I am not homesick for Germany*. There must have been something in my eyes this weekend, when I attended the Toronto Christmas Market. Something strange happened as we walked past the huts selling ornaments and decorations from the Black Forest. These waves of memories, of all the Christmas markets I have visited in Germany, of my first forays into German culture, of Bratwurst and Glühwein and Füßgängerzonen, they all hit me out of nowhere. And then, of course, there was a kind lady from Marbach (near Stuttgart, my German home) selling Butterbrezeln (buttered soft pretzels). The Butterbrezel was my undoing. Tears ensued.
Anyone who has lived in southern Germany will understand. Brezeln are staples of the southern German diet. Butterbrezeln can be substituted for any mealtime, eaten at the table in polite company or scoffed in the car on the way to work. Despite their popularity in the south of the country, good ones are remarkably difficult to find elsewhere. And although many Americans will claim to have eaten “soft pretzels” at county fairs and shopping malls, these do not compare with the German version – the original is irreplaceable.
We have tried them from a few different bakeries here in Toronto but haven’t been satisfied with the results. As Brezel connoisseurs, we can’t settle for anything substandard. Those in Germany who regularly drive to the next village or across town in order to buy from the best Brezel bakeries, you understand.
That isn’t really what this post is about, however. What I really wanted to write about are Christmas Markets. Is there anything that helps set the mood for Advent quite like a Christmas Market? My first trip to Germany was in a December long ago, and on the first day we went to the local Weihnachtsmarkt. I was entranced, finding it quaint and kitschy and German and … delicious. For this, my friends, was my introduction to German Wurst and Glühwein. The conversation went something like this:
boyfriend: “Shall we stop for a sausage?”
me: “No, I don’t like them.”
bf: “What? You’ve never had one!”
me: “Yes, but we have ‘brats’ in America and I don’t like them.”
bf: “American sausages are not like German sausages. Try one.”
… much discussion ensued… think Green Eggs and Ham
… (Wurst placed in my hand, bite taken) …
me: “This is amazing! Get me another one!”
And so it continued, EVERY SINGLE DAY of my trip to Germany. I literally ate a sausage at a Weihnachtsmarkt every day of that trip. And drank Glühwein. And soaked up the festive feelings of the season, standing in the cold and listening to the foreign-sounding language around me. Liebe geht durch den Magen, you know. (The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach – it goes for women too!). And so I fell in love with Germany, fell in love with a country that celebrates Advent, that knows how to make delicious food, and is filled with people who are naturals at thoughtfulness and reflection. For that is what we do at Advent, we reflect on our year, we show our appreciation to those we care about, and we prepare for the festivities of Christmas. The Weihnachtsmarkt is the place to begin and celebrate this time of year, with friends and family.
These are everywhere in Germany, all the big cities have them for the entire Advent season. In smaller towns and villages they often are just one weekend. You can find a listing on this German Tourist website. For those outside Germany, whether in other parts of Europe, in North America or in Asia, Wikipedia has an index.
Wishing you a wonderful holiday season!
* insert sarcastic tone