Our hearts grow tender with childhood memories and love of kindred, and we are better throughout the year for having, in spirit, become a child again at Christmastime.
-Laura Ingalls Wilder
Spending Christmas in a foreign country is strange. Everything from the cookies people bake to the songs they sing are different. And while I strongly believe that experiencing difference is good for the soul, it can also be a little bit distressing—especially around the holidays when people are already more apt to call upon tradition and family.
However, if you ever have to spend a Christmas abroad and you have the good fortune to choose the country in which you do it, I’d go for Germany. Seriously, it’s like they invented Christmas. Okay, so technically that title goes to Jesus, but most of our traditions and celebrations actually come from the Germans. And they really, really know how to celebrate.
|Welcome to Lübeck!|
So this weekend I made a conscious decision to pull myself out of my “Boo-hoo I’m not home for the holidays” funk (because nobody likes a whiner) and get into the Christmas spirit—German style. I woke up early on Saturday morning, grabbed a train schedule and set off for Lübeck, a town about 45 minutes from Hamburg.
Back in the day Lübeck was one of the most important shipping and trading ports in Northern Europe. Today it is a medium-sized town devoted mostly to tourism and the making of marzipan. Marzipan, for those of you who are not well-versed in strange foreign candies, is a sweet paste made from almonds. It can be shaped into virtually anything and it is HUGE in Germany at Christmastime. The Germans didn’t invent it, but they did perfect it and today Lübeck is the marzipan center of the world.
|The market inside St. Peter's Church|
Lübeck also offers some rather unique Christmas markets that take place inside several of the town’s largest cathedrals. I thought this sounded really interesting (and also a lot warmer than shopping outside in December) and so I headed off with my trusty guide book in hand to see what all the fuss was about.
I can now tell you that the fuss was about hand-made pottery, beautifully carved nativity scenes, handmade glass ornaments, giant Advent calendars and more food and drink than one nation should consume. Ever.
It was wonderful! I shopped and ate my way through town, experiencing Kartoffelpuffer (potato cakes), Glüwein (hot, spiced red wine), bratwurst, chocolate covered bananas, Zimtmandeln (cinnamon roasted almonds) and Dresdenerbrot (bread with cheese, mushrooms and ham baked into the center and sour cream on top). I also looked at some wonderful German handicrafts like nutcrackers (yep, the Germans invented those), smoking men (little men who “smoke” when you place incense in them), beautifully crafted ornaments, and Advent calendars (another German invention).
When I started to get cold I hopped a train back to Hamburg and took a little nap as we zipped back toward the big city. Of course, by the time we got back to Hamburg Hauptbahnhof I was feeling refreshed and set out to explore Hamburg’s markets. Granted, I had already seen these markets several times and I certainly didn’t need to spend more money but I was really in the Christmas spirit and no logic could overtake me. So, through the dark and drizzling night I set off to find some more Christmas cheer. And boy did I find it. I also found an ornament and a beautifully painted wooden “gingerbread” house that are going to look beautiful in my first home J
By the time I got back to Stade I was freezing cold and exhausted, but also much happier. It finally felt like Christmas…