Sunday, December 13, 2009

Weinachtsmänner & Weinachtsbaum

Yesterday I met a friend at the Potsdamer Platz Christmas Market. Man, I cannot WAIT to try tubing down the fake snowhill there!
It was raining, so we took a quick spin through the market, then took shelter at a nearby coffee shop for a while. The rain, however, just got worse, until it was sleeting, and then suddenly--snow. It was snowing!
I had forgotten an umbrella and wasn't wearing a hat and dear God it was freezing cold, but I was somewhat protected in the bus shelter and just tried to enjoy the pretty swirling whiteness.
But the bus was taking for-freakin-ever and my toesies were starting to freeze even in my sturdy Scottish hiking boots! I was just starting to get grumpy when the presumed reason for the delay rounded the corner: a police motorcycle, lights flashing, leading a motorcade.
"Great," I thought, "some politician needs to come through this way and I get to freeze because my bus is delayed."
But then I heard what sounded like a marching band. And instead of the usual black cars, there was a big ole truck behind the police cars. And what was inside it? An orchestra, all the members wearing santa hats and playing Christmas songs. I grinned big. Totally worth the wait!
But I didn't even know the half of it...
Behind the truck came an army of motorcycles, each being driven by someone in a Santa suit! Some had angels or polar bears behind them or in sidecars, and all were decorated with flashing lights and Christmas paraphernalia. They were grinning and waving despite the cold and all of us huddled under the bus shelter grinned and waved back. It was so awesome!
I took some pictures and a video:


video
See how dark it is? Yeah, four o'clock in the afternoon. Sigh. I think I have S.A.D. (seasonal affective disorder).
So "Santa Claus" auf Deutsch is "der Weinachtsman." At least I think so. To be honest, I'm not really 100% clear on the difference between the Weinachtsman and St. Nikolaus. St. Nikolaus Day is December 6th and that's when people (kids mostly I guess) put their shoes out to get gifts in them overnight. Bad kids get rocks. Really bad kids get a wooden switch to get beaten with. If you're not good, St. Nikolaus will go totally Grimm Brothers on yo ass.
I bought a small Christmas tree for the apartment yesterday because it is absolutely ripping my soul in two not to be going home for Christmas and I wanted something festive and homey. Maybe it was a waste of money, but I sure like having it in the room.
Carrying it home on the U-Bahn was fun.
Here's how it looks:

I picked up the Santa glasses at a party last night...I can't decide if they're super awesome on the tree or super creepy. Thoughts?
Here's how it looks in the dark, with the Rathaus tower illuminated in the background:

Check out Jim Gaffigan's take on the tradition of Christmas trees:

He cracks me up...one of my favorite comedians. I was listening to him on the U-Bahn today and had to stifle my laughter.
Bis bald,
D.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Weinachtsmärkte

Around this time of year in Germany, every available plaza is turned into a winter wonderland. Small little huts are erected, artificial ponds iced over, and fun carnival rides set up. These are Christmas markets (Weinachtsmärkte), and there are supposedly 60 in Berlin alone!
Many of the Weinachtsmärkte traditions are centered around food and drink (my kinda traditions), including:
-Glühwein
-Lebkuchen (gingerbread)
-Stollen (fruit cake-esque breadstuffs)
-Schaumküssen (little marshmallow domes covered in flavored chocolate)
-Quarkbällchen (deep-fried balls of quark, a kind of white cheese which German people tend to eat in a dessert-y context)
-Berliner (jelly doughnuts)
-Every kind of sausage (wurst) under the sun
-Several variations of potato (Kartoffel) products (drool)
-Gulash mit Nudeln
-Mushrooms (Champignon) and cauliflower (Blumenkohl) in sauce
-chocolate (Schokolade) covered apples (Äpfel) and bananas (Bananen) and candy apples
-Roasted nuts (Nüssen) of every type, including hazelnuts (Mandeln) with multiple flavors, including spicy chili!
And much, much, more (not all of it traditional...there's an "Asia-Imbiß" (Asian snack stand) at one market).
Tonight I went to Berliner Weinachtszeit, the market by the Rote Rathaus, for dinner. I stopped by a stand with a freestanding stone oven next to it. They were pulling out pan after pan of fresh-baked bread. It smelled amazing. They then proceeded to stuff it with cheese and ham and slap some sour cream and herbs on top. You bets believe I got me some o that.
I continued to wander, picked up some Christmas gifts, and eventually also sampled a fresh apple-stuffed pastry. Mmm.
I also picked up some roasted peanuts to take home. Glorious.
I visited that market and the main Alexanderplatz one on Sunday afternoon and took some pictures.
These gingerbread hearts with love messages written on them in frosting were a fixture at Oktoberfest and it turns out they are at Christmas markets too:

My friend and I were thrilled with one elaborate ornament shop with an entire section devoted to food ornaments. Trust the Germans to make Christmas ornaments devoted to booze:

And they had CHEESE ones as well:

There was also a marine mammals section...I ask you, who wouldn't want a little Christmas walrus to brighten up their day?

We were joking about having a living room full of themed Christmas trees. If I win the lottery...
In the Rathaus market, there's a big ferris wheel:

MEAT:

And, charmingly, the guy who smooths the ice rink wears a polar bear suit as he rides the Zamboni:

I also checked out the smaller market at the Kulturbrauerei and took this picture of the whirling swing ride:

Tonight as I ate my cheese-stuffed bread thing, I wandered over to the ice rink. Perfect timing, because as soon as I found a spot, special music started playing and everyone looked up to see...Santa (der Weinachtsman) in his sleigh soaring over us! Suspended beneath him on a fake cloud was the Christkind (a blond teenage girl dressed as an angel of some sort). The sleigh stopped halfway and as she waved, Santa gestured while a prerecorded message of Christmas good cheer rang out from the speakers. He said he wished he could stay in Berlin, and listed several landmarks visible from his sleigh, but had to press on. Then fireworks went off at the back of the sleigh and off he went...to the end of the wire. Then the sleigh came backwards again to its starting point.
It was super awesome!
Up next: a much delayed post on KDW.
Bis bald,
D.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Wieder in Berlin

I'm back!
And it is bloody freezing cold here. Yesterday when I left the office, it was 1 degrees Celsius. 1 degrees! That's only one above freezing!!!
The upside is that everything is looking very festive for the holiday season. Riding the tram through Alexanderplatz I was almost pressed up against the glass trying to take in all the stalls in the Weinachtsmarkt (Christmas market), and today I biked past the humongous one behind Alexa (a mall near Alex), which now has a full-size ferris wheel!!!
I am so excited to start exploring the markets this weekend. Stay tuned!
Bis bald,
D.