“Fahren wir bald zum Wehrmachtsnacht?” I asked, hopefully.
Those longer words in the German language are easy to mix up and turn into a German vocabulary stew. I could tell by the faces of my German friends that I had just dished up some stew. Their eyes were looking up, their heads tilted slightly while they tried to unpack my effort.
It was going to be my first German Christmas, and I was keen to check out the Christmas Market. I’m an Australian, so I grew up culturally with all the trappings of a European Christmas: Santas in big fluffy snow clothes, hot roast turkeys, pictures of winter wonderlands and reindeers and north poles… All in the context of a searing hot Summer wearing singlets, playing cricket and doing your best to cool off in the closest body of water if possible. But not here. Sure, there was no snow, or reindeers. But it was still a winter wonderland; well, it was cold, anyway. I was still waiting on the Wonderland.
“Ach, ja, Weihnachtsmarkt!” Hans had worked it out.
“What did I say?”
They weren’t too sure.
We were going to the Christmas Market in Bochum, a Market with a reputation for being the best of its kind in the Ruhr region. After a short drive and a long wrangle with German parking conditions, we were out in the thick of it. It would be another good opportunity to test out my German vocabulary, not to mention good food and drink.
Christmas markets are an institution in Germany and, as one might expect, they are very well organised. They follow a logical sequence of well-fabricated wooden stalls, some of them double storied and very ornate. There is a lot of great cooked meat. You could smell it everywhere. But I was taken in particular to Dönninghaus to try their special “Echte” bratwurst, which was certainly special; as were the several cups of Glühwein laced with Grand Marnier. At the counter I struggled with some language issues. It seemed like I was getting short-changed, but the barmaid was just trying to ask for more change. Once I slowed down and focussed I worked it out.
Bochum had also put on a medieval-themed area. A magician had a large crowd around and was doing tricks with fire. Not a bad idea considering how freezing it was. He was shouting loudly and theatrically, which was good for me. I got the gist of what was going on, which is important when someone is blowing fire towards you. There were also some medieval games to play, like throwing spheres of stone at eggs, and shooting small arrows with small bows. After all the Glühwein, not a good idea. Although the medieval barbecued meat on a stick, dipped in sauce was not refused.
As the sun went down we witnessed a wildly waving flesh-and-bone Santa behind four cut-out reindeers fly across the central district of the Market in a sleigh firing sparks into the cold night air. The children nearby were suitably entranced. Then he slowly retreated backwards, still waving, but without sparks. The children seemed a little confused, but still entranced.
With the night came a greater sense of a wonderland too. And a further drop in temperature. And rain. But there was so much to see and, well, it was still a wonderland with all the coloured lights bobbing around in the wet grey sky.
Apart from all the food stalls, there were also many gift-type stalls, with everything from electronics to wooden play swords and armour. Arts and crafts figured heavily, and beer stalls, jewellery stalls, hand-crafted chess sets. I spoke to some vendors with my confidence on a high, maybe helped along by the laced Glühwein (with maybe my pronunciation suffering) — the Wehrmachtsnacht incident completely forgotten. Stall holders want your Euros, after all, so they are a little more happy to persevere with you. And there was a sense of Christmas spirit.
German vocabulary enriched and stomach laden, we tried to find the vast concrete car park in the cold wet dark of Bochum, away from the coloured lights. There’s probably a long German word to describe this kind of experience, but if there is, it eluded me.
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This post was written by Jeremy Davies