Germany would be an awfully dismal place in December if it weren’t for Christmas Markets. I learned a few things to make the experience better: 1) go on a weekday right when the market opens. 2) Don’t bring the kids. 3) Take the train whenever possible. I went to four markets this year and I’ll highlight three of them in this post. The fourth was so unique it deserves it’s own spot on the blog.
Jeremy and I took the train to Cologne and went to one of the five markets that they have – the one closest to the Dom. The weather was a bit snowy that day so I’m glad we took the train and didn’t have to worry about road conditions (although the trains were running a little late anyhow.)
Even Mary and Joseph were covered in snow.
We didn’t buy too much at the Market (but we did hit the shopping district of Cologne!) We did partake in some yummy food – I’ve got a crepe in my hand here and Jeremy had some “pommes” (fries.) We both had hot chocolate.
I’d only been to Bonn in an attempt to see some Cherry Blossoms but the market was delightful! (Another bonus of Bonn: we found a ‘TKMaxx,’ the European version of TJMaxx. Score!)
Seeing this giant Christmas pyramid was worth the trip. Smaller versions of this are common Christmas decorations in Germany. I bought one last year but it was a fail – the burning candles actually scorched the top blade. I hope to get another before we leave.
We were there on a weekday and it was busy but not too crowded. Even Beethoven was there!
Another big draw at Christmas Markets is the food. Check out the freshly smoked salmon.
This is a great market because of its convenience and size. Many of the vendors were there last year so it made shopping pretty simple. We took the train here also.
Aachen is famous for the Printen cookie. This store, Nobis, is one of the famous Printen makers. Their window display was impressive and the line inside was very long.
Here’s my nomination for best food in Aachen: the mushrooms! They are cooked with onions and served with garlic sauce. Delicious!
Stay tuned for a full report on my favorite market of this year, Burg Satzvey. It was all that plus people in costume.
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No, not a distress call.
May Day was celebrated here on Tuesday. It is known as Labor Day, but the celebration goes beyond a day off of work. It is also a mating ritual. Here are the basics:
1) At the stroke of midnight, fireworks are ignited and techno music is blared. Tractors loaded with male teenagers start rolling through the streets and countryside. It is likely that beer is involved.
2) Young men cruise the streets proclaiming their love to the girl of their dreams. To do so the house must be decorated in some way. The homemade low-budget option is to chop down a birch tree and adorn it with streamers.
3) Those with a little more cash visit a local florist and get custom-made decor to hang on the home of their sweetheart. These are also made of crepe paper and are usually personalized with an initial. Those who are a little more mischieveous may do some pranks – the usual teenage stuff like eggs, toilet paper – but we didn’t see any of that, thankfully.
4) Some villages will put up a maypole. We did not see any dancing.
5) Since it is a holiday most stores and businesses are closed. Our kids had school but the base was closed so Jeremy and I took advantage of the free babysitting.
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On Sunday we went to our first Karneval parade in Sittard, the Netherlands. It seemed as though the tables were turned, at least in the sense of fashion. Usually when we’re out and about I feel like we really stand out because we’re wearing “bright” colors (the ones pictured on the boys above) and the locals are all wearing black. This time Jeremy was decked out in black, and here’s what the locals were wearing:
Here parades are not a spectator sport. Those along the parade route are just as involved in the festivities as the paraders – dressed up, throwing confetti and streamers, spraying silly string, and cheering.
There were several marching bands, some wearing traditional uniforms (with the addition of scarves in Karneval colors – red, green and yellow)…
and some that were not. (I am amazed at the number of marching bands around. I would doubt that many Americans even own a musical instrument, much less play in a band.)
Unfortunately, I do not know Dutch so I can only guess what the marching groups were representing. I loved seeing their costumes though. Amazing! Everyone had elaborate makeup too.
These were probably the simplest costumes we saw. What they lacked in accessories they made up for in blue face paint.
I’ve been to the Rose Parade and to Mardi Gras parades, but this one really “takes the cake” when it comes to costumes.
Now that I know what to expect I’ll get to work on my costume for next year. I just have to gather up some tulle, fur, boas, makeup and a wig. And long-underwear – it was chilly!
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In addition to the normal school “specials” of gym, art, and music, the boys have “Host Nation” class once a week. There they learn German – both vocabulary and local customs and traditions. About a month ago their teacher sent home a letter telling us about St. Martin’s Day. Most villages celebrate this festival with a parade but the dates vary. Jeremy asked our neighbor, Helmut, when our village would hold its parade and Helmut helped us get tickets for the festivities.
The boys made St. Martin lanterns in their Host Nation class. The kindergartners made apfel.
The third graders made pferd.
We were amazed to see so many children in the parade. We had no idea there were even so many children in our village! There were lots of adorable lanterns…Igel.
and Pilz. Some of the lanterns were store-bought, but most were made at school. I also saw a frog, a sheep, a turkey, and a turtle. I would have loved to get photos of them all but it was a bit difficult to photograph in the dark. (I was also the only person I saw taking photos and I don’t know how to say, “Do you mind if I take your picture?” in German.) All of the lanterns had a translucent part so that a light would shine through. They had special lantern holders – a stick with a light hanging down to illuminate the lantern. We used a stick and a glow-light. Next year I’ll know to look for the real lantern holders.
Then the parade began! We were led by St. Martin on a horse, and were guided by volunteer firemen with flaming torches. There were two marching bands, one in the front and one in the back, who took turns accompanying us with songs. Some of the children sang along.
We returned to the firehouse and the torches were used to light this bonfire. (We thought there were going to be fireworks – perhaps something was lost in translation?)
Then came the moment everyone was waiting for – every child got a bag of treats.
Here’s the haul. Not bad, eh? Everyone’s favorite gummies and chocolate and a giant cookie of St. Martin on a horse.
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We lived like the locals this weekend.
We spent time watching soccer.
Andrew is playing on a team at the base.
He doesn’t like practice, but he loves the games! (They lost 2-1, but it was better than last week!)
We went to Oktoberfest.
I should say they went to Oktoberfest because I was at a baby shower. It was just the boys at this event.
The big Oktoberfest is in Munich, but there are many other fests nearby. This one was on the base. Apparently the big crowd was there Saturday night – Sunday was more of a family day.
There were games for the kids and a bouncy castle. Thomas was a better shot than the last time he did this. (Funny – he wore the same shirt both times.)
We washed our cars. I have no photos to prove this, but trust me when I say they are much cleaner. Our neighbor washes his car – with a power washer – every week. We regularly see people washing their windows, scrubbing their front steps with scrub brushes, and sweeping their driveways. Cleanliness is important here so we jumped on the bandwagon.
See how well we’re acclimating?
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I realized I haven’t showcased our whole home yet so here’s a bit more to share. The bedrooms and basement still need a post but it is tough to find a moment when they are clean enough to share photos without completely embarrassing myself. Tuesday is the boys’ day to clean the bathrooms so I seized the moment and took some pics!
We have 1 1/2 baths. We’ve had 2 full baths in the last two places we’ve lived - and let me say it is a bit of an adjustment. This is the downstairs “WC.” The window opens to the back patio. To answer a question that the truly observant might have: that wire at the base of the window is wiring for a security system that was never installed. All of our windows have little wires sticking out of them. I’m learning to ignore them.
This sink only has cold water. So much for practicing good hand washing!
I had been warned about German toilets and I am happy to say that Lauren was right – much has changed in the last 20 years. These models are not too different from what you’d see in the U.S., except that there are two options for flushing (seen better in the first photo – the big white thing attached to the wall) – um, let’s just say that one releases a greater volume of water than the other. One thing that is interesting is that every bathroom I’ve been in – public and private – has a toilet brush! (One was in each bathroom here when we moved in.) There is a social and moral obligation to clean up after one’s self. (I’m sure Lauren would be glad to hear that.)
The upstairs bathroom has a lot of natural light, but a not-s0-lovely view of the greenhouse/factory behind us. However, the window faces East so we have a nice sunrise view each morning.
The tub is quite large. The sprayer is a nice feature. If I was more gifted in decorating I would put some plants and scented candles on that window ledge and hope that certain boys wouldn’t destroy them while taking a bath.
We’ve got a shower too.
There is no ventilation or fan so we were told to open the windows after showering to let the hot steamy air out. That might be unbearable in the winter – except that we have this fantastic towel warmer AND floor heat! I can’t wait to try it out.
The bathroom has very little storage. Okay, actually NO storage unless you count piling junk all around the sink. We bought this little cabinet at IKEA. It will likely be on the curb for the sperrgut pick-up in about 2 1/2 years, but for now it is serving its purpose.
Next up on House Tour: The Bedrooms!
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I have no statistics to cite, but I think that this area of the world might have the highest number of mannequins per square mile.
We see them in museums.
They make excellent models – they stand very still and don’t expect much in pay.
Many businesses use them as part of their marketing plan to sell gelato,
or car washes. (This guy even waves his arm.)
It is the perfect way to celebrate a milestone birthday (commonly the 50th.)
It makes a great yard decoration too.
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We were riding our bikes the other day when we came across this:
There, in the field, were piles of tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers! It was a bit of a mystery: Where did these vegetables come from? Why were they just left there? Most of the vegetables looked perfectly fine. Not picture perfect – the cucumbers were a bit curvy, some peppers had blemishes, many tomatoes were still green – but definitely edible.
It made us wonder: Are these free for the taking? Is this the equivalent of “dumpster diving” out in the country? Is gleaning allowed or would that be stealing?
We decided to help ourselves. We had a nice salad and some BLTs for lunch. Both were delicious.
This cow was watching us the whole time. I wonder if she’ll tell.
P.S. Days later the piles are still there. I’m sure they are discards, but I’m not sure if they are free for the taking. I wonder the same thing about all the fruit trees around. A tree nearby was chock full of cherries that no one picked! I would have happily consumed some.
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