Monday, December 7, 2009

Advent Season and the German Christmas Markets

Above, Saint Nicholas, the German equivalent of Santa Claus.

First Advent, the fourth Sunday before Christmas, signals the official start of the Christmas season in Germany; it also signals the many Christmas markets to come. The first market in our area is in Ettenheim, on the Friday evening of first Advent weekend--this year on 27th Nov. As always, we were there. 

Ettenheim is a walled town and is entered through one of three gates. The old houses, shops, Gasthauses, church and town hall are clustered inside the wall. The cobblestone streets meander in all directions, along quiet byways and along the busy main street. Our village is six kilometers away, a five to ten-minute drive.

At right, an elderly couple walking through a gateway into the main part of the town of Ettenheim.

The  picture on the left shows a view of town after entering through the gate.  This was a day or two before the market was held.

At the Christmas market, one booth after another, side by side, invites one to stop and look and perhaps buy what is on offer. Many are local booths where things have been handmade: wooden ornaments, hand-knitted children's clothing, Advent wreaths (we usually buy ours there), Lebkuchen (traditional Christmas cookies), Linzer Torte--a spicy type of pie that is almost cake-like with cloves, cinnamon and almonds in the batter, and with a top and bottom crust. Those are just a few of the things available, which also includes ready-made wear, slippers, socks, special kitchen knives, wine and beer openers, and many other gadgets.

Other booths offer local Schnaps or farm Schinken (ham) and, of course, Gluehwein, the hot and spicy red wine concoction that warms the hands as well as within on a cold evening. Another offers Sekt (Germany's Champagne-like wine), white or red wine from the local area. Each booth, with the owners in fine spirits behind the counter, will have a place to stand beside it to enjoy a glass or two of one's choice. We usually sample a Gluehwein (similar to mulled wine), especially on a cold day or evening.

Above, a customer checking out the Schnaps

Same booth with a variety of Schnaps and other drinks along with farm-made fresh bread

You'll find one or two tents set up or someone's private garage open with a warm stove inside along with tables and benches and offering small meals. I think there are almost as many food and drink booths as there are ones selling products!

The wonderful aroma wafting throughout the market such as Bratwurst, wieners (German style), Gluehwein, and Flammenkuchen made right in front of your eyes, inspires one to get into the spirit of things quickly. Wieners, by the way, are not filled with preservatives but are made from beef and pork and are longer in size than the North American variety. They come with a Broetchen (roll) and German mustard. Bratwurste are fried on a grill and served similarly, though often with fried or uncooked onions added. I love them with fried onions piled on top and then mustard on top again. (In summer, barbecue them; they are delicious served that way with mustard and/or barbecue sauce.

We always make a point of going to Ettenheim's market as it marks the beginning of Advent with the lighted trees and decorated stores. It means, "the Christmas season is underway!"
One of our very favourite Christmas markets is a small one in the country about 20 minutes from us and over two mountains. It is held on the premises of a large clothing store, "Fischer," one that specializes in German Trachten, the traditional dress. That market is always held on Second Advent weekend, on both Friday and Saturday.

On the right, sausages hanging on a hook awaiting customers.

The market is sponsored by the locals (mostly farm families) and only local specialties will be found here. We go every year to get our spruce boughs for our front door. (We used to get our own but now we get them at the market from the farmer who cuts them.) But we also go to enjoy the special atmosphere. We were part of it this past Friday afternoon, the 4th of December.

 Above, a view of Fischer's clothing store and the Christmas market.

This market attracts hundreds of people on both days. One can feel oneself slowly becoming immersed in the Christmas spirit: it's the music (a musician plays and sings traditional Christmas songs and carols), the wonderful fragrant smell of Bratwurste and Gluehwein and the freshly baked farm bread, the scent of fresh spruce, the home-baked sweets. We have gone here for several years and recognize some of the people behind the counters and they recognize us. This year the sun was shining; last year, it was raining. Regardless of the weather, we--and everyone else--enjoy it tremendously; in particular, the children, as St. Nicholas (Germany's Santa Claus), makes an appearance.

The store, "Fischer," has a cafe on the premises so that attracts many with its freshly made cakes and tortes, hot coffee, tea or chocolate drinks. I bought a Trachten costume inside the store a couple of months ago. It is the only store where such a selection is available in our area and where one gets personal service (about 40 minutes northeast of Lahr, past Schweighausen). I spent an hour and a half with one of the saleswomen, who found everything I needed: the combination dress and apron, a shawl and two jackets--I couldn't decide between the two!

Cookies and other things

Following is Hans's recipe for Gluehwein, a great way to greet guests on a cold evening. We have served this several times over the years at our annual Christmas party. His recipe does change somewhat from time to time as he tends to add a bit of this and that or a little more or less of some things. (Gluhwein in German is without the 'e' but with an umlaut--two dots above the 'u'; as my Canadian-set-up computer does not have an umlaut, an 'e' must be inserted instead.) This is basically how he makes it (in his words):

Gluehwein: 2 bottles or so of red wine (not an expensive wine nor a strong one; perhaps a Beaujolais or something similar); rum and Cognac, a shot or two of each or more if desired (Hans has used Cointreau instead of Cognac on occasion); white sugar, about half a cup or to taste; some orange or lemon juice to your taste; 2 to 3 cinnamon sticks; 2 to 3 cloves. Mix all together and heat to coffee temperature or as hot as you like it. Cut a large orange into slices.

Serve in heat-proof glasses (preferably small mugs) and add a half slice of orange per glass/mug. This should make enough for 12 small to medium-size glasses or mugs (depends on how much wine you use and how large the bottles). Enjoy!

1 comment:

  1. Dear Janet,
    Gluehwein recipe sounds great! maybe I'll try it and serve it when I host the crowd at our progressive party. Also love all the food descriptions. We certainly don't pay so much attention here in Canada as you know. Loved your birthday picture! You are not looking your age and now I wonder how I'd look on a posting knowing that we share birthday years. I had better not try it.

    Love, Jane