A Glimpse of Germany at Christmas

I have always imagined what a German Christmas would be like. Earliest origins of the use of Christmas trees can be traced back to Germany. The most famous ambassador of the tree was the German Prince Albert who was married to Queen Victoria. My fascination of German Christmas has been fueled even more through the years with the local Christkindle Market in Chicago. This year Certain Someone took me home for Christmas. To spend ten days in Germany. Home is in the North Rhine –Westphalia region of Germany in a city called Essen. When most think of Germany we associate it with stereotypical images of Bavaria, and Heidelberg with lots of beer drinking, sausage, lederhosen, and blondes with Heidi-esque braids. Or, maybe even pre war Berlin a la Cabaret. Most is exaggerated except for the sausages and beer.
Essen is an industrial town that was known primarily for coal, steel, and the Krupp family. The Krupp family for centuries forged iron and later went into arms manufacturing that supplied Germany and countless other countries with arms and ammunition for destruction. The family home is one of the town landmarks called Villa Hugel and the stories of its inhabitants and visitors make for interesting historical reading. After the war the heir Alfried Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach was tried and imprisoned for war crimes(forced slave labor and other crimes against humanity) in Nuremburg(later to be grounded amnesty).Alfrieds sole heir Arndt was later forced to renounce his claims on the fortune and family name, and die at 48 severely in debt ending a 400 year old dynasty. Today the company is now known as Thyssen Krupp the fifth largest company in Germany and largest steel manufacturer.The monies Arndt forfeited were used to set up a foundation. Today Essen is a modern industrial and cultural center.A lot of the city was bombed out during the war, and an interesting fact is one of the older landmarks is the Alt Synagogue which survived intact. An interesting fact is that the owners of the Aldi Supermarket chains are from Essen .
The people of Essen struck me as hard working no nonsense types. Family and tradition are big. Certain Someone’s family has been there for generations and he is really to first to branch out of the city. One of the first things we did upon arrival was tend to the families graves. His parents dutifully go a few times of week to landscape and place candles.

I was touched, as you really do not see a lot of that type of devotion here. One wonders if the younger generations will keep these traditions. We mostly stayed put while Certain Someone’s mother provided us three meals. She takes great pride in her cooking and it was fun to see her baby truly enjoy her sturdy food. Breakfasts began with various wursts, bread, Mett (similar to steak tartar but made with pork), some cheese, soft-boiled eggs, etc. I admit it was hard for me to adjust to eating like that each morning and I just cannot wrap my head around Mett. Lunches were the big meals and she presented my favorites like Leberkasse (a type of meatloaf which ironically does not have liver in it), stuffed cabbage roulades in kraut, goose, and tons of potato dishes. Who knew all those versions of potato salads could exist and some even with more wursts! Certain Someone’s mothers likes to bake cakes and make puddings too. Normally he does not eat my sweets but again it was fun to see him lap up the puddings. All of this, washed down with tons of coffee drinking and beer .The kitchen was off limits to me and her sole domain . Unfortunately, I did not get to see or learn how to make her wonderful cookies.Rich marzipan and buttery confections. She also is a gifted needle pointer and the house was filed with all her decorated table linens, and ornaments with her signature needlework. In another time and place I can see her giving Martha Stewart a run for her money in the crafts and cooking departments. Certain Someone and I visited some of his childhood friends as well while in Essen. I am not used to a place virtually shutting down for days. Christmas is celebrated over days. First, the opening of the presents on the Eve, Christmas Day, and then Zweiter Weihnachts Tag (the second day). Strangely, church going is not big in Germany except for perhaps Christmas. We did manage to leave the house and walk along the beautiful Ruhr River. Certain Someone entertained me with visits to both Cologne and Dusseldorf as well, both about an hour by train from Essen. We made it the famous Christmas market in Cologne, one of Germany’s oldest cities. The market is right under the Cathedral, which houses the bones of the Magi as well as many knights, kings, and princes. The cathedral dates back fro centuries and is always in a state of repair and renovation. We breaked for lunch at a traditional Brau Haus (brewery) for good German food and Kolsh (the beer Cologne is famous for). I loved these sort of places where one takes a table and may share it with others eating good simple food. I always claim German food is the Soul Food of Europe. I devoured with Certain Someone’s help a delicious Ham shank. Overall, I liked Cologne except for the maddening Christmas crowds. It was a bit overwhelming at that time of year, but hopefully one day I will be back when it is calmer. I searched high and low for Springerele molds for next years cookies but could not find any. It is a lost art it seems. After Christmas, Certain Someone whisked me off to Düsseldorf. While Cologne is known for media, carnivals, arts and culture, and being called ‘the gayest city ‘ in Germany, is its rival in fashion, more media, banking, and its Alt Beer. I think I am more a Dusseldorf kind of girl myself. I loved walking by the Rhine and strolling down the Kö( Königsalle/ Kings Alley) taking in the fashionable designer shops and jewelers. I tried to show Certain Someone some baubles priced at around 20,000 euros but he was not having it. You know how men wait outside while you look. Although he stopped in a few stores to check out his passion, watches. We visited another Brau House to sample Düsseldorf’s Alt Beer (old beer) . I liked this one more because it was darker. We both had dishes with Spatzle and another memorable lunch before heading back to Essen. If I ever had to live in Germany Dusseldorf would be more to my liking. And alas, the trip was over. Ten days of eating, drinking, and a lot of contemplation. I have a new understanding of Germany and hopefully will get to explore more of it one day.