen Christmas Market this year. It began in the St. Perti Church with a short service blessing the market. The pastor gave a few short words, the Mayor then said his piece, and all of this was followed by a couple songs by the Youth Choir. This was just the first part. The second part was outside the church, on a stage. There the Christmas Market Queen, dressed up as Giesha Godfried, and two other girls from the court were dressed up as angels.
The mayor said a few more words, and the market was officially opened. There is everything at these markets. There are the classics; traditional decorations – smoking men, crèches, straw stars, etc. There is every type of food; gingerbread hearts, bratwurst, Schmaltzkuchen (slight resembles lumpy doughnut holes), schnitzel, and of course Gluehwein. Gluehwein is by far the most popular drink at any Christmas Market. It is typically an average, run-of-the-mill wine, which is mulled with a seceret mix of Christmas spices,
and is always served hot. While it may not be everyman’s drink, it is certainly an experience. With the combination of the bitter cold on every exposed square inch of skin, and the mix of spices, sugar and alcohol warming the body from the inside out. Of course for those who do not like the Gluehwein, there is always coffee, hot cocoa, warm eggnog, Grog (– leave it to northern Europeans to mix rum and hot water). It is understandable if is to feel a little claustrophobia. With thousands of people walking through narrow walkways connecting booths, it can be a little daunting. If chlosterphobia is the case, there are – as I said before – smaller Christmas Markets. I was also at three of such smaller markets. One was in a neighbor village, and this was more of a craft show for local artists. Of course it had all of the classics, but a little more of a comfortable, hometown. Then there was the Market in my town, even smaller than the former. We went at night, so the craft part of the market was closed, but we did get to see something quite interesting: Feurezangenbowle.
This is another art of Gluehwein. Under in a pot the wine is mulling, then comes the bottles of rum. When the rum is empty, it is light on fire then above comes a huge hunk of sugar on metal plate. The person doing it begins to ladle the hot alcoholic mixture over the flaming sugar. Because it is being heated, the alcohol is in a gaseous state and it makes for some interesting fire effects. The process is continued until the entire block of sugar is melted. In the end you are left with a delicious mixture. The last market I went to was the Schlachter Market. This was designed as a middle-aged market. The stands were suited up in burlap and the vendors were dressed in age clothing. This was one of my favorite markets. Fire-lit and rudimentary, it was a great feeling without all of the modern-day glitz and glamour.