The market by the Cologne Cathedral
My husband and I spent the past weekend eating. Honestly. Just stuffing everything in sigh into our mouths.
We have an excuse – we were in Cologne, Germany, visiting the city’s many Christmas markets.
I hadn’t really heard of these markets before, but many German cities have them – they’re basically little areas set up with stalls selling handicrafts, Christmas decorations, lots of German food and gluhwien, or mulled wine. Yum.
Cologne is about a 6 hour drive from our house, so we decided to go there to get a Christmas Market Experience. The city itself has seven different markets – including a floating one on a boat – but only made it to three of them.
Cologne is very beautiful, mostly due to an enormous cathedral in the center of town. Construction on it was started in 1248, because the church was to be home to some relics that were supposedly the bones of the three magi, and the church officials thought such relics deserved an amazing church. The cathedral took 600 years to finish and now, it’s quite gorgeous. It’s really huge, though – that’s what surprised me. Enormously tall. It was even the world’s tallest building back in 1884.
Anyhow, enough about the cathedral. On the markets! We started off Thursday night at the Neumarkt Square market. We had some hot wine, and were temped by the marzipan stollen, the cookies, the fried potato things we had last time we were in Germany…D. ate a currywurst, but for the most part, we held off so that we could visit Haxenhouse, a traditional German restaurant downtown.
D. eating a pork knuckle with spicy Chinese marinade
When we arrived, we found out the place was full. But we sat down for a few glasses of Kolsch, the local beer, and when the waitress saw we were still there, she fit us in a place where some other’s had cancelled. How nice of her! D. had an actual huge pork knuckle, and I had a vegetarian mushroom pasta dish.
The next day, we went to the NS-Dokumentationszentrum der Stadt Köln Museum, which I think translates to something like the Documentation of Nationalsocialism in Cologne Museum. It is housed in the former Gestapo prison, which was left very in-tact – basically, you can still see the drawings and quotes people wrote on their prison cells while they were held captive (some are thought-provoking – some are encouraging others – but my favorite was translated to “Gestapo are assholes.”)
Weird WWI-era blimp ornament?
Unfortunately, the upper two levels of the history museum aren’t translated into English. We could have rented English audioguides, but we were warned they took 2.5 hours to complete, and we didn’t’ really have enough time. Still, I found the seasonal exhibit, called “Heilige Nacht” (I know that means “holy night” thanks to nine years of Lutheran Day School) which showed how Christmas has been used as propaganda in Germany, starting with WWI. One example was the Christmas postcards with some sort of bullet on it, decorated with evergreen, and the other was a Christmas ornament of a blimp. Ok.
Even weirder were the displays of how the Nazis used Christmas. For example, Hitler tried to convince housewives to make “Christmas” cookies that were of mythical Norse winter solstice-type motifs and swastikas. And there were also many Christmas bulbs that had swastikas on them, too.
Perhaps the weirdest thing to me, though, were the Nazi-esque “advent calendars.” Instead of candles to represent hope, peace, etc., the Nazi party offered up these helpful suggestions seen below. If you looks closely, you will see candles surrounded by “wreaths” of either those mythical Norse-type horses or of a cross made of Viking ships. Hey, Hitler, I think you were missing the point…
Nazi advent calendars...
Anyway, the exhibit was quite interesting. Done, however, with creepy Nazi propaganda, we decided to move on to more cheerful pastimes – mostly eating.
We visited the Cathedral market and the Heumarkt — both were great.
D. ate a bratwurst from there folks (the whole market smelled like Milwaukee, honestly)
The bratwurst sellers
We had hot wine. We had hot apple cider with calvados. We ate a German garlicbread with olives and red pepper cream cheese on it that was heavenly.
German Garlic Bread - this stall smelled fantastic
We ate a bowl of fresh dumplings with sauerkraut, creme fraiche and herbs.
Dumplings & saurkraut/creme fraiche
And then we had to stop. No cheese spatzle for me, no fried potatoes, no fried apples, no pretzel, no nothing more. I was SO full. Too bad…
D. and I had so much fun on this little weekend away – it really was one of the best things we did all year. I love visiting Germany – the people are so warm and friendly and laid-back. I also got a kick out of how many German Christmas things seemed so familiar to me — advent calendars with chocolate inside for sale all over the place, hearing “Oh Come Little Children” in German on the merry-go-round (mom taught me that one when I was a kid), gingerbread cookies, spritz cookies, gingerbread-lattes at Starbucks (well, they called them Lebkuchen lattes, but they tasted the same to me)… even slightly buzzed German tourists wearing fuzzy Christmas tree hats — it was a little bit like being home in Wisconsin!
Hoo loves mulled wine? (Sorry, couldn't help it)