by Jim Weaver
Many of the Christmas traditions we celebrate in America came from Germany, things like the Christmas Tree, Santa Claus, and holiday decorations and food. The Christmas season is a very special time of the year in Germany. Throughout the nation there are more than 2,400outdoor Christmas markets where residents and visitors shop for holidays needs, meet friends, enjoy seasonal food and beverages, and get in the spirit of the holiday. The markets open in late November and continue until Christmas.
The city of Cologne, in the Rhine River valley of western Germany, offers seven different Christmas Markets. The most popular is located on the large plaza outside the world famous Cologne Cathedral. Every year the city’s Christmas Markets attract nearly 2 million visitors. The Christmas Market at the Cologne Cathedral is the most impressive one in the city due to the huge backdrop of the imposing Cathedral.
Here you’ll find one of the largest Christmas tree in the Rhineland as well as more than 160 festively designed wooden pavilions that comprise the market. You can watch artisans at work, enjoy original “Christmas Mulled Wine” served in festively decorated Christmas mugs, and choose from an unlimited selection of holiday sweets and local delicacies.
The Cologne Cathedral is renowned as a monument of Christianity, of German Catholicism in particular, and of Gothic architecture. The cathedral is a World Heritage Site, one of the best-known architectural monuments in Germany, attracting an average of 20,000 visitors a day. Construction began in 1248 and took, with interruptions, until 1880 to complete. The cathedral is one of the world’s largest churches and the largest Gothic church in Northern Europe. The spires are 516 feet tall. For four years, 1880–84, it was the tallest structure in the world, until the completion of the Washington Monument.
The cathedral suffered 70 hits by aerial bombs during World War II. It did not collapse, but stood tall while the remainder of the city was totally destroyed. The great twin spires are said to have been used as navigational landmark by Allied aircraft raiding deeper into Germany in the later years of the war. Repairs to the building were completed in 1956. Some repair and maintenance work is constantly being carried out on the building, which is almost never completely free of scaffolding, since wind, rain, and pollution slowly eat away the stone and mortar.
Every year, the city center of Cologne is touched by the magic of the festivities in the weeks leading to Christmas. When the seven Christmas markets here open their gates on the last Monday before Advent, millions of visitors from around the world delight at the goods on sale at the quaintly designed market pavilions.
Christmas music, arts and crafts, toys, holiday decorations, and the scent of the Christmas bake goods create a wonderful atmosphere. Visitor’s are captivated when wood carvers, wreath binders and glassblowers demonstrate their art, and the aroma of mulled wine, roasting chestnuts and gingerbread fills the air.
In addition to the Christmas markets, the city offers an extensive schedule of holiday exhibitions, concerts and seasonal programs. Each year the Cologne Tourist Board publishes a pamphlet providing information on all the Christmas markets, their locations, and operating hours. Travel packages including overnight accommodation are also available. For further information visit www.koelntourismus.de
Just a few blocks from the Cathedral in the heart of the Altstadt (Old Town) in front of the Old Cologne Town Hall is another Christmas Market. For many years this market has been attracting families to Cologne. Young children will find lots to do here; an antique children’s carousel, a puppet theater, a Santa Claus grotto and many toy stalls, all providing endless fun and entertainment. According to an old Cologne legend, this is where the famous “Heinzelmännchen” gnomes dwell. They are said to be responsible for all the Christmas splendor.
The Neumarkt Christmas Market is Cologne’s oldest Christmas Market. Curiously, it is located in the New Market district near St. Aposteln’s Church and Cologne’s main shopping area. Each year, the markets glow brightly in pre-Christmas splendor, with decorated pavilions, and a unique holiday themes. Visitors are impressed by the beautiful, festive settings and fine seasonal goods available here.