Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Christmas Markets: Cologne, Germany

Actual date of this event: 5-7 December

When we learned about Christmas markets back in 2012, I remember thinking "Shopping? Not interested. Standing outside in cold weather? Nah. Sausages? They're good, but eh. HOT wine? Nope, no thank you! I'll spend my travels elsewhere." But when I went to my first markets in December 2013, I learned what the fuss was about (Wurzburg, Rothenburg, Wiesbaden). It is not something one can understand until one has experienced it. And since our first trip, I have been telling our family to visit during the Christmas holiday because the markets are SO.MUCH.FUN. After we spent the first weekend in December with Jill & Ryan in Prague for the Christmas markets, we then spent the second weekend enjoying the Christmas markets in Cologne with my parents! (This year, the plan is to visit Strasbourg, France with Luke's mom!)
I wasn't really sure what to expect with Cologne, but I noted where all of the markets were on a map - 7 total markets. These were the CUTEST markets! All of them were so different than each other, and they each had their own mug, which we gladly handed over our euro monies to take home with us. Since we visited Cologne purely for the markets, that's pretty much all we did in the city.

nicknamed (by us) the Rudolf Market - It wasn't a large market, but it was super cute - decorated with mostly reindeer and Santa stuff. The location made it slightly less touristy as it was a bit further out of Old Town than the others. We were thrilled to see that our first mug to collect was in the shape of a red boot. We took a walk through this market several times as it was just next to our hotel.

{view from our hotel}

nicknamed (by us) the Angel Market - This was a larger market and had a classier vibe to it, not sure why, maybe it was the white stalls and white lights. The stars hanging from the trees were beautiful when the sun went down. It had some delicious food options such as raclette on toast. I was apprehensive to keep the market's mug that had a creepy clown angel on it.

{nomnomnomnom nomnomnom}

Alter Markt
nicknamed (by us) the gnome market - This market was huge, in fact, we thought we visited two markets, but it was still the gnome market as it continued for ever. The decor here was THE CUTEST with little gnomes everywhere. Gnomes hiding in corners, gnome houses, gnomes skiing on rooftops, and gnomes swinging in the air. Each mug had a different gnome on it with his name and a description of his "professional". Can I please live in this market?

{this poor gnome needs the potty}

Harbour Market
nicknamed (by us) the nautical market - Located on the river, this market seemed to be more the foodie market as it had quite a bit of fish on the menu. It wasn't all that exciting, but it was the only place we saw Gluhbier and Feuerzangenbowle (had a rum-soaked sugar cube on fire to drip into the wine) (maybe we missed these special drinks in the other markets?). I saw several different mugs here, but we took home a light blue colored mug with yellow stars on it.

{fire-roasted cedar-planked salmon was a hot item (pun not intended) - and of course I had to have a cheese pretzel}

Market am Dom
or Cathedral Market or main square market - As expected, this market was decked out! There was a canopy of lights strung over the center of it. The big Christmas tree towered over the market with shopping stalls surrounding it. There was a stage with a band somewhere in there and the Cathedral stood as the perfect backdrop to it all. We got lost several times as the layout wasn't as easy to navigate as you would think. It was extremely crowded, so we had to do our best to to not spill our gluhwein (note: wear shoes that won't mind a few red wine spots on them). We got a few different mugs from here, but the best of them was a red mug with a Christmas scene painted on it.

Market am Stadtgarten
nicknamed (by us) the market in the park - Pretty far out of the city (from a walking perspective) was a local market that wasn't as done-up as the others. It seemed to be a tad bit cheaper than the others, and we were told by a German lady that it had the best gluhwein out of all of the markets (I couldn't taste a different though). It was also very crowded with a band playing, but we made it through. Unfortunately, the mugs were plain clear glass, so we decided to get our deposit back on them.

There was also one more very small market by our hotel that had some small rides for kids (like the ones you see at grocery stores and Chuck-e-Cheese), but we didn't walk through it. It decorated in bright colors rather than the typical Christmas colors. I realized just now (while doing a little research as a refresher since its been 8 months), that this market was a Gay and Lesbian market. I did not get that at all while there - mom, dad, what about y'all?

In between visiting markets, we had to sit indoors to warm up and rest our legs (the major downfall to Christmas markets). We did our best to find a beer hall to have a drink for a moment, but it seemed most places wanted you to eat not just drink. We eventually found a place during our wander which took us around the non-market parts of the city. I love how the Christmas lights strung above the streets stay lit all day, even if the sun is shining. We also peeked into the Cologne Cathedral for a quick moment.

{above and below: view from the hotel}
Luke and I visited Cologne knowing it was a different part of Germany, so we weren't expecting the German experience we have normally had - it was a new country for mom and dad though. Luke thought it felt more like the Netherlands or Belgium than Germany. There were beer halls, sausages, pork knuckle, and of course they spoke German (a slight dialect though), all just like Germany, but there was one big difference: the way they served beer. It is tradition in Cologne to serve beer in 33cL glasses - not half liters, not pints, not liters, but these small glasses. In Luke terms, it's about 4 gulps. We were a bit confused at first when we ordered "large", but the server explained it all to us. We drink the beer, and when it is empty, the beer server (who carries around trays of beer) will bring us another without asking and will mark a tally on a coaster for each beer her delivers. The only way we will not receive another beer is if we put a coaster on top of the glass. Luke was skeptical at first thinking they wouldn't be paying attention to the drain that exists between his mouth and stomach, but they did very well in keeping up! And to be honest, they kept up better than most servers in any restaurant in Europe!
We spent two nights in Cologne seeing all of the markets. It was great to have enough time to visit them all and be able to enjoy them. Sometimes, the markets can feel rushed even if you're not shopping. We like to relax and enjoy the Christmas spirit! Since it was cheaper for us to fly in and out of Dusseldorf, we decided to check out Dusseldorf's Christmas Markets on Sunday before heading to the airport. Coming next!

The Cologne Cathedral was the highest structure in the world until 1880. It is now the second largest religious building in Germany, and has 509 steps to the top of the viewing tower.

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