I smell it. It’s as if I’ve taken a deep breath and the beautiful scent of a cold German winter day has rushed through my senses. Perhaps, if I close my eyes, I’ll open them to a different place and time. I feel it, breathing it in, pulling it out of memory–the Augsburg outdoor Christmas marketplace, the Christkindlesmarkt, holding the smells and feelings, the sounds and sights of my wonderful childhood in that historical city.
I’m standing in the aisles of Christkindlesmarkt, the Rathausplatz covered in open air booths, surrounded by the steamy scent of wurst and mustard, with crispy brochen rolls hot beside them, all kinds of pastries being prepared and kept warm, crepes made as bundled up shoppers watch and choose the fillings they want—mine will be chocolate liqueur—hot roasting chestnuts, special German Christmas cookies like stollen, lebkuchen and pfeffernusse, and of course, hot gluhwein. But over all of that drifts the clear sharp smell of what can only be Germany. I imagine it to be the smell of the Alps and her ancient snows, buildings older than my home nation and stories of bakers who become heroes.
There in the market I roam through the aisles, buying gifts for friends, tasting different vendors’ goods and trying to stay warm with hot mulled wine. The wooden booths hold more than edibles. Many of them have nativity sets, hand carved wooden toys, carved and magically shaped candles, marzipan art and gingerbread houses. There are intricate porcelain and blown glass figurines, and funny apple and prune dolls. The nutcracker is well represented as well, and miniature villages with trains and mirror ponds can be purchased piece by piece as families add on to their collections each year. Much of the merchandise and toys we only hear about in Christmas poems and stories in my country, but here they are real, and I wonder why my young homeland doesn’t understand the value of the old and patient ways.
Just as I’m about to seek the heat of an indoor shop, the big clock tower begins to chime and I wait just a little longer to watch St. George come out and slay the dragon. The mechanism, gears and figures are so old that they very seldom run it any more. You can see the age in the mechanical figures as they come out on the circular track. They’re faded and chipped, and parts are broken off, but everyone knows the story and all eyes in the Rathausplatz look up. I watch with a love of their tradition. The age of the clockwork machine and its poor state add to the feeling of how vastly different this place is from any other of my homes. It is ancient, but clean and fresh.
Finally, I reach a gausthaus and find a table near the fireplace for an early dinner. I know that before I’m done with my Wiener Schnitzel and pomme fritze I’ll wish I’d found a seat nearer a window, but at the moment I want heat. As my toes begin to remember themselves, I hear my name called. I open my eyes and jog to catch up with my family, walking through the Minnesota snow to the ice covered lake where my children will skate the afternoon away. Someday, they will share my love for Augsburg. Someday I will take them there.
- A 750ml bottle of inexpensive dry red wine (no need to splash out on something expensive, but it should be drinkable. I usually just use whatever red wine is on sale at the supermarket.)
- 2/3 cup of raw cane sugar or white sugar, or non-artificial sweetener of your choice
- Juice and peel of one small lemon
- 2 cardamon pods
- 4 cloves
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 cinnamon sticks
Put everything in a heavy bottomed pan. Stir to melt the sugar. Heat the mixture over low heat, and leave for about an hour – it should never boil, just sort of seethe.
Serve in small mugs (straining out the peel and spices), with optional shot of brandy, kirsch or other liqueur.
Notes: Increase the amount proportionately to serve more people. Vary the sweetener to change the taste – honey is interesting, as is dark brown sugar or molasses.