Christmas Season Countdown

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWith the Christmas season drawing to a close, James and I made the most of the last few pre-Christmas days and visited two new markets.  Yesterday we drove about an hour southeast from our new apartment to the university town of Heidelberg.  The Altstadt (old town) of Heidelberg is paved with cobblestones and nestles between the Neckar River and the mountaintop castle Schloss Heidelberg.  The market itself is actually made up of small market areas located in several close but disconnected town squares.  Unique to this market is an ice skating rink that lies in the shadow of Schloss Heidelberg.  And yes, we happened to park behind Santa Claus.IMG_1642IMG_1645IMG_1648

Today we stopped in Hildesheim, about three hours north of us, a halfway point on our way to visit relatives near Hamburg for Christmas.  Hildesheim’s market is small and pleasantly not as crowded as the other markets we’ve visited.  We tried a local food for dinner called Hildesheimer Rahmfladen.  This is a dark flour-dusted bread topped with a soft cheese and thick crumbles of bacon, baked in an oven, and sprinkled with sliced green onions just before serving.  It was delicious, especially paired with hot chocolate and Amaretto.  I’ve been thinking about what the rest of winter in Germany will be like after the Christmas season… Cold and dark (the sun sets a little after 4 p.m. now) without Christmas markets?!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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Tis the Season… for Christmas Markets!

IMG_1628Germany celebrates the Christmas season with an appealing sense of old world charm.  Towns all over the country open their own individual Christmas markets in the shadow of their central churches for about a month leading up to Christmas.  In Mainz, the Christmas market has been open since November 28 (coincidentally the same day as the American Thanksgiving holiday and this year’s first night of Hanukkah).  Wiesbaden’s market opened a few days earlier.  Slightly different in their layout, the Mainz market flows through a few connected town squares while Wiesbaden’s market has a narrower and more roundabout route confined by a maze of metal gates.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Despite their differences, it’s what in the markets that count:  The butcher, the baker, the beeswax candlestick maker, and more.  Large wooden shed-like buildings offer handcrafted woodwork, glasswork, leather goods, Christmas ornaments, bake ware, and so on.  And the food.  As you walk through the market you pass through smells of gingerbread, chocolate, candied nuts, roasted chestnuts, bratwurst and currywurst, potato pancakes, and (perhaps most importantly) a hot mulled wine called Glühwein.  Huge wooden barrels with long benches and a table inside serve as seating for at least nine, in my experience.  You can also stand at a tall table made from a log cut in half.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

On weekends in particular, the markets are jam packed.  People shuffle along shoulder to shoulder and cram in to buy crafts and food.  My favorite times to visit the markets are weekday afternoons and evenings when the crowds are a little lighter.  Time is running out for the markets but I hope to visit a few more before next week.  Merry Christmas/Frohe Weihnachten!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA      IMG_1629 IMG_1631 IMG_1632 IMG_1599 IMG_1606