Home from my epic weekend practically in Germany, I thought I’d treat you to a bit of a change!
10. Practically everything has bacon in. Or sausages. Or is ‘Choucroute’, which is basically a vegetarian’s nightmare, made up of about twelve kinds of meat heaped onto a mound of cabbage. I mean, in my world sauerkraut is just the cabbage! But seriously, they have stalls with about twelve kinds of cheese on toast, and every single one of the bloody things is hammy… (I know I complain about this in Paris, but this was just a whole new level).
9. How does Strasbourg cathedral get ready for Christmas? Fishes out the 400-odd year old tapestries, hangs them up in the wrong order (special feat getting the Visitation before the Annunciation), and nicely complements them with the biggest and most comprehensive crib known to man: not only does it go from Angel Gabriel right through to Simeon, but the wise men have got camels and an ELEPHANT! (Wasn’t aware that one was in the Bible!)
8. There is apparently no limit to the number of ‘bredele’ that can be sold and eaten in one city. Nor to the number of varieties of said things: the average stand must have between twenty and thirty, and they offer samples saying ‘this is the cinnamon one’. Which cinnamon one! There are twelve that say cinnamon! Too much choice: even if you only got one of each, you’d end up with about 20€ worth.
7. Speaking of food choice: does anyone understand the difference between all of the different pain d’épices? (Just meaning the cake one, because they have the irritating habit of calling any sweet product involving spices ‘pain d’épices’, whether it’s a gingerbread man, the dark-chocolate covered ginger pretzels (which they spell with a ‘b’ in French, making them Bretzels!) or the cakey stuff that I made back in Picardy). Not just the different flavours, but the ones with more or less honey, ‘old-fashioned’ (does that mean that they’re a bit racist, sexist and xenophobic, and will likely spend Christmas suspiciously peering through net curtains, or just that they wear beigey court shoes with a ‘sensible’ heel?), funny lumps of sugar stuck on the outside… And does the ‘foie gras’ one actually have fois gras in it? Because that certainly would, as they claim, surprise your guests, especially if they were innocent vegetarians and thought you were offering them a nice piece of cake…
6. I thought the house in Radcliffe with the all-year round Christmas lights was bad (the reason they left them up was that it would take about a week to assemble and dismantle, it was that complicated: trust me, living on that street, you wouldn’t’ve needed streetlights). And then I saw the Strasbourg versions. (Yep, plural). I suppose the giant gingerbread man stuck above the door of the tourist information office is roughly equivalent to Santa climbing over the town hall in Manchester (except he doesn’t any more, he just sits smugly on a box thing now, which I reckon is why he’s now effectively round: I remember when he was thinner, no doubt from the exercise of climbing up there. I also remember the year when it was really windy and he popped…). But the house with dozens of toy polar bears pinned to every window?
5. It appears that there is no beverage that cannot be ‘mulled’. Red wine, white wine, cider, apple juice, orange juice, blueberry juice, ‘Advent coffee’, ‘Advent hot chocolate’, Christmas tea… If it can be heated up in a big metal urn, mixed with a few spices and ladled into a reusable plastic cup, it is definitely saleable to tourists.
4. It must be possible to make a manele that looks like a normal (well, normal-ish) human being (OK, as close to normal as a brioche man can be!). But I’ve yet to see one. Somehow the eyes always end up a bit odd, the limbs get a bit twisted, stretched or stuck, and they come out looking like something from Shaun of the Dead. And that’s without counting the chocolate ones that appear to have some kind of measles or something worse… (And giving them little chocolate-dipped feet and hair does not make the situation any better.
3. The men selling roast chestnuts have got past the Parisian oil-drum-in-a-shopping-trolley stage, and have mini trains with a little drawer to keep the ones that are ready warm. Unable to quite leave the whole supermarket link behind, however, they keep the uncooked ones in shopping baskets. So if you ever go to Strasbourg Carrefour and can’t find anything to carry your milk in, you know where to look…
2. The Strasbourg Christmas lights show. I watched it a good half a dozen times (not consecutively, I hasten to add!), and I still don’t understand it. There seemed to be a cross between a video game gingerbread man, a military invasion (with action men parachuting and a toy soldier with a cannon blowing everything to jigsaw pieces), an interspersed bit with a musical box ballerina, lots of abstract flashing segments and colours, and a chubby gingerbread man trying to dance. Oh, and John Lennon singing ‘All you need is love’, which made me realise that I actually know the Love Actually cover version better… A generation of Beatles parents is no doubt cringing.
1. There is a large blue Christmas tree. And one that leans at an uncomfortable angle. Is it leaning-tower-of-Pisa stable, or will it be completely on its side by the 25th? (Will a rescue operation have to be enacted in the dead of night, like the Christmas-light-mounting operations that always seem to be blocking the road every time I try to go anywhere outside of ‘normal daytime hours’ in Paris?) And does anyone know the German and Italian (apparently the main languages spoken in this city, with English coming in third and French trailing somewhere behind: a Christmas market phenomenon or true all year round?)