German Xmas Markets and Chris' Mom's 2nd visit

Trip Start Apr 15, 2003
Trip End Sep 01, 2011

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Sunday, December 14, 2003

Hi everybody!

Chris' mom has been visiting here the last week, so we've been doing lots of sightseeing that we'd like to share. She arrived on Saturday, November 29, and we did our usual trip to the market around the corner for fresh bread and mushrooms. In the afternoon one of Melanie's colleagues was singing madrigals with a group at the English church, so we went to that concert. The music was really nice and there was a good crowd there for the concert.

The next day we planned to drive to Delft and then on to the windmills at Kinderdijk - a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This seemed like a reasonable plan since all of the shops are supposedly closed on Sundays, but as it turned out there was actually quite a bit to do in Delft. We went to the Stedelijk (municipal) Museum, which had a display of Royal Delft porcelain. It was housed in the old cloister where the early Prince of Orange was shot and killed. Also in Delft there was a fancy old merchant's house that had a huge collection Delft tiles. Because it was the Sunday before Sintaklaasavand (Sinta Klaas eve), some of the shops were even open for a special shopping day. We ended up enjoying the whole day in Delft and never did make it to Kinderdijk.

Throughout the week Chris and his mom visited many museums including the usual suspects: The Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh Museum, as well as Our Lord in the Attic. Our Lord in the Attic is interesting. It is a hidden Catholic church in the attic of a canal house in the Red Light district. It is from the time when Catholics were not permitted to worship publicly in the Netherlands, so these hidden churches were quite common. It is the only one that still remains.

They also took the train to Haarlem, where they spent the day going to more museums and walking around the town.

On Friday, Melanie took the day off and we all did a marathon tour of German Christmas markets. We left the house around 7:30 a.m. and arrived back home around midnight after driving to Aachen, Cologne (Koln) and Dusseldorf, Germany. It is very common in Germany for each little town to have a Christmas market in it's main square for the Christmas season. The best known and biggest of these is in Nurenburg, but that was too far for a day trip. In Chicago, there is a similar market modeled after the ones in Germany that we've gone to with our friends LeeAnn and Patrick for several years. Having seen the three in the towns above, we can vouch for the authenticity of Chicago's market.

Each of the three town's markets had a different character. The one in Aachen was very focused on Christmas goods. There were lots of ornaments and Christmas baked goods and, of course, bratwurst and gluhwein (more on that later). Martha had a treat of roasted chestnuts. We had never tried these before, but quite liked them. The Cologne market was much larger - actually at least 2 markets (Chris thinks maybe there were four, but we only saw 2). Martha thought this was much more commercial than the Aachen market. There were more booths with things to buy as gifts rather than ornaments. They had the requisite baked goods and pretzels as well as lots of brats, gluhwein, and sautéed mushrooms in garlic sauce. In Dusseldorf, the market was spread out across several pedestrian streets and at least 2 squares. This was focused on ornaments again and, although there were roasted chestnuts, gluhwein and brats, no 'shrooms or pretzels. The Dusseldorf market was actually pretty big, but it felt small because in any one place there were never too many booths.

Now, back to gluhwein. If you've never had gluhwein, you really should try it when you have a chance. It's a hot, spiced red wine that is very warming on a cold winter day. At the Christmas markets it is always served in a souvenir mug. At the market in Chicago, we would pay for the mug and the gluhwein and then refills would be cheaper since you would only pay for the gluhwein. In Aachen, this was also how it worked. However, beginning in Cologne, we started to notice some marketing spins on this. In Cologne there were 3 souvenir mugs to choose from. So, if you were collecting the mugs, it would be unusual to ever pay only for the refill. In Dusseldorf it was even worse. There were several souvenir mugs available and sometimes each section of the market had a different mug. So, again, if you're collecting the mugs, it would be unlikely that you would ever pay for just a refill. Good marketing ploy, huh? We could have come back with 7 different mugs if we had wanted! When we tried, in Cologne, to buy a mug without any gluhwein in it (after all, somebody had to drive back to Amsterdam!), we were told that they could not be sold without a beverage. Not wanting to pay over $2 for a mug of fruitpunch or coffee, we came back with only 3 mugs.

The markets were a lot of fun and it was interesting how each one was a little different. It was a bit cold to be outside all day, but the gluhwein helped and Chris made hot chocolate when we got home, so it was worth it! Next year we hope to take a few days and go to the ones in Bavaria.

On Saturday night we went on a walking tour in Amsterdam's red light district and learned more about Sinta Klaas and the surrounding legends. One new fact is that Sinta Klaas is the patron saint of sailors and prostitutes. There's also a shocking legend of 3 boys who went to a butcher asking for some meat. The butcher cut the boys into pieces, pickled and peppered them and threw them in barrels. There they stayed for seven years until one day when Sinta Klaas showed up at this same butcher wanting some meat. The butcher offered beef, lamb, all kinds of meat, but Sinta Klaas insisted on having whatever was in the barrels. When the butcher finally opened the lid, the boys jumped out - whole and alive, with no ill effects of the pickling and peppering. A miracle! There's actually a plaque in Dam Square commemorating this!

Other excitement in Dam Square this weekend: There was a walk-by shooting on Saturday afternoon. Amsterdam has very little violent crime, so this was a big shock, until it was determined that the victim was associated with Bulgarian drug ring and the shooting was mafia related. So now, nobody really cares since it didn't impact any "regular" people. In fact, it didn't even make front page news in the metro paper - something like page 4. Of course, some of that may be because the REALLY big news here is that the crown prince's wife gave birth to a new princess over the weekend, so there's lots of orange everywhere (for the House of Orange - the color of the royal family) and much of the metro paper was spent covering various aspects of the birth, naming, and health of the newbie. Mom and baby went home same day and are doing well.

Sunday was another drive in the country. We had beautiful weather - clear, but cold. We drove to Edam (also covered in the Jeannine's visit in July) and Hoorn (covered in Melanie's mom's visit in August) and spent the afternoon walking around looking at the pretty little towns. Here is a typical fishing boat from 1910 with its sail up:

Unlike the previous week there really were NO stores or museums or ANYTHING open. In fact, in Hoorn we were looking for a café to have a cup of coffee and only found 2 that were open. We ended up have a nice time in the old weigh house from the 1500s where they had great apple gebak (sort of a thick apple pie/tart thing that is typically Dutch and absolutely delicious!).

Sintaklaasavond was Friday, December 5. People do not put up their Christmas decorations until after that, so Christmas trees have just become available for purchase and Christmas decorations have immediately sprung up where there were none only a few weeks ago. So, it's finally beginning to feel like Christmas here.

In case we don't get another entry up in the next few weeks, we'll take this opportunity to wish everybody Safe and Happy Holidays and a Happy New Year!


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omaintn on

I am from Germany very close to Nuernberg, been in US since 71 and I sure miss the Markets around xmas and the food

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