“Wherever I went, I was on the wrong end of the stampede.” _______Rachel Cohn, ‘Dash & Lily’s Book of Dares’
Holiday Markets: the Christkindlmärkt at Marienplatz
All photos courtesy of Greg Spring Photography
We stood at the edge of the Marienplatz and gawked. The main square in Munich is a cobble-paved enclosure of flamboyant baroque buildings. Its crowning feature is a magnificent clock tower that keeps the hour with a tune and performance of moving figurines. Even when not in motion, the clock tower is an enchanting curiosity from which it is hard to look away. In and about the Marienplatz, through the arches and down the roadways that radiate from its center are crowded shops and browsing shoppers. The stores are modern fronts with lit neon advertising set in florid old buildings. The Platz was not unlike a mall done by Disney but the buildings were authentic, not out of a Disney warehouse. And they had an authentic dark patina that had not been scoured brilliantly clean. This was the venue for Munich’s largest Christmas market.
Hundreds of pedestrians moved in a mass over the cobblestoned roadways. If you dared change direction, there was a mash-up at every elbow. Bicyclists are prominent all over Munich, which is very heartening and commendable. However the bicyclists ride the walkways like demons and don’t always stop for pedestrians. The near-mishaps startled me whenever I made a sudden stop to rubberneck or take a photo. The baby strollers were additional obstacles and a quick change of direction could send you tumbling right over a stroller. There were too many people mashed into the walkways between the rows of vendor’s stalls, tables for eating, fountains, decorated centerpiece trees and regular shops. In the midst of this bedlam, there were queue-ups for bratwurst, crepes, gingerbread cookies and sweet glazed nuts in little paper cones. The lines for the glühwein (hot mulled wine or “glow-wine”) were the longest and snaked their way through the pedestrian traffic. The mood was not unlike the pandemonium on a shopping day at the mall right before Christmas except that thankfully it was out of doors and there was no annoying piped-in music.
A cacophony of Christmas decorations festooned the rafters of the wooden vendor’s stalls. The ornaments hung like curtains at various heights and layers. They were also stacked, piled and brimming in tiers on the display shelves. It was hard to focus on the mind-boggling assortment of metal, glass, porcelain, wood, and woven straw ornaments. I was able to notice that the straw and wood ornaments were especially artistic: cleverly tied, designed and carved. There were wooden nutcrackers, incense burners carved in the shapes of little old men and fluid turning story-figures set over candles called “Christmas pyramids*”. The decorated gingerbread, Lebkuchen, in whimsical shapes like stars, hearts and trees, hung with ribbons in the stalls reminding me of the wistful Christkindlmärkt fare of old.
In the midst of this holiday bustle, a quick errand had us dashing to a corner bank to change money. Here in a mezzanine vaulted by a high atrium, we found a labrophone concert in progress. The music brought the entire outside hubbub to a halt for us as the harmonies drifted out of the three alpenhorns. The spectacle of the instrument itself was a mesmerizing pageant. The horns are long, spreading down from the mouth of the player to the floor and beyond where the cup curves upward. It is a carved wooden instrument that is used by mountain dwellers in many regions of the Alps. The sound was indescribably beautiful: low, resonant, with a slow careful harmony. This welcome reprieve was like ‘taming the beast’ of commerce; it let us take a breather and make a decision to head back to the hotel. Was it the crush of people and stores that was so disagreeable or was it the crush of chronological years twisting me into a cantankerous old woman? I had enough of the Marienplatz. I was ready for a bath and a tea.
The commercialism and business of Christmas has grown into a larger dragon than it was in the 1970’s. Is the charm I remember just the naive perception of youth? Feeling a little old and overwhelmed, we left to try and maneuver the public transportation back to the hotel. Tomorrow was another day to hunt for Christmas in Munich.
“My world is changing
Does that mean Christmas changes too?
Where are you Christmas?
Do you remember
the girl you used to you know?” _from “Where are you Christmas”, the movie “Grinch”, Carey, Jennings, Horner songwriters
*A Christmas pyramid (German: Weihnachtspyramide) is a Christmas decoration that has its roots in the Ore Mountains of Germany but has become popular throughout the country…Not actually pyramid-shaped, the Christmas pyramid is a kind of carousel with several levels, some depicting Christian motifs such as angels or manger scenes, and others with more secular motifs such as mountain-folk, forests, and other scenes from the everyday life of people in the Erzgebirge. The spinning motion of the pyramids is traditionally achieved with the help of candles whose rising heat spins a propeller above.” from Wikipedia