When you hear about German Christmas markets, you will hear of Cologne. Nuremburg and Dresden will probably also feature. At a pinch, Munich and Berlin might also be mentioned. You probably won’t hear of Aachen, despite it being my firm favourite.
Aachen has a soft spot for me as it was the first Christmas market I visited last year. It had wooden boxes! Gluhwein! Big cookies with frosted German phrases! I couldn’t get enough. Visits to Cologne, Valkenburg and even Dordrecht followed, but nothing came close to that first perfect experience in Aachen.
So I went back. I had my friend Joel in tow and it was his birthday, so I wanted Aachen to make the same impression on him. Just look at his face when he ordered his first Christmas market snack.
I tell you, pure joy. It may have been zero degrees, but all we needed to be happy was deep fried potatoes and apple sauce. The Germans know what they’re doing.
And what do you need to have after such fried goodness? Why, the Germans have invented fruity hot wine, called gluhwein, for that sole purpose. And they serve it in cute little mugs that look like booties.
Drinking gluhwein, you have no idea that it is zero degrees. We all freely sit outside, sipping from our ceramic booties and wishing each other a merry Christmas. The only occasions at which I’ve seen Germans smile at strangers has been at the Christmas markets, and at Oktoberfest. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that alcohol features at both.
And yes, I do know that gluhwein is at all Christmas markets, but at Aachen you can actually get a seat instead of just being smooshed between everyone’s puffy coats. You can wander up to the counter, order your drink and pull up a chair. It’s actually pleasant.
After we were sufficiently liquored up, we hit the market stalls. I wasn’t actually looking for anything in particular, but I just loved the wares on offer.
The stalls aren’t crappy at Aachen. The city is a rich one, and it shows in the stalls. If the above weren’t kitschy enough for you, what about giant cookies you can hang around your neck? They’re always a winner.
However, there was one thing missing. Snow. Joel didn’t say it, but I knew it just wasn’t quite right without some big fluffy white flakes. We got a couple of icy raindrops (otherwise known as ‘snain’) but that’s just the worst of both worlds. It’s cold, wet and you still don’t get snow.
So we did the touristy things, ate ourselves silly and found a cosy little pub in which to warm up. And then this happened.
It wasn’t just snowing, it was SNOWING. As you can see, people were using their umbrellas as shields. It was coming from everywhere and people were ducking for cover.
But not these two Australians. We were found shrieking and dancing around, catching snowflakes and grinning maniacally. Joel, an Aussie summer baby, had gotten his wish. Snow on his birthday.
Cheers for that, Aachen.