Christmas markets the world over have one thing in common: they all wish they were German. And if they don’t, the rest of us do because German Christmas markets are the best.
I visited two markets yesterday, Aachen and Monschau. Very near Belgium but definitely German, they both are charming and fulfilling. My friend and I enjoyed delicious street food in Monschau, and Aachen’s cathedral was the highlight of the day.
Monschau is a picturesque little town by a river. They host one of my favorite markets because it is small and not too crowded, and it has a really fun little store for decorative items that really does Christmas decorations well. We also loved Aachen’s street food: kartoffelpuffers or potato latkes are my absolute favorite. Served with applesauce, they are a vegetarian’s dream, especially a vegetarian who happens to be from the US’s southern region, where fried = delectably delicious. My non-veg friend greatly enjoyed her bratwurst und brotchen, one of my former favorites. A fire-roasted pork sausage in a crusty roll, it is served with ketchup or mustard, your choice. I’m not a vegetarian because I don’t like the taste of meat; I’d have eaten one of those in a second if my personal ethics didn’t get in the way. The gluwein is also quite yummy.
Aachen is very different from Monschau but fairly typical of German markets. There are several market areas in the center, and the store windows are fabulous. Lots of street performers are out and about, from the typical human statues to a brass band and a man playing some sort of barrel organ. Street food is good, and so are the restaurants, when you can get a table. We had a tough time but ended up in a tapas bar that served a wonderful Spanish wine and some really good tapas! This year, because of the warmer temperatures, the streets were incredibly crowded, but the experience was worth it.
No visit to Aachen is complete without a peek inside the most ancient cathedral in northern Europe. Aachen’s cathedral dates from the ninth century (that’s the 800’s, y’all!); actually it was begun in 790! The Cathedral of Aix-la-Chapelle (officially named) is the home of several extremely important relics (the baby Jesus’ swaddling clothes!) and is the burial place of Charlemagne. Read more about that here if you are interested. The gold mosaics, much newer than the building itself, are spectacular and there are beautiful stained glass windows. And you can, for a mere two euros, climb a few stairs and get to see the throne of none-other-than Charlemagne! However the throne was more thoroughly used to crown the Holy Roman Emperors throughout the Middle Ages. But Charlemagne’s presence is everywhere here, including a statue of him outside.