December 23, 2010 8 Comments
Nobody does Xmas markets like the Germans.
We try and go to a different German city each year usually about mid-December (Frankfurt in 2007, Heidelberg in 2008, Stuttgart in 2009), as it is a wonderful way to get into the Xmas mood. The French in Alsace (north-east France) on the German border come a close second but they are a blend of Franco/German culture anyway, and the Xmas markets around Bordeaux are pretty ordinary with most stalls selling cheap carvings and trinkets from North Africa rather than anything to do with Xmas or winter or good taste.
The German blend of centuries of Xmas market tradition (Stuttgart’s is over 300 years old), freezing cold, snow, the abundance of hot and heavy winter foods and accompanying hot toddies, and their commitment to the theatre of it all makes for wonderful combinations to pleasure the senses.
This year we decided on Munich, mainly because we could get direct flights there from Toulouse, and because apart from some rushed business visits during my time with SAP, I had never really spent any time there.
It was a good choice … it snowed the three days that we were there and the markets were delightful. The main market around Marienplatz was large, colourful and buzzy with great food selections from hot fried-as-you wait potato pancakes with apple sauce to wonderful hot bread and turkey twirls to the largest selection of grilled, fried, roasted, boiled hot finger licking meats that one could hope for. As well as the ubiquitous Gluehwein, there were also hot honeyed mead stands, and variations of hot whiskey and flaming brandy drinks, and the whole city is suffused with the scent of vanilla and cinnamon.
The most exciting and memorable market, as Munich has over 20 different ones, was the medieval one just near Odeonsplatz, with authentic looking rough-cut timber huts and the vendors all dressed as medieval peasants, including a fresh, hot, smoked fish seller, the smoker being a large barrel over a roaring wood fire … the smell alone was worth the visit, and the smoked salmon was wonderful … it actually made me question some of my criticisms of German food that I have made over the last 20 years.
I have now decided that Bavarian food is a delight, and considerably better than what I was used to mainly around Heidelberg, which is significantly less interesting and varied. We had dinner in different traditional Bavarian “meat and potato beer houses” which were excellent for both food and service, in particular Spatenhaus near the Opera. Their crispy skinned pork in a brown beer sauce served with red cabbage and potato dumplings was perfect in every way.
What really made it all very special was the festive mood, bon homie and wonderful party mood that permeates the place. The whole city lights up with decorations and explodes with music, such as a daily concert from the town hall balcony. There was even an ancient mechanical moose who sang Tannenbaum and other Xmas songs, with surrounding onlookers all loudly joining in. Despite the crowds in the evening, particularly at the food and drink stalls, the attitude was one of politeness, good humour, fun and friendliness.
Many Germans look down on and would love to get rid of Bavaria, despite it being the richest state, as to foreigners it is synonymous with all the clichés about Germany being just about Oktoberfest, beer, oompah-oompah bands and Lederhosen, and many Germans I have spoken to would gladly give it to Austria as they don’t see Bavarians as being true Germans anyway. The Germans tell a joke about a man in Munich who goes to the doctor for a check-up. The doctor tells him that he will also need a blood sample, urine and stool sample, and a semen sample to be able to run further tests, so the Bavarian just hands over his Lederhosen.
If nobody wants Bavaria, I would gladly have them become part of France … they would definitely liven up the place and we could do with a few more mountains and lakes.