After our success at the German Wehrmacht (Christmas markets) in Nuremburg and Bruges last winter, we decided to really get into the festive trend, going for both Cologne and then Berlin in successive weeks.
Cologne, the fourth largest German city is based on the westernmost part of on the river Rhine and an important trading post. During WWII the city experienced 95% of it’s population displaced and almost complete destruction. Getting in is straight forward, like most European cities, their metropolitan train systems are “more trusting” than in the UK, without barriers arms checking you for payment in and confirmation out…not to say we didn’t pay for some tickets which were cheap anyway, but we liked how they are operated as a social good, necessary for the transport and livelihood of the city, rather than for profit.
We arrived at the wrong address for our accommodation, by about 4km, so when we turned up at the agreed time, our host sped over in his car to pick us up. The guy was a tank, with a clean shaven head, a manicured uber-beard and a plastic clip buckle for his belt. After removing our fleeces for the tourist tax and cleaning tax, we were too jaded to head in at midnight – particularly Mitch, who managed only a few hours sleep after his staff party the night before.
We were meeting Simon and Annette again, who must have thought we were such good company from Nuremburg, they decided to join us again at Neumarkt. With them were the recently engaged Dave + Mariola and Petra (Petras’ fiancee John was working this weekend. More gluhwein for us).
Our first buy was a Feuerzangenbowle, a gluhwein with a brown sugar tablet soaked in rum liquor and lit in a cradle above it. The flaming sugar caramelises and drops into the drink, making it much sweeter. As per usual, you pay a deposit for you crockery and get a couple Euro back on its empty return. Tam and Mariola were the only two keen for ice skating – Mariola teaching Tam a few tricks at speed. Being Polish, Mariola was no stranger to ice and for her it was all too easy to push and pull a startled Tam around.
After a while, we joined the moving feast of marzipan stuffed roast apples with custard and berries, marinated pork skewers, more gluhwein and bratwurst. For a better vantage, we got on a small Ferris wheel, held together by a few bolts.
The main market located underneath the Dom, a large cathedral of two spires, was where your money was most easily parted. We are pretty frugal, so we managed to emerge unscathed, but the others left carrying bags of beanies, bean bags, crossbow toys and ornaments. Mitch kept his gluhwein mug.
At the Gaffel du Dom beer hall we found a vacant table and got down to what Dave had wanted to do all day – to drink German beer. We already knew the myth that German beer doesn’t give hangovers wasn’t true after Oktoberfest. In this part of the country they opt to serve it in small 25cl glasses rather than the big 1 litre steins, but they bring out a few at a time and they tend to come often. Our waiter arranged for us a massive plate of meat. Weiner schnitzel, Pork schnitzel, Chicken schnitzel, Bratwurst, Pork knuckle (boiled and roasted) with piles of frites, sauerkraut and potato salad. We only ate a fraction over half of it and donated the leftovers to a beggar outside the Dom. He was a bit shocked to see this much food and proceeded to wolf down the food ravenously as we visited the inside of the Kolner Dom Cathedral, famous for the worlds largest church facade and second largest spires. It took 632 years to complete it finally in 1880. In WWII it received a few misguided bombs by the Allied forces, but never collapsed. Part of its saving grace was that due to it’s size, it acted as a navigational aid for bombers and for that reason they were reluctant to hit it.
A boozy venture into the riverside party district found the usual suspect of German bars serving their beer of choice. Our bar was a sports bar and it filled quickly with supporters for the Koln soccer team, a bit of a bratwurst BBQ… Nonetheless, a few German dance anthems and a couple of 38% beers ended with us in East Cologne, staying the night on a couch at the others flooded apartment. Dave got up at 5am to go to his nieces party in London, apparently dressed as the reindeer Sven from Frozen – we had spent a lot of time convincing them of the merits of this Disney film.
After tidying up our flat on the opposite side of Cologne early in the morning, it was back for round two in the Harbour Markt, where we saw salmon roasting over the open fire and ate a plate of kartoffelpuffer mit appelsaus (grated potato cakes with apple sauce) for breakfast. Throughout the day we had a few other treats, including boiled and salted chard/silverbeet with a wurst sausage and potato salad garnish.
Cologne, as one of the more famous Christmas Markets on the map, was epic, offering something different again from Nuremberg. We were about to get another dose next week with the capital. It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas!