Christmas Markets: Bonn

December’s here! And with it, comes the most wonderful time of the year! Those of you who’ve followed the blog for a little longer, know that every year I like to visit the Christmas Markets from the region. This year I moved to a different state, which means there are plenty of new Markets to visit. This time, I started the Market season with Bonn.

Bonn is a beautiful city located by the Rhine in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia. It was the provisional capital of West Germany from 1949 to 1990 and, after the German reunification, it served as the seat of government until 1999.

The Bonn Christmas Market is a lot bigger than the markets I usually visit. Instead of being limited to the central square, it is spread throughout the city center and the different squares are connected through well-lit streets with fewer stands.

For the lovers of music and of all things bright and beautiful, Bonn is the natal city of the great Ludwig van Beethoven, who was born in December 1770. A fun fact about him is that no one knows the exact date of his birth. He was baptized on the 17th of December, which is why some think that he was born on the 16th, but nobody has been able to prove it.

The city is particularly proud of Ludwig, which is why his image is virtually everywhere. In the form of a statue at the main square, on the souvenirs sold at the shops, on my glasses’ case, on some traffic lights, and, of course, on the market’s mugs.

I’ve been going to Christmas markets for four years now and, yeah, they all pretty much have the same things. I never get bored, though, and depending on the size of the market, you might find some variety in the products. The bigger markets have a wider range of beverages, they definitely step-up their decoration game, they offer more international products, and they have lots and lots of food.

There’s always Bratwurst, there’s Glühwein (one day I’ll share with you my recipe), there’re crêpes, caramelized walnuts, lots of chocolates, and lamps and stars and wooden accessories for the home.

What I like the most about the markets is that, it doesn’t matter that every year’s the same, there are always people willing to go see, eat, and drink… especially drink.

As always, I went there around five o’clock, when most people are still working and I can take my pictures without annoying anyone or without bumping into drunk Glühwein enthusiasts, who each year take it upon themselves to drink their weight in wine.

A friend from university offered to come with me and he was patient enough to wait with a smile while I took all my pictures.

We visited the whole market, walked all the streets, saw all the stands, and enjoyed all the colors, the smells, and the flavors. I always like to buy roasted chestnuts to eat while I walk.

The last market stand we went to was at the end of the market. It was inside a wooden Christmas pyramid and it offered many types of Glühwein, complimentary cookies, and, to my surprise, had a very particular kind of music. It wasn’t Christmas music, nor was it German music.

It was none other than Luis Miguel, the famous Mexican singer, beloved by the masses, known by the nation, protagonist of his own Netflix series, king of 90s romance, melter of Mexican hearts, and official ambassador to all things cheesy.

As expected, we ordered a Glühwein, ate some cookies, had a nice chat, and returned the mugs at the end.

What about you? Are you in the Christmas spirit already? What are your projects this season? Leave a comment!

Christmas Markets: Goslar

Goslar is a beautiful historic town in Lower Saxony located at the skirts of the Harz mountains. It’s one of the places I love the most in Germany, not only because it’s pretty, but also because it’s where I spent many weekends when I was 16 years old.

This Christmas Market is known as one of the prettiest in Germany. Every year, people from all the state pick a weekend to go see it and enjoy the lights, the trees, the food and the Glühwein.

It has a “forest” section, which is basically a ring of pine trees that surround a zone with a floor made of wood dust, and some tables where people go to have a drink “in the woods.” I tried taking a picture from the inside, but it was too dark.

This time I decided to take pictures of the inside of the stands, since you’ve already seen the outside and it’s fun to see what else they sell.

Wooden candle trees with the Christmas story are quite popular in Germany. People tend to place them by the window and I get to see the different shapes and sizes when I walk by.

Some stands sell objects that have nothing to do with Christmas, such as small sized cars, goblins, fairies, and other figures. Some objects are toys, some are just decorative.

The Chocolate Work Tools stand is also quite fun. The tools look like rusted hammers, nails, wrenches/spanners, but they’re completely made of chocolate.

There are the typical decorative and aromatic candles in all kinds of sizes, shapes and colors.

There are heart-shaped ginger cookies, chocolate-covered fruits, caramelized almonds, cotton candy and candy canes.

There are hand painted ornaments made of glass, metal and wood.

And there’s the food. This time we stopped by a ‘Hungarian Specialties’ stand that was selling Kürtőskalács (“chimney cake”). A different kind of cake made of flour, water, yeast and cinnamon.

It’s basically a strip spun and wrapped around a truncated baking spit, which is covered with butter and sugar, and roasted on an open fire or in a special oven.

The crust becomes crispy, but the inside stays soft. You can add other ingredients such as hazelnut, cinnamon, chocolate or more sugar.

It’s called chimney cake because of its shape and because of the steam that comes out of it.

Either because of the memories, the cafés, the beautiful buildings, or the particularly funny garlands, visiting Goslar is always a joy.

Christmas Markets: Bremen

Yesterday I spent the whole day sitting inside an airplane, with numb legs, an uncomfortable back and too many cups of coffee, but thank God this year I get to spend Christmas with my family again. The best part is that we’ll spend it in one of the most beautiful cities in Mexico, but I will tell you about that some other day.

For now, it is only fair that I share with you the pictures of the second Christmas market I went to.

The Sögerstrasse is the street that takes you directly to the central square, during this season, walking through it is a joy.

I love the way Germans take their Christmas lights seriously and really put a lot of effort into their decorations. The lights, the trees, the ornaments and the whole atmosphere almost make me forget it’s cold outside.

It was five thirty in the afternoon, the sky was completely black, the square was full of lights and the multitudes were going from one stand to another. Because it’s Bremen, the Christmas market has more visitors than others. However, if you arrive early, you may just have a shot at buying something delicious without having people pushing you out of the way. It’s not that they mean it, but there are just so many that it’s kind of inevitable.

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This market surrounds the cathedral and is divided by the tramlines. The tram has to be extra careful during the Christmas market season, since there are little children, senior citizens and a lot of drunk people. Seriously, it’s like they go to drink all the punch in one night and by the end of their stay they can barely walk.

In every Christmas market there’s at least one or two amusement rides, all completely covered in lights or decorated with Christmas motifs. They’re usually full of children that go with their parents or grandparents, but, if you ask me, I think that it’s really brave of the owners to put such rides in a market full of drunk people.

I’ve never been in one of these amusement rides, mainly because I prefer to focus on the food. This time I bought a marshmallow-cream crêpe, which ended up being way too sweet for my taste.

In the Braunschweig post I told you that they sell a lot of Christmas-related objects in these markets, but in Bremen I realized that they also sell other stuff too.

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The stars are very common during the winter. You can see them in a lot of homes, hanging on the door, or by the window, or even in the middle of the living room.

I love the colored light strings. Those stands also have lights of every kind: strings, spheres, snow globes; to hang by the window or put on a shelf, or simply as a table centerpiece. They’re all wonderful.

One of the best stands I saw this year was the “Bird Village”. It was full of bird houses, in all sizes, shapes and colors:

There are stands that are so beautifully detailed that I would leave them there rest of the year. I’d just take down the lights and the Santa Claus.

But if there’s one rule here, is that you have to get yourself a hot beverage.

Did you know about the “Pfand” system in Germany? Before I came here, I had never heard about it. For those of you who don’t know it, it works like this: I buy a hot drink that costs €2.50, they serve it on a glass mug and ask me to pay €3.50 (sometimes even €4.50). As soon as I finish my drink, I give them back the mug and they give me back my extra euro. I have friends who collect these mugs, so once a year, they leave the extra euro and take the mug home.

That day we ordered Feuerzangenbowle, a wine punch with fruits, spices, orange juice and rum.

You prepare it in a glass or metal bowl suspended over a small burner that kinda makes it like a fondue set. You fill the bowl with hot red wine that already has the fruit and spices, and on top of it you put a metal grate that holds a Zuckerhut (“sugar hat”), which is a big cone made of sugar. You soak it with rum, set it on fire and see how it turns into caramel and drips into the wine. Fun, right?

Discovering Germany: Hamelin

Here is the last part of our little weekend-trip through Lower Saxony. Our last place is a little town known for one of the darkest Grimm fairy tales. There’s also a poem written by Robert Browning (1812-1889) that tells the unfortunate story of a certain piper, a plague of rats and a large group of children.

Hamelin

“Hamelin Town’s in Brunswick, By famous Hanover city; The river Weser, deep and wide, Washes its wall on the southern side; A pleasanter spot you never spied; But, when begins my ditty, Almost five hundred years ago, To see the townsfolk suffer so From vermin, was a pity.”

The fourth day was gray, windy and rainy. Nothing unusual for Germany, but nothing we were hoping for during our short vacation. Nevertheless, we jumped into the train and traveled in spite of the rain.

Putting rhymes aside; nowadays, Hamelin is a city inhabited by almost 60 thousand people, and it is located on both sides of the Weser river. We needed to walk 15 minutes to get to the Old Town. I guess sometimes towns just grow.

The Old Town’s main street is full of old buildings, pretty houses and rats, lots and lots of rats. Although, not exactly made of flesh and bones.

“Great rats, small rats, lean rats, brawny rats,  Brown rats, black rats, grey rats, tawny rats,  Grave old plodders, gay young friskers,  Fathers, mothers, uncles, cousins,  Cocking tails and pricking whiskers,  Families by tens and dozens,  Brothers, sisters, husbands, wives —  Followed the Piper for their lives.”

“From street to street he piped advancing,  And step for step they followed dancing,  Until they came to the river Weser  Wherein all plunged and perished!”

The Pied Piper can be seen virtually everywhere and in all sorts of presentations. There’s a statue, a fountain, a few signs and a lot of souvenirs. Interesting situation, considering what he did to the children of Hamelin after the mayor decided not to pay him for his services.

For those who don’t know, when the mayor refused to pay his debt, the piper played a different melody and enchanted the children. 130 children followed him dancing and singing, and he led them into a cave, and no one saw them ever again.

At the end of the day, we went for a coffee in one of the few open places. As some of you may know, Germany takes its festive days too seriously, so only a couple of restaurants, cafés, a book store and a toy store were open.

All in all, Hamelin is a nice little town, full of music, stories, food, and rats. At the end of the day, I think the things I enjoyed the most were the rats and the ways they are sold.

And so ends our little trip through Lower Saxony.

Discovering Germany: Bremen

Welcome, June! Welcome good weather! The sun has finally graced us with his constant presence and we couldn’t be happier. Sadly, finals are coming, but at least I’ll be able to study in the garden. But that’s a problem for another day. For now, let us focus on the second part of our little weekend trip.

Bremen

Bremen was the third stop in our short route. It is a nice city in northwest Germany, known by its Old Town (Altstadt), its Marketplace, its Cathedral and its music groups, although I’ve heard those play like animals.

Bremen has the second largest port in Germany; the first one is in Hamburg.

If you don’t really remember the story of The Bremen Town Musicians, you can read it here. The tale was published, as were most of the best-known fairy tales, to the Brothers Grimm. I know they are famous mainly because of their fairy tale collection, but they also were academics, cultural researchers, lexicographers and linguists. They are basically the founders of German philology.

You may have noticed that the donkey’s legs are shinier than the rest of the statue. That’s because it is said that rubbing them brings good luck.

And so we made it to Schlachte, Bremen’s medieval harbor. It is a wonderful promenade full of pubs, bars and restaurants where we could sit for a while and enjoy Germany’s greatest invention: The Invention of the Curry Sausage.

Well, we didn’t actually order a curry sausage, but it was a sausage and it was great. Honestly, I do believe that the Bratwurst and the bread are the best things this country has given to the world.

Bremen is not a very big place. At least not the historical part of it, so after a few hours we found ourselves sitting on a bench thinking about our next move. We were still considering our options when we got a recommendation.

“Go to the Schnoor.”

And just like the musicians, we jumped into the idea without even thinking about it. Funny thing, though, the Bremen Town Musicians never made it to Bremen.

As it turned out, Schnoor is the medieval neighborhood of Bremen. It is the oldest, prettiest part of town and it still keeps that medieval style. Some if its buildings are from the 15th and 16th century. It was a tight place, but absolutely charming.

In one of its corners we found and old empty building and I could picture myself opening my beloved café there. Maybe some day, my wallet whispered.

By the end of the day, we decided we would have a coffee or an ice cream at the windmill café. The view was beautiful, the weather amazing and the service… well, we couldn’t ask too much.

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If anyone’s wandering around in north Germany, Bremen’s totally worth it.

Discovering Germany: Hannover & Oldenburg

About a month ago, a friend called me telling me she wanted to go out for a weekend. A holiday was coming up and she wanted to take the opportunity. It couldn’t be somewhere far from home because last month we were in Paris and we could not afford another big expensive city in such short notice.

After thinking about it, she reminded me of one of the perks of being a university student in Germany: we get to travel by train through the whole state (in our case, Lower Saxony) for free. The idea was to spend each day in a different city and return every evening to her flat. The trip would be fun, relaxing and cheap. An Italian friend of ours also joined our little weekend getaway.

Four days, four cities, lots of pictures and lots of food; here is a hopefully brief summary of our weekend.

Hannover

I am no stranger in Hannover. Whether it is to visit a museum, a friend or simply wander around every store looking at stuff I do not intend to buy, I always find an excuse to go to Hannover. There is one place I had never been to: the Herrenhausen Gardens.

The Herrenhausen Gardens are an ensemble of three different gardens: the Großer Garten (Great Garden), the Berggarten (Mountain Garden) and the Georgengarten (George’s Garden).

The Großer Garten is a Baroque garden, created by Electress Sophie (1630-1714). Although the idea came up in 1666, she was the one who directed the whole enterprise between 1680 and 1714.

The Georgengarten is laid out an English landscape style, and it is used as a public park. We did not cross there.

The Berggarten used to be a mulberry tree plantation for the Elector’s silkworm farms, but now it is a botanic garden, famous for its pretty orchid collection.

Oldenburg

Oldenburg is a city located in Lower Saxony, between the cities of Groningen (Netherlands) and Bremen, in the rivers Haare and Hunte.

The Oldenburgisches Staatstheater (State Theater) opened its doors for the first time back in 1833. The structure was made of wood, built by Herman Wilhelm Muck. The theater, however, was founded and directed by Carl Christian Ludwig Staklof.

It moved to its stone building, designed by court architect Gerhard Schnitger, in 1881. It burned down in 1891 but was rebuilt and reopened in 1893. Inside its three houses, you may find an opera, a ballet, a play or a concert.

The Oldenburg Castle is the former residence of the Counts, Dukes and Grand Dukes of Oldenburg, that lived there from 1667 to 1785, 1785 to 1815, and 1815 to 1918, respectively.

Nowadays it serves as the Landesmuseum für Kunst und Kulturgeschichte (Land Museum for Arts and Cultural History).

The city center is a mainly pedestrian zone full of stores, cafés, and restaurants.

At some point we found ourselves in the middle of a market we were not expecting. There were people all around us either singing, buying stuff or tasting bio-coffee. Some of you may already know that Germans have a thing for bio, which is short for healthy, organic and expensive. Bio-eggs, bio-vegetables, bio-meat, bio-anything-you-can-imagine. A green leaf is usually stamped on the things that are bio.

Speaking of green, here is a random picture of green crockery I took at the market.

Chestnuts roasting on an open fire: The Christmas Market

I’m super excited because December is practically here and I absolutely love everything that revolves around Christmas. The decorations, the food, the music, everything! But the best part of December in Germany is definitely the Christmas market (Weihnachtsmarkt or Christkindlmarkt).

The Christmas market lasts the four weeks of Advent and sells everything Christmas-related: food, drinks, toasted almonds and nuts, crêpes, nutcrackers, candles, and other seasonal goodies.

In Germany, they also sell the wonderful Bratwurst and Glühwein (a German punch with red wine. I’ll upload the recipe one of these days), apple wine, etc. The list goes on and on, but I won’t bore you with it.

The Christmas Market originated during the Late Middle Ages in the Holy Roman Empire. They organized fairs to sell everything the citizens needed for the cold season. Eventually, bakers and toy makers were added to the Market’s repertoire, along with the roasted chestnuts. Bless the one who came up with the idea.

 The best time to visit the market is at night, when all the lights are on. The thing is, the quality of my photos is limited due to the fact that I don’t have a proper camera and I take them with my phone. Thus, most pictures were taken during the day.

Christmas markets are a tradition in Europe. The biggest ones are quite famous and we all look forward to their openings. Since I live in a small city, our market is rather small, but nonetheless lovely. Maybe I’ll visit the one in Hannover; I’ve never seen it, so it would be a great opportunity to take some pictures and eat like crazy.