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12.31.2008

A Glimpse of Germany at Christmas

I have always imagined what a German Christmas would be like. Earliest origins of the use of Christmas trees can be traced back to Germany. The most famous ambassador of the tree was the German Prince Albert who was married to Queen Victoria. My fascination of German Christmas has been fueled even more through the years with the local Christkindle Market in Chicago. This year Certain Someone took me home for Christmas. To spend ten days in Germany. Home is in the North Rhine –Westphalia region of Germany in a city called Essen. When most think of Germany we associate it with stereotypical images of Bavaria, and Heidelberg with lots of beer drinking, sausage, lederhosen, and blondes with Heidi-esque braids. Or, maybe even pre war Berlin a la Cabaret. Most is exaggerated except for the sausages and beer.
Essen is an industrial town that was known primarily for coal, steel, and the Krupp family. The Krupp family for centuries forged iron and later went into arms manufacturing that supplied Germany and countless other countries with arms and ammunition for destruction. The family home is one of the town landmarks called Villa Hugel and the stories of its inhabitants and visitors make for interesting historical reading. After the war the heir Alfried Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach was tried and imprisoned for war crimes(forced slave labor and other crimes against humanity) in Nuremburg(later to be grounded amnesty).Alfrieds sole heir Arndt was later forced to renounce his claims on the fortune and family name, and die at 48 severely in debt ending a 400 year old dynasty. Today the company is now known as Thyssen Krupp the fifth largest company in Germany and largest steel manufacturer.The monies Arndt forfeited were used to set up a foundation. Today Essen is a modern industrial and cultural center.A lot of the city was bombed out during the war, and an interesting fact is one of the older landmarks is the Alt Synagogue which survived intact. An interesting fact is that the owners of the Aldi Supermarket chains are from Essen .
The people of Essen struck me as hard working no nonsense types. Family and tradition are big. Certain Someone’s family has been there for generations and he is really to first to branch out of the city. One of the first things we did upon arrival was tend to the families graves. His parents dutifully go a few times of week to landscape and place candles.
I was touched, as you really do not see a lot of that type of devotion here. One wonders if the younger generations will keep these traditions. We mostly stayed put while Certain Someone’s mother provided us three meals. She takes great pride in her cooking and it was fun to see her baby truly enjoy her sturdy food. Breakfasts began with various wursts, bread, Mett (similar to steak tartar but made with pork), some cheese, soft-boiled eggs, etc. I admit it was hard for me to adjust to eating like that each morning and I just cannot wrap my head around Mett. Lunches were the big meals and she presented my favorites like Leberkasse (a type of meatloaf which ironically does not have liver in it), stuffed cabbage roulades in kraut, goose, and tons of potato dishes. Who knew all those versions of potato salads could exist and some even with more wursts! Certain Someone's mothers likes to bake cakes and make puddings too. Normally he does not eat my sweets but again it was fun to see him lap up the puddings. All of this, washed down with tons of coffee drinking and beer .The kitchen was off limits to me and her sole domain . Unfortunately, I did not get to see or learn how to make her wonderful cookies.Rich marzipan and buttery confections. She also is a gifted needle pointer and the house was filed with all her decorated table linens, and ornaments with her signature needlework. In another time and place I can see her giving Martha Stewart a run for her money in the crafts and cooking departments. Certain Someone and I visited some of his childhood friends as well while in Essen. I am not used to a place virtually shutting down for days. Christmas is celebrated over days. First, the opening of the presents on the Eve, Christmas Day, and then Zweiter Weihnachts Tag (the second day). Strangely, church going is not big in Germany except for perhaps Christmas. We did manage to leave the house and walk along the beautiful Ruhr River. Certain Someone entertained me with visits to both Cologne and Dusseldorf as well, both about an hour by train from Essen. We made it the famous Christmas market in Cologne, one of Germany’s oldest cities. The market is right under the Cathedral, which houses the bones of the Magi as well as many knights, kings, and princes. The cathedral dates back fro centuries and is always in a state of repair and renovation. We breaked for lunch at a traditional Brau Haus (brewery) for good German food and Kolsh (the beer Cologne is famous for). I loved these sort of places where one takes a table and may share it with others eating good simple food. I always claim German food is the Soul Food of Europe. I devoured with Certain Someone’s help a delicious Ham shank. Overall, I liked Cologne except for the maddening Christmas crowds. It was a bit overwhelming at that time of year, but hopefully one day I will be back when it is calmer. I searched high and low for Springerele molds for next years cookies but could not find any. It is a lost art it seems. After Christmas, Certain Someone whisked me off to Düsseldorf. While Cologne is known for media, carnivals, arts and culture, and being called ‘the gayest city ‘ in Germany, is its rival in fashion, more media, banking, and its Alt Beer. I think I am more a Dusseldorf kind of girl myself. I loved walking by the Rhine and strolling down the Kö( Königsalle/ Kings Alley) taking in the fashionable designer shops and jewelers. I tried to show Certain Someone some baubles priced at around 20,000 euros but he was not having it. You know how men wait outside while you look. Although he stopped in a few stores to check out his passion, watches. We visited another Brau House to sample Düsseldorf’s Alt Beer (old beer) . I liked this one more because it was darker. We both had dishes with Spatzle and another memorable lunch before heading back to Essen. If I ever had to live in Germany Dusseldorf would be more to my liking. And alas, the trip was over. Ten days of eating, drinking, and a lot of contemplation. I have a new understanding of Germany and hopefully will get to explore more of it one day.

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37 comments:

Maryann said...

Happy new year, Courtney. Your vacation sounds lovely :)

Joy said...

Happy New Year Courtney! I'm glad you had a fantastic trip to Germany. I wish you much happiness in 2009.

TeachGirl said...

Happy New Year from me & M! It looks like you had a nice visit in Essen.

Rosa's Yummy Yums said...

Great trip and pictures!

Happy New Year and best wishes for 2009!

Cheers,

Rosa

Judy@nofearentertaining said...

Looks like a wonderful trip. Too bad you didn't get into here kitchen :D! Maybe next time! Great to have you back!

Wishing you and CS a wonderfully happy, healthy and prosperous new year!!

Dagmar - A Cat in the Kitchen said...

Happy new year! It looks like you had a wonderful Christmas in Germany!

Ivy said...

Happy New Year Courtney. Your trip sounded fantastic and all the food you describe wonderful.

marye said...

:)
welcome home! and....SIGH...beautiful pictures

Oddly enough, we have paralelled again...WHile you were IN Germany we spent Christmas with friends FROM Germany.

Mary said...

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! How terrific you got to go to Germany for Christmas! I went to Germany when I graduated from High School and I even stayed two days in Essen! I have to say my favorite town was Lubeck where they are famous for their marzipan. Unfortunately, I don't think I'll be going back anytime soon, so I'll just have to sit here and be jealous of your adventures!

Y said...

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! Sounds like a brilliant holiday!

Nikki said...

Christmas in Germany, wow! Special! Between you and my aunt (she was in Paris for Christmas) I'm jealous! But then again...I enjoyed being at home, too. Happy new year, my friend. May 2009 be the absolute, best!

Jen of A2eatwrite said...

That sounds absolutely wonderful! My S comes from very near Essen - Warendorf, and I know CS's neck of the woods quite well.

This made me homesick for S and her family!!!

Again, it sounds like a fabulous time.

Anonymous said...

For Springerle molds check out houseonthehill.com

Proud Italian Cook said...

Courtney, I enjoyed reading all about your trip. You're such a world traveler! London, Bahama's, Germany. How exciting for you. Whats in store for COCO in 2009? I hope everything you wish for!!

giz said...

Happy New Year Courtney - the pictures are fabulous. You have to indulge me - I laughed when you said "certain someone" is from Essen which is the German word for "food". How appropriate for you to be with someone from Essen.

Megan said...

What a wonderful trip you had and a great place to spend Christmas! Great pictures too.
Happy New Year and I wish you all the best in 2009!

Audax Artifex said...

What a wonderous photo album you did of your trip to Germany. Yes I love spaetzle literally translated from German as "little sparrow," spaetzle is a dish of tiny noodles or dumplings made with flour, eggs, water or milk, salt and sometimes nutmeg. I have a spatzle maker (it looks like a fancy grater)and most people love it the first time they have it. I have some very stern relatives from Germany whom are great fun once they get use to my Australian sense of humour. Sounds like the eating and drinking were to your liking. Happy New Year to you and your family and friends. Yours Audax

nyc/caribbean ragazza said...

Happy New Year!

Glad to hear and see that your holidays were so lovely.

The pictures are beautiful.

Foodista said...

What a wonderful vacation! Lovely pictures! Happy New Year!

The Caked Crusader said...

sounds like a great trip

Happy new year!

Peter M said...

Happy New Year and welcome back from your Deutschland fairytale.

aforkfulofspaghetti said...

Golly - what an educational as well as beautiful trip.

I was interested to read your thoughts about Cologne - I hope to visit there sometime this year, if only very briefly.

Happy New Year!

linda said...

Happy New Year! Sounds like you had a wonderful time in Germany. Pity CS mom's kitchen was off-limits and also that you couldn't find the spingerle moulds.

JennDZ - The Leftover Queen said...

Sounds like a wonderful vacation and a great way to end the year! Hope you and CS have a wonderful 2009!

Heather said...

I forget that Arndt is a boy's name in Germany - when I saw my last name in your post I perked up!

I can't imagine a more wonderful place to spend Christmas. Sounds like you had an amazing time. :)

Dharm said...

Happy New Year dear Courtney! I love Germany with all its history, rustic buildings and of course the Bierhuases!! I spent some time and several trips in Munich and Hanover many years ago. Personally I love the Dunkles (Dark beer)

Cynthia said...

Happy New Year to you and CS!

Paz said...

Glad to read that you had a nice visit.

Happy New Year!

Paz

Blog Princess G said...

What a wonderful, picture-filled, read! I so enjoyed over breakfast. Welcome back, you've been missed - and a very Happy New Year to you and CS. :)

Bren said...

Girlfriend! I thought I traveled a lo! woo, you get around! I love that! lovely pictures, great history and i really like that table setting in the 1st pictures. my parents have some Cuban friends that have lived in Germany all their lives and when they visit, they bring the most intriguing artwork in the form of plates and such. thanks for sharing such a nice experience. hope to catch up sooN! :) I need to update you on what you did for me!! :)

Hugz!

Gabi said...

Happy New Year my friend!!!
Wishing you and the CS lots of love and happiness for 2009. Christmas in Germany sounds idyllic- lucky you. :)
xoxo

kellypea said...

I love the way you organized your photo collages -- I always struggle with how to present all of what we see on vacation. The history of the town is fascinating and sad at the same time. I wasn't aware of any of it. The other places you mention sound lovely as well -- I'd really enjoy seeing them some day and realize that it's so difficult to fit it all in when we travel. I'm grinning about your description of "sturdy" food. Nice. Welcome back!

Ellieut said...

Wow, sounds like an amazing vacation! I love the picture essays too :)

We Are Never Full said...

you really made me want to go to germany. it just seems like the perfect place to go when it's cold out - the beer, the food. we always end up in spain when we have to make a trip to visit jonny's family in england, but maybe next time we'll venture to germany?

Susan said...

An enchanting holiday, Courtney.
Thanks for sharing. : }

Amanda at Little Foodies said...

Sounds like you had a pretty perfect Christmas. Great pictures too. I love Germany, I did an exchange trip at school and stayed friends with the girl, having more holidays with each other for years, sadly we've lost touch now but reading your post reminded me of the many happy times I had there. You're so right, really different breakfasts. Might do German food some time soon just so the boys can try it.

Jeanne said...

Great pics - and I'm so glad you got to go to the Christmas market in Cologne - it was one of the first ones I went to and I fell in love. The cathedral is truly spectacular too. If you liked the communal tables & gemuetlichkeit, you guys MUST join us for Oktoberfest in Munich one year ;-) Welcome back!