It’s August, and I’m writing about Christmas. That makes me as bad as Hobby Lobby, where the Christmas trees have been out in full force for at least a month already.
Really, I’m the type of person who wants to hear no parts of a Christmas carol until AFTER Thanksgiving. But this time last year, I was deep in the planning stages of a trip to Germany for the Christmas markets, and I was feeling downright giddy over it.
For good reason.
I still remember the first time I visited a Weihnachtsmarkt in Bremen. It was instant enchantment. Lovely, white lights. The scent of roasted nuts cutting through the chill in the air. Rows of wooden stalls offering sweets, toys, glass-blown ornaments. People warming themselves with glühwein and laughter.
It’s truly a lovely time of year to visit Germany.
But as a teacher, it’s difficult to plan a trip to the markets because the timing doesn’t align well with most public school calendars. Weihnachtsmärkte open at the end of November and typically close on Christmas Eve (or a day or two before). Given the tight time constraints, I arranged a rather compact itinerary of four cities in five days. (Yeah, I’m nuts.) Since I’d only experienced Bremen’s market in the past, I wanted a bit of variety this time—from a small, romantic market to mid-sized to one of the biggest in Germany.
Because there’d be too much to share in a single post, I’m going to break it up into four parts. Part one begins in Aachen.
The westernmost city in Germany is close to the Dutch and Belgian borders, which made it an easy 90 minute train ride from Brussels.
This was my first time visiting Aachen, a city known for its thermal spas, universities, cosmopolitan feel, and Charlemagne.
There I met with Ivanka, a family friend I hadn’t seen in 25 years. We had lunch at the Nobis cafe, and afterward, Ivanka brought me downstairs to the bakery for my first taste of the famous Aachener printen.
If Pablo Neruda were alive, he would write an ode to this bakery and its most heavenly aromas.
What are printen exactly? They are a kind of lebkuchen (gingerbread) that, by law, can only be made in Aachen. Ivanka recommended the weichprinten, which are softer than the traditional printen. They are DEE-licious.
Onto the market. Aachen’s is laid out under the Dom, a cathedral built in the late 8th century by Charlemagne (considered the ¨Father of Europe¨), who was buried there in 814. It later became the church of coronation for every German king and queen for nearly 600 years and is now recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Here are some Friday afternoon market scenes:
Though it’s enjoyable to stroll the markets during the day, they really become magical at night.
I purposely left my tripod back in my hotel room, which turned out to be a wise move. The Friday night crowds would have made it near impossible to set up anywhere, and then I’d have been stuck lugging it around. Even carrying my camera was a little unsettling in the jostling of the crowd. I ended up using my iPhone a lot more than my DSLR for safety and convenience, and that was true during the entire trip.
Being in the moment took priority over capturing quality images.
On that note, a few more snapshots from the evening:
Aachen’s market has a great vibe: inviting to all ages. Hoppin’ but not overwhelming. Since it’s a border town, it draws international tourists, but it’s definitely a place where the locals meet up throughout the holiday season.
If you go: printen are a must. And leave some space in your suitcase to take some home. Nobis sells 400 g bags for about €8-9. They’re easy to pack, make terrific gifts (if you can keep your hands off them), and will keep beyond Christmas. Also, have the Rathskeller’s locally-made glühwein—best I’ve ever had!
Next up: Monschau