I am known in my family as the token Grinch. Don’t get me wrong – I absolutely love spending time with my family and finding the perfect gifts for them, but I could definitely do without the rest of the hoopla. I am not religious to begin with, but once you add in all the commercial crapola, the incessant Christmas commercials (that start before Halloween these days), and Black Friday and the hordes of angry shoppers doing their best to purchase Christmas spirit, it’s all ruined for me.
Being in Germany this holiday season is giving me a major attitude adjustment. I visited my first Weihnachtsmarkt, or Christmas Market, in Bernkastel-Kues last night, and my inner Scrooge was instantly forgotten. I was surrounded by people who were celebrating the season appropriately – with family, friends, and good cheer. It was a beautiful sight, and the first step in restoring my faith in humanity.
Bernkastel-Kues is a town on the Moselle River, about 50km (31 miles) from Trier. The drive from Ramstein took just over an hour, even in foggy and rainy conditions. The town is a popular tourist destination, both for its local wines (Riesling is the most prevalent) and its health spas.
If you are looking for treats, you will find them at this Christmas market. I personally sampled the Kinderpunsch, a non-alcoholic alternative to Gluhwein, which is a hot mulled wine served at the Christmarkets all over Germany. When you purchase your first hot beverage at these markets, you pay for the drink as well as a deposit on the mug you will be drinking out of, which is refunded when you return your last mug of the night. These mugs usually have a design specific to the market, depicting the town and the year. You can keep the mug instead of getting your deposit back, and then you have an adorable reminder of your night at the market for the small price of a few Euros. I kept mine and plan to collect one from each market I visit while living here in Germany.
The Kinderpunsch was delicious, but I’d like to try mulled cider at my next market. I also had an amazing ham, tomato, and cheese crepe for dinner. Decorated gingerbread, waffles, sausages, cheese, and various other types street food are also abundant at this market, so come with an empty stomach and an appetite!
I have a knack for arriving to events here in Germany at just the right time. My timing was again impeccable, and I arrived at the main square just in time for the daily opening of the door on the world’s largest advent calendar. An entire building’s windows are decorated each year to create a gigantic calendar, and each evening at 5:30 pm, the next door is opened as a brass band plays Christmas songs in the square below.
After the crowd learned what was behind door number seven, they all started shuffling out of the square in the direction of the river. I followed after finishing my tasty crepe, and found everyone staring at the river from the banks and the bridge. A Frenchman told me it was a Kristkindle (Santa Claus for you Americans out there) parade down the river. After waiting for about ten minutes, a rowing boat slipped past with a lit up Kristkindle surrounded by lights. That was it? I was underwhelmed.
But the crowd stuck around after Kristkindle glided past us, all eyes turned upriver towards what looked like a bunch of huge floating candles. As they floated closer, I saw (and smelled) that the red and white lights were flares…
…and that the flares had voices. There were people floating down the river in Santa hats holding flares and acting as if it was the best time they’d ever had! Holy frosty noses. Methinks those folks had braced themselves with copious amounts of Gluhwein before jumping in the river for that wild ride. These people are insane.
After that chilling display of holiday cheer, I grabbed another mug of Kinderpunsch and soaked up a little more of Bernkastel-Kues’ dazzling display of Christmas beauty before calling it a night and heading home.
If you’d like to visit a German Christmas Market, the following two websites are full of helpful information and tons of festive pictures.