November 26th, 2018
Milwaukee has a “Christkindlmarket”. The correct German spelling of the word would “Christkindlmarkt” (lose the “e” in “market”), but the local version of the word is close enough. The literal translation of the word from the German into English would be “Christ Child Market”, which is to say that it is kind of an outdoor Christmas fair. Christkindlmarkt is a word used primarily in southern Germany. In the northern part of the country, they also have these outdoor markets, but they are referred to as a “Weihnachtsmarkt”, a Christmas Market. The Germans love this sort of thing. Nuremberg and Rothenburg in Bavaria both have wonderful open markets in their town squares. I have been to them. They are especially magical at night, with their lights and music and different kinds of food. The Christkindlmarket in downtown Milwaukee is a weak imitation of the German originals, but it’s all that we have.
Karin wanted to go to the Christkindlmarkt. The fact is that she misses Christmas in Germany, more than she used to miss it. I think she heard about the Christkindlmarkt from a friend in one of her knitting groups. Karin talked to me about going to see it. She became enthusiastic and told me,
“We could eat there. We could have a Bratwurst and a Glühwein!”
She smiled as she spoke of it. For those who do not know, a bratwurst is a sausage found almost everywhere in Germany. Glühwein is hot, spiced wine, usually served in a mug. The two things go well together, especially when it’s cold outside.
The market is located in downtown Milwaukee, near Highland and 4th Street. The booths are set up in a small plaza near the new arena for the local basketball team. The Milwaukee Bucks arena towers over the small collection of kiosks. It feels a little odd. A Christkindlmarkt ought to be surrounded by old, medieval buildings. However, we live in America, and we don’t have any of those.
Karin first wanted to go into the large, framed, heated tent that housed the Käthe Wohlfahrt store. Käthe Wohlfahrt is a famous Christmas store in the old walled city of Rothenburg ob der Tauber in Germany. Karin grew up near Rothenburg. In fact, our very first date was in Rothenburg. The store in Rothenburg has a three-story-high Christmas pyramid. A Christmas pyramid is a wooden tower that rotates. I could further explain what a Christmas pyramid is, but you can look it up online. The point is that Käthe Wohlfahrt holds a special place in Karin’s heart, so that’s where we went.
The tent was filled with ornaments, nutcrackers, and Räuchermännchen. Yeah, okay, so what is a Räuchermännchen? A Räuchermännchen is a small, wooden figurine that looks like he or she is smoking when you burn a bit of incense inside of it. In any case, the store was full of things that Karin wanted to see. There were also Advent calendars, chocolates, and pictures from Germany.
Basically, there was nothing in that store that anybody needed. Well, to clarify, there was nothing there that anybody needed in a purely physical way. The store was full of things that were soulful, and oddly necessary. Does anyone really need a hand carved, wooden tree ornament? A person may need that if it somehow provides a connection with a time and place that are now lost. Karin kept talking about Christmases from long ago as she handled the various trinkets. She bought a small ornament to take with her on a future trip to Texas. The ornament was tiny, and fragile, and oh so precious. It means something. It is a talisman.
After we left Käthe Wohlfahrt, we wandered past the other kiosks. One person was selling ornaments and crucifixes made from olive wood from Bethlehem. I wonder if anybody made the connection to the fact that Bethlehem is in Palestine, a place that has no peace. These ornaments come from people who are suffering, people who are landless.
Other kiosks sold caps and mittens. Some booths sold roasted nuts or pretzels or natural soaps. One kiosk had gifts from Anatolia (Turkey). One booth had shawls and slippers made from felt that came from Kyrgyzstan. The seller had a vaguely Asiatic look and a Slavic accent, and she haggled like someone from the East. One woman sold Ukrainian decorations and ceramic dolls.
We walked into the sweet store, full of candy and cookies and joy. Karin kept looking at things and saying, “We always had this when we were little! Opa bought it for us!” Karin bought some chocolates (Aachener Dominos and Laetzchen) and some Magenbrot. These confections are difficult to describe. It is best if they are just tasted. Simpler that way. Anyway, buying the treats made Karin happy, and that was the purpose of this excursion.
I wonder if the imminent arrival of our first grandson has anything to do with Karin’s desire to go to the Christkindlmarkt. The baby is due on Christmas Eve. Another Christ Child. Another incarnation of the divine. Christ continually being born into this world.
Karin and I finally found the kiosk that sold food. We decided to get a some Leberkäse (hot German bologna) and the Glühwein. We sat in a tent with heaters, and ate our lunch. Karin thought that the Glühwein was a bit strong. Maybe it was.
Maybe it just tasted like this coming Christmas.