When food writer and photographer Melanie May told us she was heading to Cologne to check out the Christmas markets, we demanded a prompt report and a sneak peek of her holiday snaps. Here’s how she got on.
Cologne; it doesn’t just smell good it tastes good too. If you are a food lover like me then this festive foray into all things gastronomic is the perfect Christmas break.
Cologne’s Christmas market, laid out underneath Germany’s most visited landmark, the gothic Kölner Dom, is famous the world over, but this is only one of seven Christmas markets in the city.
The markets have their own distinct character, however they are all a variation on a theme with the same items for sale in each one like cathedral shaped candles, cathedral shaped tree decorations, cathedral shaped wooden thingamajigs, well, you get the picture . Some markets have better displays than the others do, they all have different coloured huts, and of course hundreds of sparkling twinkly lights, which give each market a spectacular and warming feeling, even if it is absolutely freezing outside.
Most of the markets have activities to keep the kiddies busy whilst parents defrost with a glass of glühwein (if alcohol isn’t your thing huts also offer hot chocolate and coffee as well as aromatic apple punch). There are ice-skating rinks, carousels, and even play huts, however, the markets are very crowded and frustrating to walk through, so just bare this in mind if considering bringing little ones.
Now, let’s face it, nobody really goes to Christmas markets to buy soap shaped like the largest Gothic church in Northern Europe, at least I didn’t. I came for one thing only; the festive fattening fulfilling food, I mean fuel. You see you need all this fuel so you can negotiate the markets and keep your baubles from freezing. Each market sells the same food with huts offering regional specialities from warm buttery speculoos biscuits, to crepes and waffles, from chocolate covered fruit skewers to spicy gingerbread lebkuchen adorned with romantic inscriptions.
The Germans also excel at savoury food, their most famous being wurst. There are over 1500 different types of these German sausages. I did my best to try every single one. My favourite was currywurst, a steamed then fried pork sausage covered with ketchup and curry powder, traditionally served with fries but for convenience served ‘mit brot’ (with bread) at the markets.
Other dishes from the Rhineland region to try include raclette cheese melted on top of baby potatoes and reibekuchen, literally translated as “grated cakes” deep fried and served with applesauce. The vendors make the food in front of you so the sights, sounds, and smells offer a feast for the senses, truly a food lovers’ fantasyland. Out of all the markets Neumarket was outstanding in terms of the variety and quantity of food huts and Stadtgarden was the most relaxed and, as it is set in a park, it feels like an enchanted forest so it is also quite romantic.
If you need a break from the markets, you can visit the Lindt chocolate factory and watch the chocolatiers in action before designing your very own chocolate bar. On site is a stunning café that overlooks the Rhine were you could indulge in one of their exquisite cakes and luxurious hot chocolates, a perfect way to spend a few hours. Oh and don’t forget to stock up in the gift shop on the way out.
Köln /Bonn airport is only a 15-minute train ride away to the Cathedral and Cologne is easy to get around on foot. Food and drink is cheap, there are plenty of things to do during the day, and the markets are truly magical at night. I spent three full days there but two is plenty if you are only going for the markets. This was a lovely foodie holiday for me, but the post-holiday diet starts now, well after I finish this box of ginger bread I brought home. The Cologne Christmas markets run until December 23rd.
Melanie’s Top Cologne Tips
Find the nearest café, of which there are many, and order kaffee and kunchen (coffee and cake). Indulge in this endearing tradition of kaffeeklatsch (getting-together for a gossip over coffee and cake) and enjoy the people watching.
Head to the fairtalesque Rudolfplatz market and embrace the kitsch by sipping glühwein from a mug shaped like Santa’s boot.
Save some time and aching feet by taking the Christmas Market Express, a hop-on/off mini train that shuttles passengers from one market to another. Tickets cost €8 and are valid all day.