Christmas in Germany and Elsewhere
Come Christmastime, I have often found myself traveling abroad. This stems from the fact that, when I was in college, my sister and I would go on a vacation during winter break when the weather in Sag Harbor was less than illustrious (we would never dream of leaving there in the summer), and it is a tradition that has continued even after I graduated college. Visiting another country during Christmastime is an experience I’ve grown fond of (though not so fond of the weather, depending on where I go) as it’s a great look at how different cultures celebrate Christmas.
I’ve seen Puerto Rican houses with Christmas decorations (something I find amusing, given that Christmas doesn’t equate with palm trees in my book). In Cairo hotels were decorated with Christmas lights, and in a shiny sort of mall people were taking their photos next to Santa decorations made to look like the North Pole. In La Rochelle, France, the tours gaurding the port entrance were colored red and green, and the wall of the hotel de ville had a great blue spotlight spelling out Joyeux Noel (although on the individual houses I did note that people were not so inclined to put up decorations). Barcelona had lots of lights strung up across it’s narrow streets off Las Ramblas. I remember a towering lit tree in Rome’s Fiumicino airport; although I’ve never officially been to Italy, I spent Christmas Eve 2010 at the Satellite Hotel just outside Fiumicino, as my flight had been cancelled. My dinner was a lonely affair of eating bad Italian pasta and even more horrid mineral water at the hotel’s buffet dining room, though not as bad as spending actual Christmas day sitting around Charles de Gaulle airport with nothing but some Pringles and my laptop to keep me company.
Germany, however, does Christmas overload, and boy was I happy for that: the legendary German Christmas markets or Christkindlmarkt are not to be missed. Although it was breathatking to visit Neuschwanstein Castle, and humbling to visit Dachau and Checkpoint Charlie in Berlin (site of the former Berlin Wall) it is the Christmas markets that will forever stand out in my memories of Germany.
The Christkindlmarkt in Munich literally take up the old quarter: Marienplatz is nothing but the little huts and ‘cabins’ that they erect starting the end of November, and this spills over into the adjoining streets. The Christmas festivities actually start right before the entrance to the old quarter, where the medieval-y castle-looking gate is: a huge ice-skating rink is erected, bordered by a two story affair, the bottom a series of stalls selling food-German bratwursts, knackwursts, all types of -wursts which I have no idea what they are-and hot drinks, the upstairs where people congregate to view the skaters.
(I decided to be brave and try brombeerwein, hot blackberry beer/wine since I couldn’t pass up trying beer in Munich. It came in a cute little mug that you gave a deposit of 3 Euros for in case you ran off with it. The brombeer was disgusting, I kid you not. I am not a fan of hot drinks like coffee or tea, and so a hot drink +blackberry taste + alcohol was just too much. I managed to gulp down half of it, and left feeling buzzed. Apparently brombeer is alcoholically potent-good for those who want to get drunk, as long as you can mind the taste!)
The vendors sell everything from their charming little stalls: food (from the aforementioned ‘wursts to delectable chocolates rolled up in log shapes to ‘nusse’-nuts-to huge decorated pieces of gingerbread), leather hats and gloves, handblown candles to, most importantly, Christmas decorations! There were countless shops selling all the components you’d want to decorate a creche (or manger), complete with palm trees and decked-out elephants (I didn’t know there were elephants in Jerusalem?). Finely carved wood ornaments dangled from the ceilings so that you couldn’t stand beneath them. There were advent calendars, very traditional Christmas cards, wall hangings, even the little handmade pinecone elves I brought back for my mother and sister.
The Berlin market was equally cute, although interestingly juxtaposed with the tall modern buildings that surrounded it (actually, there are several Berlin Christmas markets but I visited the one in Alexanderplatz). The Berlin market had the added bonus of a mini theme-park: pony rides for the kids, choo-choo trains and a huge enclosed ferris wheel which this kid got to ride, listening to Tchaikovsky’s ‘The Nutcracker’ booming from speakers placed at the ice rink.
Take a look at the magic of Christmas in Germany, and Merry Christmas! Joyeux Noel! Felix Navidad! frohe Weihnachten!
The Christmas tree in Marienplatz.
Everything you need for your creche.
Food stalls and a replica of the famous church that is faintly seen in the background.
A chocolate shop in Munchen.