I bring greetings and wonderful memories from some of the Christmas markets of Germany! While I was away this past week, I visited several Christmas markets, but by far the largest and most mind-boggling was the huge market held on the Domplatz in Erfurt.
Regardless of its huge size, it was very tastefully presented. All the trader’s stands were substantially constructed wooden booths – more like little log cabins – an absolute necessity to protect both the goods for sale and the people selling them as the market is open from 10.am. until 9.pm., seven days a week, from the end of November until the 23rd December. These booths are decorated with lots of living branches of fir, coloured lights and, up on their roofs, scenes of Father Christmas and winter elves and animals abound.
The single word which springs to mind to describe the Erfurter Weihnachtsmarkt is ‘traditional’. The main emphases of the all the decorations on sale is that of wood and light, celebrating man’s interaction with nature, the darkness of Winter and the huge importance of the rebirth of Light in that darkness. Whether lit by wax candles or electrical replicas, the towering pyramids constantly and energetically circle carrying their assortment of traditional religious figures, and well-loved local dignitaries, characters and animals. Illuminated flying buttresses depict winter woodland and village scenes, the trades and crafts of the area or, occasionally, religious scenes.
Every type and shape of candle, candle holder, lantern, incense cone and incense burner, Christmas bauble and tree-topper imaginable are available. So too is every conceivable size and flavour of spice cake, stollen, and cookie, with stalls also solely devoted to gingerbread and chocolates. And there is a never-ending variety of tempting and delicious foods, snacks and drinks to fortify the crowds as they happily make their way around the colourful and brightly lit stands. Sausages of every size and flavour and other savoury favourites like the hot and sustaining Kartoffelpuffer, (hot flat cakes of cooked potato served with an apple sauce), which I particularly enjoyed. Chestnut sellers pedalling their wares offer a tasty chance to warm both hands and mouths. Then, of course, there is the ubiquitous Glühwein… made from as many different ingredients as you can possibly think of. I had a particularly potent mixture made from rowan berries mixed with rum – it certainly kept the cold at bay! And while you stop and take a break, there is music – both piped modern favourites, and traditional carols played by musicians be-robed in velvet.
The Christmas Market is truly a feast for the senses… a kaleidoscope of rich colour… an intermingling of the scent of burning charcoal, hot savoury food, mulled spices and smoking incense… a melodious symphony of chatter, laughter and song. For Christmas is really coming, and these markets mark the celebration of the anticipation and preparation which is key to this very particular time of year… Advent. They are a perfect illustration of how we can all come together, and still include the more tasteful commercial aspect of the season, without loosing the excitement, the wonder and magic, and the warmth of community experience.
Long they may continue, for these marvellous markets do not merely provide an opportunity for consumers and commercial producers alike, they create a spectacle, an occasion, an experience, and generate a scenario in which warmth, friendship and happiness can flourish. Long may they continue!