‘Tis the season for Kerstmarkts/Weihnachts Markts/Christmas Markets. We’ve visted markets in five cities in Germany, The Netherlands and Belgium. Our introduction to the German Weihnacht Markt was in Aachen where rows of wooden huts wind around the cathedral and span both squares. The lights, the music, the hand made items for sale and the food create a festive atmosphere. We ate potato pancakes and crepes and drank glühwein (mulled wine) in cute little mugs. You can keep the mugs or return them to get a deposit back. We kept a pair from one of the Cologne markets. Cologne has a total of seven markets throughout the city. We made it to four of them: the Dom, Harbor, Old City and Angel markets. Each market has a slightly different feel. I think the Old City was my favorite because it had a medieval look. The market at the Dom was beautiful after dark with the lit cathedral as a back drop. We sampled food at each market: bretzels, fire grilled salmon, chocolate covered strawberries, strudel, spatzel, hot chocolate and more glühwein. Wow, that’s a lot of food!
Kerstmarkts in Nederland are not as common or as big, but they are just as festive. The Valkenburg Kerstmarkts are unique because they’re located in the city’s famous caves. There are three of them, but we only visited one – the Gemeentegrot Markt. The goods and the food were meager in comparison to the German markets, but the atmosphere of the decorated caves was pretty cool. There are also booths set up in the center of town, which is always busy because there are so many restaurants there. We actually managed to come home hungry from this visit since we didn’t buy any food. But we stopped there a week later to have dinner at a great burger place. We were able to catch the weekly Sinterklaas parade that night, which was fun.
The Kerstmarkt in Maastricht is set up on the Vrijthof square in front of the cathedral. It’s the smallest market of those we visited. There is a skating rink, ferris wheel and Santa train for the kinderen. The Dutch flavor was evident with several booths offering stroopwafels and many varieties of ollibollen. We ate lumpias and later tried a krentenbollen, which was a little doughy in the middle. We prefer Mama Smid’s ollibollen!
We visited the Kerstmarkt in Antwerp on the opening day of a month long winter carnival. We visited a museum (Red Star Line Museum) before going to the market, so when we got there we were hungry and looking for food. We found bratwurst and burgers in the smaller square near the skating rink. From there, we went by the cathedral (took a quick look inside, but there was a mass) and out to the Grote Markt. The city hall there is beautiful and absolutely gorgeous when covered in Christmas lights. Most of the surrounding buildings were also lit up and there were Christmas trees all around. Later in the evening, there was a video show against city hall which was spectacular. There are wood burning warming stations around the square and a fire bar on one side of the skating rink to take the chill off, though the temp wasn’t too cold the day we were there. The Kerstmarkt extends down side streets and over to the waterfront where there is a huge ferris wheel, mini golf, a big slide and carnival games. There are also more booths by the castle. We rode the ferris wheel and got a great view of the city and the river. We indulged in Belgian treats — frites and waffles and the glühwein served there was better than what we had in Germany. It was very crowded in the evening, but not frenzied. No one is rushing; everyone is just enjoying the holiday atmosphere.
Lastly, I should also give a mention to the Christmas Market at JFC. It’s a one day affair held in the conference center adjacent to the base. It begins with the Commander giving his Christmas greetings and lighting the tree. Other than Santa and a couple of kiddie rides, this market was all about food. There is food and drink from many NATO members — 18 countries this year! We ate until we were stuffed and then biked home to burn some of the calories. Dick learned that mixing Belgian beer, Azerbaijan spirits and Dutch genever is not a good idea. 😏