A gastronomic trail of the Christmas Markets in Germany
A magic carpet carries me far and wide from the warm locales of India to the cold winters of Germany in the dead of the night. But I find myself transported to the land of fairies and elves. It is Christmas and the atmosphere is lyrical. Laughter echoes from the old fashioned pretty carousel dazzling with lights as children run around the Ferris wheel. A steam engine takes my breath away. Horse carriages steeped in antiquity ferries people around. I am in Bavaria, in the medieval town of Nuremberg, “the little town of wood and cloth”, lost in the spirit of Christkindlesmarkt, the Christmas market, launched by the angel, Nuremberg Christkind. No wonder the angels stand here, blowing the bugle.
The Nuremberg Christkindlesmarkt is as old as the hills and I can see quaint old wooden stalls, some dating to the 1890s. My guide takes me to the Church of Our Lady where the angel had stood on the balcony to inaugurate her market. “It’s a tradition,” tells my guide “as the angel is elected by the people and she becomes the Christkind for a couple of years. “
Walking around, it is bitterly cold but am charged with the energy. The temperature dips many degrees below zero but am not shivering anymore. My senses are heightened and I wander around seeking different aromas of Germany. There are more than 180 stalls here painted with red and white striped roofs but am drawn towards a fiery red stall, with a warm glow of a fire. There are huge pots on the table brimming with wine. I wonder if it is the traditional mulled wine or the gluhwein of Germany, the signature spirit of every Christmas market.
Heated with spices, a bit of cinnamon and cloves along with aniseed or vanilla, a tinge of lemon is added to the glass of red wine as locals and tourists raise their glasses to gluhwein. But this seems to be more potent and it has a tongue twister of a name – Feuerzangen –Bowler, a drink made popular by a hilarious German film of the 1940s with the name “Die Feuerzangenbowle”. The film is about a middle aged man who gets so drunk that he decides to get dressed up as a high school boy and goes back to school.
Standing in the cold, I am fascinated by the way it is prepared over a small burner by apron clad men and women. This hot spicy red wine punch is a spirited concoction of red wine, rum and spices like cinnamon, cloves and orange peel. A sugar coated cone dipped with strong rum is placed atop the cocktail and is lit by fire . As the sugar melts and caramalises, more hot rum is poured into the pot while it blends with the wine. I cannot resist the temptation anymore. I raise a toast and take a sip and I can feel the warmth seeping down my throat.
I am all dazed as I potter around, getting a flavour of Germany from every stall. There are gaunt looking nut crackers with thick moustaches and smoking men on bikes letting off steam from their pipes who beckon me. These nutcrackers and smoking men, traditional toys from the Ore Mountains created by miners several centuries ago have come all the way from the quaint town of Seiffen. Along with these wooden toys, are hand made muppets and soft toys, candles made of glass and bee wax, spinning churches lit with candles, pyramids and carousels, fairies and elves on cups and glasses and music boxes. Pretty white angels, snow men and santas smile at me. There is delicate lace from Dresden. Painted in various hues and depicting scenes from Nuremberg are big rounded glass candle holders. Tiny figurines in ceramics and porcelain make for great gifts.
But my nose wanders around to get a taste of Germany. Almost every dish served here is a speciality of Germany .There is the traditional Bratwurst or the sausages but in Nuremburg you get a smaller special version grilled on charcoal called Nürnberger Rostbratwürste. Gingerbread is quite a favourite here and I find flocks of people buying Lebkuchen which are heart shaped gingerbread biscuits with messages in icing on them.
Bratäpfel or baked apples along with Gebrannte Mandeln and Maronen referring to roasted almonds and chestnuts are served here as well. And then there are chocolates and fruit loaves, cookies and cakes, everything that you need for your sweet tooth with plenty of nutmegs, cinnamon and ginger around. But the most delicious is a Christmas speciality that has come all the way from Dresden – the quintessential Christmas cake called the Stollen. No German Christmas or Christmas market is complete without it. Adorned with nuts and fruits, the other ingredients include yeast, flour, butter, raisins soaked in rum and orange peels. Ask a true Dresden resident and he will swear that this 14th century delicacy also called the Christstollen resembles a baby Jesus wrapped in swaddling clothes. But some locals also tell you that it represents the shape of a tunnel’s mouth, a reference to the miners who probably created it. But the delicacy of Nuremberg is something else.
In a little wooden stall are small men and women, some wearing pretty hats and carrying baskets and holding weighing scales filled with sweets. Meet the Little Plum People of Nuremberg. If you get up close, you will notice that they are actually made of prunes and plums, raisins and figs and nuts. These Prune Men are called Zwetcshgenmännle and they are as old as the Nuremberg Christmas Markets themselves. In the 17th century, locals believed that if they kept them at the windows of their homes, no harm would come to them. Believe it or not, the lores surrounding these little people and the stollen made them more delicious.
I am thirsty and cold and a glass of gnog is what the doctor orders – hot water with rum . By now I am a bit heady. More stalls beckon me with pretzels and varieties of bread . For the vegetarians, there is plenty of potatoes and cheese with fried mushrooms and Germans love their variety of cabbage what they fondly called kraut.
I must have been roaming for almost a couple of hours taking in the gastronomic delights and soaking in the different flavours and I finally decide to take home a souvenir. And I give in to the Christmas spirit by drinking a glass of gluhwein in a special glass that has an angel of Nuremberg smiling at me as I say cheers to her. The glass is what I bring home with me while the gluhwein works its magic upon me.
There are several Christmas markets in Germany and each city has sometimes more than one market. Nuremberg located near Munich has one of the oldest Christmas markets in Germany. While most of the Christmas markets have themes, all of them serve the specialiy dishes and drinks of Germany.