Once I got a taste of German Christmas markets, I had to have more.
As amazing as Braunchweig was, I knew there was so much more to experience – and much much more to eat.
So, I headed to the one place that was sure to have it all – Cologne. And this time, I was not alone.
My friend Ashley & I set off on Saturday afternoon, the weekend before Christmas. Some might call it crazy to head to the #1 rated market on a weekend, just before Christmas, when it was sure to be packed with locals & tourists. But, the promise of true Christmas spirit made it exhilarating (and we had the coming week off work).
About a 3 hour train ride from Den Haag, the journey was relatively short, and we arrived in Cologne around dinner. We checked into our hotel, claimed our beds, and changed into something warm. Peering out the window from our room, we had a direct view of the Old Town – one of Cologne’s seven Christmas Markets. Giddy with excitement we grabbed some cash, left Sophie to rest, and rushed out the door.
No sooner than crossing the street, we were at the edge of the entrance, jostled into the crowd, and surrounded by mulled wine and bratwurst. Not wanting to over-indulge, we agreed to review the options before making a decision.
That agreement lasted all of 3 minutes, however, or until we saw the raclette.
Warm, gooey, bubbling cheese – scraped off and scooped onto fresh baguette. And, if you thought that sounded good already – follow that up with a sprinkle of crispy bacon bits.
We had to have it.
Foisting our 5 euros into the server’s hand, we grabbed our piping hot raclettes and giggled like school children. Devouring them within minutes (if not seconds).
And after that, it was on.
Each market in Cologne has its own theme, with custom ceramic mugs that house your drink of choice. The theme of this market, was house gnomes, or Heinzelmännchen. Legend had it, that these gnomes performed all sorts of jobs for the people of Cologne, from baking bread to cutting sausages. If you take a look around the market, you can see the figures of these gnomes at work – or, featured on little red mugs.
Everywhere I looked, there was something to see. A skating rink, hand made woodwork above each stall, treats, decorations…
We weaved in and out of the crowd, and down each aisle.
There was something for everyone, and the general atmosphere was filled with happiness. Big and small, old and young, male and female, there wasn’t a gloomy face in sight.
Christmas tunes played through the speakers above, and you couldn’t help but get swept away in holiday spirit.
But, you know me. While the stalls and the sights were interesting enough, my eyes were focused on the food.
We passed a stall making baked dough, and the sweet smell beckoned me closer. I watched as the three men assembled it into skinny rolls, placed them over a bed of charcoal, and listened to the crackling sound as they cooked.
Then, when a roll was ready, it was removed from heat, dropped into a bowl, and heavily sprinkled with cinnamon sugar.
I peered into stalls left and right, afraid of missing anything delicious. There were kebabs, pastries, potatoes, and chocolates, all blending together into one incredible aroma.
But, as you might already know, there are a few staple items that you MUST get with every visit to a Christmas market.
The first, is typically found on a giant grill, atop a bed of hot coals.
You can order currywurst (curry ketchup), bratwurst, XL sausages, or krakauers (smoked then grilled) – all versions of more or less the same thing. Placed onto a seemingly tiny bun in comparison, you then slather on the toppings you want and take a piping hot bite.
Funnily enough, until this moment, I never actually liked sausages. At campfires or BBQs, I would be the girl back in the house boiling a hot dog. But something at the Christmas market changed me. I don’t know if it was the atmosphere, the aroma, or the smokiness of the krakauer, but I fell in love.
The second thing, is Gluhwein – or hot mulled wine. A Christmas market legend for sure.
I opted for the children’s version (non-alcoholic) – the kinderpunsch (apple cider).
Of course, after eating all of that within the span of an hour, we knew we had to walk a bit of it off. We followed the crowd through the rest of the market, into the main square, and up to the old cathedral.
This time, the stalls were much more crafty – with high-end designs, toys, and cozy knitted goods.
Even the food was a bit different, offering fried cheese, pretzels, chocolate coated fruit, and cheesy egg noodles.
We repeated our actions of eating, drinking, and meandering through the stalls, until our eyes were droopy and our stomachs couldn’t fit another morsel.
Knowing we had only just begun, we called it a (somewhat) early night, and headed back to settle into the hotel.
With two markets down, we knew that a lot of energy would be required if we were to discover the remaining four. Stuffed to the brim and into our pyjamas, we clambered into our beds, pulled up the sheets, and smiled back at the events of the evening.