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I don't subscribe to the stereotypical image of the 'canny Scot', it's a fallacy. By the same token, we could say that the Irish like a fight, the Welsh like to sing, England can't play cricket, the French are rude, Germans are bureaucratic, Belgium's boring, Americans are loud, the Japanese are photoholic, yadda, yadda, yadda....... This is all blatant nonsense.
But, when Ryanair were offering flights for 1 penny plus tax, I logged on to their website double quick pronto to snap me up some of that. ONE PENNY each way? I think my finances can stretch to that! A quick tippety-tap on the keyboard, a few debit card details, and POOF! We were on our way.
Scotland were playing a 'B' international football match against Germany at Mainz while we were there so the plane was packed with members of the Tartan Army. After recent events concerning Celtic fans and the 'alleged' fracas on a flight from Spain, we were a little bit wary that the security would be heavy-handed and oppressive but we needn't have worried. The Tartan Army are welcomed worldwide for a very good reason, good-natured friendliness and a non-aggressive attitude, so it was all good fun. There were a lot of foot-soldiers travelling back on the same flight as us but there wasn't much banter on the return journey, it was bottled water and bleary eyes and 'sair heids' all round.
We flew to Frankfurt/Hahn, picked up a car, and drove the 100 or so miles up to Aachen where we stayed at the Holiday Inn. We had managed to get a deal on the hotel and it was only 52 euros, another bargain. Wait a minute, maybe all that canny Scot palaver is true after all.
Of course it doesn't automatically follow that just because the first sentence in this review may, or may not, be accurate, any of the rest of the xenophobic rambling in the first paragraph is a true depiction of these fine nations and is certainly not the opinion of the author (whoever the heck this review was plagiarized from [joke]).
Our purpose on this visit was not for any cultural excursions but was purely a shopping trip, particularly at the Christmas market. Naturally, it goes without saying that as part of my duties as a highly esteemed and well respected bevvy opinionator, that a modicum of beer sampling would be in order. It's not all just fun, fun, fun, you know.
Our hotel couldn't have been easier to find, immediately upon leaving the motorway, we were on Krefelder Strasse, and at the first real junction we came to, we could see the hotel a few hundred metres along the road. We arrived there just before 5pm so, after a quick freshen up, and suitably attired to ward off anything the weather could throw our way, we set off for town. Krefelder Str. leads directly into the old town and in actual fact, had the weather been better, it would have been a reasonably easy walk.
The market is situated in front of the Rathaus (town hall) in the Markt, and down a few steps in another area beside the Cathedral. These are both impressive buildings and when they are lit up, provide a magnificent backdrop to the market We had been to a couple of German Christmas markets before and in fact, for the past few years, Edinburgh has had its own authentic GCM, so we were expecting the usual, similar merchandise on offer. To a certain extent that was true, but as Aachen market is quite a large one, there seemed to be a greater variety of goods on display.
There's a fantastic array of ornaments and decorations for adding a seasonal touch to your home in general and your Xmas tree in particular. Also, there are lots of little knick-knacks which are ideal for stocking fillers. It's not really the place to go if you're shopping for that exclusive fragrance or perhaps designer jewellery; but if it's a wooden toy, a glove puppet, glass animals, stained glass pictures, crystals, candles, silly hats, nativity scenes, dried flowers, Celtic jewellery, carvings and all sorts of bits and bobs or arts and crafts you're looking for - then you're in luck.
One of the main attractions of a GCM though, is not shopping but the special atmosphere conjured up by the sights, sounds and smells all around. Food options are almost limitless with many stalls offering all sorts of delicacies, from roasted chestnuts to baked potatoes; a poke o' chips to stir-fried veg; foot-long brotwürst to garlic mushrooms and everywhere the aroma of gingerbread and cinammon-flavoured fruit-cake prevails. One thing that was missing, and would have went down a treat, was a steaming mug of hot soup.
Time now to mention the other big attraction at a GCM, Glühwein (mulled wine). It seems that at this time of year, when the citizens of German towns and cities finish work, the first port of call is the market to socialize and partake of a glass of Glühwein. The area around the stalls selling this concoction were literally awash with throngs of chattering imbibers so it was an effort to fight our way through for our share, but we somehow managed it!
Suitably warmed and ever so slightly intoxicated, we continued our circuit of the market. We managed to buy a few little odds and ends so it wasn't a waste of time as a shopping trip but it's really the atmosphere that makes the journey worthwhile. One complaint we had though, was that the music being played from loudspeakers at the Rathaus had to be the worst Christmas music I'd ever heard. It was like those cheap, supermarket compilations with such classics as a jazz version of Jingle Bells, and Silent Night a la marching bands. I kid you not, it was that bad. A couple more glasses of Glühwein and I would have been scaling the walls to rip down the offending speakers, no doubt to rapturous applause.
* Recipe for Glühwein *
Put the following in a saucepan: 250 ml of water, 3 teaspoons of lemon juice, 3 teaspoons of cinnamon, 3 teaspoons of ground cloves, 1 teaspoon of mixed spice or ground nutmeg, 10 tablespoons of sugar and boil for a few minutes. Filter through a coffee filter. Put a bottle (750 ml) of red wine in a pan. Warm gently but do not boil. Add the boiling extract (or mix 3 parts wine to 1 part extract). The Glühwein should be served at a drinkable temperature, not too hot.
The market is open from 11am till 8.30pm from late November until a few days before Christmas.
German Christmas Markets are a fantastic way to get into the festive mood so if you have the opportunity to visit one, I heartily recommend it.
You don't even need to trudge all the way to germany for one either. As I said, there's one in Edinburgh and you can read all about it in my Capital Christmas review.
Great Review, I'm going to the christmas market in December.
emma155 07.05.2005 23:53
Been to Aachen christmas markets twice on xschool trips(biggest advantage of doing German for A Level so far!!!) The markets were great, Glühwein slightly strong but very nice, and a lovely blue stocking shaped decorated cup to keep for a few extra Euros. 1P a flight, think i'll take a look next year, when I have left school and settled in a job, then I can ask for my time off for them!! :D. Excellent review! Emma
salem_witch 16.01.2004 03:04
This sounds cracking! I did my xmas shopping in Plymouth whislt on a mini break with my boyfriend in Torquay.