Thursday, March 28, 2019

Weihnachten: Hamburg (Part I)

This is about pretty much the entire month of December, and all of the cute shit and Christmas markets I saw when I wasn't working like a dog. I want to say there were 11. Honestly, it felt like I kept running into them by accident. Can't swing a dead cat without hitting a mulled wine stand. It's brilliant.

Pictured above are the first morning frost, the first dusting of snow, and the Totoro scarf Hannes gifted me while we were living in Japan that I love to pieces.

In Gänsemarkt, near my work, there's an ice cream shop that converted into a sickeningly cute stationery and home decor shop for the holiday season called Papier & Feder. 
I spent too much on a few of my cards there, and spent way too long looking at dumb adorable well-designed shit I couldn't afford.

This Christmas market, at Wandsbek Markt, was already open in November. I remember going, "Damn!" out loud when I saw it on my way to a morning appointment.

Pastries fried in lard. I kind of wish every delicious bready/cakey thing had lard 
so that I wouldn't be tempted all the time.

Aww, fairytale paintings on th- wait, what the fuck?


What the hell is going on in this picture? 
Well, you can read an article about this German holiday here, which, fun fact, also includes a cute infographic by the company I spent two and a half hours interviewing at last summer only for the stern department manager to decide I was too adventurous, exciting, and likely to peace out in a year or two for them to hire me (P.S., we still live here and I still want out of business English and corporate training, call me). 

In a nutshell: Nikolaus and Santa are not the same person. This older and less commercial holiday, celebrated on December 6th, is more religious and focused on Christian traditions, history, and childrens' behaviour, though it is also admittedly pretty commercial and popular in Germany today. 
Over time the two gift-bearing strangers and their holidays have muddled together, and it seems safe to say that this is where stockings came from, as they have come to be conceptualised by Americans at least. I asked when I first came here if Hannes and his family opened stockings on Christmas, and he said no. Well, now I know why.

On the night of December 5th, children are supposed to clean and polish their boots - or just one, so as not to appear greedy - and leave them outside the front door. St. Nikolaus will come and fill them with nuts, mandarins, apples, chocolate, candy, coins, small toys, and maybe other things too, if the kids have been good. Apparently he has a Jekyll and Hyde-esque alter-ego that beats naughty children and/or carries them away in a sack, or leaves something indicative of the fact that they've been naughty, like a switch, in one of their boots. I feel confident guessing that, if anyone, only the very religious and conservative in certain regions still do things like this. Unless your kids's been a real asshole, I guess.

Good news: I wasn't an asshole last year! 
Ah, well.. That's not entirely true. But Nikolaus didn't find out about it, so I was golden.
That lightly-red-coloured lip moisturiser is my new favourite thing.

Hannes' mom had secretly given him a bag of small gifts so that I could experience this holiday for the first time, at the tender age of 30. 

I simply forgot to leave my shoes outside, because I knew how the whole thing worked, but the date and required actions just didn't register. I also didn't clean them. So, you can imagine how I felt when, before leaving for work in the morning, Hannes came back into the bedroom and said, "Nikolaus was here!" and dumped my filled boots into my arms, while I was still in bed, all wrapped up in my blanket nest like a cozy dumpling. At least now I'll remember how the whole thing works lol. 

Anyway, moving right along, this is the neighbourhood Christmas market nearest my work. 

I may or may not have gone there with a group of fun, friendly students and had a strong alcoholic beverage that they paid for on my lunch break. When one does this in Germany, it is simply referred to as a "Christmas market lunch". Some good, pure, and innocent people genuinely believe that this refers to food, as there is of course a lot of rich, tasty, often-overpriced food being cooked and served at the stalls, too. Bless them.

The same plaza at night. It was weirdly hard to take a decent photo of this statue. Oh well.

Also down the street - down another street, I guess - is the beautiful, upscale business and shopping district of Neuer Wall, which doesn't have a big Christmas market full of packed stalls, but does have illumination and alcohol outposts here and there. Just in case you find yourself accidentally sober at one point.

I have no explanation for this shop display; it just reminded me of Asia

These dangling lights, like stars, made a wonderfully beautiful, whimsical impression against the historic brick gothic buildings.

In case you can't see it clearly in the last photo, this is Hansa Quarter.

And from there, you run right into City Hall. I briefly walked through part of the main market here, too, but it was too crowded, which is par for the course. I wasn't in the mood to wade through the people and felt ready to head home.

In the subway station just below the Rathaus, a display of aging second-hand art books caught my eye. Just look at this print! This font! Hrrrnnggg!

Strawberry Santas at Lush hurr derp

Traditional Christmas decorations at Galeria Kaufhof, the large department store in the center of town. I actually really love this kind; they're so pagan. Will someone explain to me what they're made of and why they look like they do?

The packaging in the grocery section of this department store is always the best, especially when it comes to sweets. Look at these amazing Italian cakes in gift boxes with ribbon handles! Look at them!

Old-fashioned hot cocoa tins from France, Germany, and Spain!

More adorable Italian Christmas cakes, but this time also in tins!

Uh-oh.. Jackpot. 
Found a small gift for the impossible-to-shop-for husband man..

Hamburg central station is straight-up extra for the holidays.

Holy shit! This thing is cool! It rotates slowly and changes colour!

Another thing that happened at the end of the year was finding a Korean restaurant called Seoul 1988 in Meßberg, near one of the places I work, completely randomly. 
It's Hannes' favourite restaurant in Hamburg now, ever since I insisted we get dinner there together this one night in December.

That longsleeve tho

Tteokbokki more soupy than we're used to, and with a hard-boiled egg.. Tasty!

There are lots of vegetarian menu options, and some things can even be done vegan, but I have to say, I'm disappointed with both jjigaes I've tried so far. 

This is doenjangjjigae, which I was beyond excited to see. Doenjang is a strong, flavourful fermented soybean paste that admittedly kind of smells like feet. But different! Koreans tend to use it as an indicator of how much of their food you enjoy or are at least willing to try (though, as with any of these things, I have to add that some Koreans don't like it or the smell, either). One could easily liken it to fragrant cheese in terms of off-putting-ness and flavour level, if not actual flavour. As in, like, how matter how good you insist it tastes, some people can't get past the smell and want nothing to do with it.

But alas, this was.. essentially cabbage water. Can't scare the Germans away I guess; a lot of them aren't even willing to touch anything red for fear of spiciness. Buh.

I went ahead and got the delicious cold cinnamon tea for dessert, which was not served as a sort of crushed ice slushie with pine nuts on top as I had hoped, but was still very nice.

Well, that kicked off dessert, anyway. I'd also told Hannes about the Mönckebergstraße /Spitalerstraße Christmas Market, which I had of course already walked through at one point, but more specifically, I had told him that there was a churro stand
What?! Churros finally made it to Germany?!

The lights and everything are pretty too, of course. But I was on a mission. A mission to give myself a terrible stomachache and probably cramps and acid reflux and other stuff too.

Now, I had spotted this the first time around, as you might be able to guess, seeing as how it's suddenly daytime again. 

"Spanish Butter Cake?" I mean, no. Like, not at all. Not even remotely. 
Churros don't have butter in them. Or milk, for that matter. They're vegan. 
But it was love at first sight, and I was a fool. I ignored the red flags, I didn't care. We've all been there.

Definitely with caramel. Raspberry? Don't waste my time. 
Do you think this is a fucking game?

... although, I mean, the sloppy tub of Nutella-esque chocolate sauce was strangely tempting.

Look who's extremely excited!

Look who's not!

This was a bad idea from the beginning, but at least I didn't suffer too terribly. These made me sick, sure, made my insides swell and cramp up and panic and whatnot, but not much. And they were just.. like.. very, very buttery. Fried dough sells itself, it really doesn't have to be butter-fried butter dough. And the caramel sauce was just, like, brown condensed milk sauce. It was too much, and honestly kind of gross. Obviously I ate it all anyway. But still.

Aww, cute. Now on to more alcohol.

It came to Hannes' attention a couple of stands down that I had never had Feuerzangenbowle. It's another type of mulled wine, but full of melted rum-soaked sugar drippings that have been on fire. Or at least, that's what it's supposed to be.

It all looked really cool and authentic and the atmosphere was great, but honestly, it tasted like watered down hot rum. It wasn't great, and Hannes agreed. I think that here, right smack dab in the center of the tourist shopping street outside the main station of a big city, we got more or less gipped. But there's always next year to give it another go.

St. Jakobikirche, just looking normal, hanging out, you know.

Here are some festive holiday moments from at and near work:
Spotted this on a company Christmas tree in a lobby lol wth

At one of the places I go to they have a massive Scandinavian-style wooden table and a full kitchen. Everybody makes coffee and müesli and often enough they stand there and eat together, too. It's quaint as fuck. And they have nice fancy coffee machines, and make me soy lattes. This is also my earliest company lesson, so you don't even know how much I need and look forward to these.

Adorable old tea shop up the road from the Korean restaurant.
There are a lot of these in Hamburg. It being one of Europe's biggest and most important port cities, it's not only super international and full of a diverse range of immigrants, but there are also more imported teas, coffees, spices, and expensive rugs than you can shake a stick at.

.. and a peek into the window at night! Which is like 4 P.M. this time of year!

The cute gluten-free (and in many cases also lactose-free, or vegan) café I enjoy. 

This is their miniature spinach quiche, which I had for lunch one day. And this "Turkish Delight" murder mystery, starring a very cultured drag queen hacker in Istanbul, was just as ridiculous as it sounds, and yet somehow I was kind of hoping for more. I got bored at the end. Remember that picture from earlier of the second-hand book with the pretty old German print? I randomly found it at that shop.

Cinnamon stars are one of the classic German Christmas cookies; I took a really nice photo of some at the bustling Rathausmarkt the year before, just after I came here. I didn't buy these special food sensitivity idiot ones, but I did end up getting a different kind from Anke that were much tastier than the ones she secreted into my shoes. Yay!

These here are not anything-free, they're classic, handmade sweets and another bakery, café, and confectionery on the way to yet another work location. Adorable!

Even the Thai supermarket nearby was in the holiday spirit.

And now, onto Lars' birthday. These were our gifts. (What can I say, it's an action-packed month; "Christmas" is kind of a six-week thing here.) You might remember his and Daniel's massive combined 30th birthday extravaganza from last year, but this time it was much more lowkey: just your standard Christmas market hopping.

We kicked off at the Veganer Weihnachtsmarkt outside what is, I think, the one remaining vegan specialty shop in town. It was while browsing around inside the shop that Lena told me she and Lars are expecting! Ahh! Congrats!

Vegan. I look, but I not touch.

Veeeeeegan. I tempt, but I not taste.

From there (St. Pauli) we moved to Fleetinsel.

This tiara is a birthday tradition now. I mean, it works. He really makes it work. And it's nice! We had a whole conversation about how it's actually a nice, quality metal one instead of a crappy plastic one.

I think Hannes ended up getting one of these huge cherry pastries after I pointed them out. It's pretty hard to tell how impressively large they are from this photo, but I mean like, you can take my word for it. I wouldn't lie to you about sugary fried cherry pockets.

These delightful little dough nuggets, like the ones I mentioned toward the beginning of this post, are absolutely fried in lard. I'm sure it makes them very soft, melty, rich, and delicious. Ugh.

Oh, hot chestnuts! I hadn't seen these for sale on the street since.. maybe the Chichibu Night Festival? No, probably before that. But in Germany you have to peel them! When I first saw and tried chestnuts in Korea they were hot, steamed, shoveled into paper bags or cones for you to eat while walking, and they were also definitely peeled and ready to go.. hmm..

Mulled wine and fried potato cakes with apple sauce and sugar. It's hard to fuck up the classics, and there's nothing to peel here.

Poor Daniel was so combination-hungover-and-still-drunk that trying to drag it out was really his only option. He suddenly told me at one point that he knows why I go, "Okayokayokayokay", because he finally started watching Brooklyn Nine Nine! We did that and "Coolcoolcoolcoolcool," back and forth at each other for way too long lol

That part where it gets dark is a bridge. There's a large embankment and water down there! This part of town is really weird and interesting; it's all bridges and canals.

I had to drunkenly stop on the sidewalk as we were all briskly walking back toward the main station to go home to take the most-epic-possible smartphone picture of St. Michaelis. It just looked so majestic with the moon shining there and the big Christmas tree in front and everything.

This tea was so good that I felt the need to share it. It was orange cardamom darjeeling.

Oh no, random cute shit everywhere! The temptation is real! 
Furry alpaca plushes at my feet, flanking me, ahhh!

Derpy orangutan ornament, why did I not buy you for Rejon?! 
This is such a first-world regret, but still, what was I thinking?

The most black metal of the Christmas markets, this was yet another one I wandered into unexpectedly, right by the Thalia Theatre.

And back to the Rathaus and Jungfernsteig just a couple of blocks away, but this time for a little bit of holiday shopping!

Aww, the derpy hand-felted things are good

Knitted hat and accessory stand selfie

Little handmade wooden things, eee! Look how cute this little woodland scene and those little tea light lanterns are! I want it all!

Massive, slightly derpy, very lovable carved crow statue? Yes, excellent.

That fish: "Wtf am I doing with my life"

I don't remember having seen this little artisanal corner of the market before, but it was pretty cool; very 80's dark whimsical fantasy, such vibes, wow.

Oh man, look at these gorgeous quill pens and ink wells!

And of course, the obligatory picture of City Hall itself, though of course, the ones I took with my actual camera last year are way way better.

Oh, and this is Jacobikirche at night, looking just as gothic and menacing as its counterparts (though the City Hall isn't actually gothic). Another day I went back to the Weihnachtsmarkt stalls around it, because they actually seemed to offer a little bit of variation for once.

When I did go back during the day, I unexpectedly came upon a little walk-through fairytale village. There were dioramas from well-known stories on both sides, in sort of a wide alley or square, with everything behind glass and situated in cases mostly made to look like little cottages. This is Aschenputtel, or Cinderella. 
The latter name is just so, so much more attractive.

This one was my favourite, probably because of the cute furniture and clean, non-creepy look of the scene. At least some of the dolls and accessories were vintage, and not all of them were cute or nice.

... and then there was this guy, standing in the middle of all this, just stumpin' around.

TeeGschwendner is more or less right across the road from this church and its market. 
I took this to remind myself to try a couple of their regional varieties.

Also right around the corner from St. Jacob's is this bakery!
You're probably like, what, a bakery full of rubble, you say?

I went in to do some editing because it was drizzling and I could see that they had a spacious downstairs with tables, but what I couldn't see at first was that this very outwardly-standard franchise bakery is an archaeological museum! It was build atop the thoroughly-ruined ruins (as opposed to your standard, typical ruins) of what is known as "Bishop's Tower", which was a comparatively small brick fortification from around a thousand years ago. Damn it, I love Europe.

The tables are in the center of the ruins of the circular foundation, along with these glass display cases of artifacts.

Further south you can't hardly turn around without stumbling over Roman ruins, but it's different up here in this region. Not what I expected with my coffee and admin, but I'll gladly take it!

Oooh. I found this especially pretty.

Nice! You learn something new every day!

This was the massive lunch I had later that day, which I'm just tossing in here because it's delicious, I like this place (Hamza Kebab), and between the fairytale village, archaeological cafe, and tasty lunch, it was a particularly nice and interesting day - and also the last one before the Christmas holiday!

More stubtle decor than usual, I approve.

Between Christmas and New Year's Eve comes Daniel's birthday, and for that, we were back in Hamburg. When I asked Solvig what kinds of things he likes so that I could bake him something, she told me about how he doesn't approve of fruit in cake and other sweets, because fruit is healthy, and dessert should not be. Say no more, fam

I made cookies that were honestly just sugar.

Actually, they were vegan soft batch maple caramel cookies.

Straight out of the oven they were idiotically good. I ate the three smallest ones and felt really terrible almost immediately. But I couldn't stop after the first gooey, melty bite.

Hannes said later that, since they were pure caramelised sugar, they really needed some salt. 
Oh well. Now I know for next time.

Speaking of idiotically good things, we also grabbed this wine on our way there, because how could we not?

It was a nice evening.

And to all, a good night!