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Monday, 7 January 2013

Europe Trip 2012/13 - Xanten to Munster

14th December.
Feeling like another session at Xanten’s Weihnachtsmarkt or Christmas market, we opted to stay on, but sadly watched the rain wash the snow away, revealing the Wohnmobil park’s muddy grass pitch.

Wrapping up even warmer than last night and prepared for rain, we revisited the sparkling little wooden and canvas village in the square. Our tip to enjoy the markets - before you even walk around - is to get a glass of hot Gluhwein inside you, it just puts you in the mood and gets you smiling, exploring and chatting.

We needed it, because now the rain was lashing down and the canvas doors of our thoughtfully provided little marquee were whipping and flapping in the wind. Inside, the roof was decorated with tinsel, an illuminated sleigh and Christmas bells. Standing at high bar tables, cheery revellers were tucking into dark brown Bratwurst on a bed of verdant green gruenkohl or green cabbage - not the most appetising looking dish but obviously very popular. Elsewhere, small schnitzels with apple sauce were going down a storm. I was sent out into the weather for a simple Bratwurst and another Gluhwein.

The perk of this job was that I got a free taste of some Winterzauber (winter magic) called Weihnachtsmann or “Father Christmas” to you and me; a delicious herbal liqueur, served warm and topped with cream - by 'eck, it was good! They also served Feuerzangenbowle, a wine punch with rum added. Apparently the classical technique is to hold a piece of sugar loaf over the wine, pour the rum over it and set it alight. The sugar slowly melts, caramelizes, and drips into the punch, giving it its special taste. Next time perhaps!

Get your "winter magic" Feuerzangenbowle here!

Having discussed the joys of Bratwurst with one German couple, we found ourselves in conversation with a girl from Preston, Lancashire, and her German partner. She was tucking into an enormous crepe with two slices of a whole banana and lashings of chocolate sauce inside.
This prompted the need for a waffle, of which I collected the top of the range edition with Kirschen and sahne (cherries and cream) sprinkled with chocolate.

The rain was still howling amongst the wooden huts as we made it to the floodlit tepee for another Gluhwein. Here the question was raised - to the musical backdrop of Creedence Clearwater Revival - of what German housewives cooked for Christmas dinner! The answer it seems is, whatever they feel like, there is no strong tradition of cooking turkey. Steak and chips is fine, though the real traditionalists apparently tuck into cold potato salad and sausage…!

Finally, the damp and almost sub-zero cold got to us and we retraced our steps to the van, stopping off at the Penny Markt for some cheese and biscuits to round off our evening’s gastronomic delights.

The link below lists - in German - every Christmas market in Germany, with links to each town’s website.

15th December
Our friend from Preston told us that the market at Oberhausen had a wonderful atmosphere, and as this industrial city was less than an hour’s drive away, we made this our next venue. Conveniently, there is a 60 pitch stellplatz, sandwiched between two railway lines, just 20 minutes walk from the Christmas market.

GPS: 51.4869 N, 06.8559 E

The market in Oberhausen is held by a canal side promenade, backed by a vast shopping mall called Centro and some waterside restaurants, including a huge but very amenable and popular “Irish pub”. As we approached the market, via multi-story carparks and with a gasometer as a backdrop, our anticipation dwindled a bit – this was going to seem very naff compared to the small but historic and charming Xanten. But, the Saturday night crowds were out and on our first gluhwein we found ourselves at a table with a Dutch lady and her mother. They had come on a works Christmas Club outing and just loved it. 

Darkness descends and the crowds gather...

.....and queue for their Bratwurst

By the time the night had descended the surrounding tall buildings had merged into the sky and the Christmas market magic was in full force. The decorated and illuminated huts extended all along the waterfront and up to the entrance of the Centro, a string of beautiful Christmas lights overhanging the walkway. The crowds were heaving; getting stuck into ½  metre long Bratwursts, slabs of steak carved from a complete spit roasted cow, spiced mushrooms served with garlic mayonnaise, fish and chips, the variety was endless - and that was just the savoury dishes. We settled for the mushrooms for a starter, followed by succulent spit roasted pork, served with lashings of fried onion in a bun and sprinkled with a spice that tasted like cinnamon and certainly added another dimension!

The huts stretch all along the waterfront...

....and are the places to buy your Christmas lights and candles


The Christmas decorations in the Centro were something to behold, with an artificial tree rising from floor to gallery and packed with lights, plus trees, hoops and stars hanging from the roof girders - the effort and expense must have been enormous.

No expense spared for the Centro's Christmas lights

We spent some time fingering the new Apple mini iPad in a massive Apple store, and then outside again, sampled a banana and chocolate crepe we had coveted the night before in Xanten, whilst watching kids in inflatable doughnuts cascading down an ice helter-skelter, listening to a rock band thrash out note-perfect Status Quo hits one after another. There was quite a buzz in the air!

Ice fun..if you can get it!

Status Quo? No, but actually they weren't half bad!

16th December
Sunday was a wet, windy and murky day and we decided to stay put.

17th December
Aware that the water pump was not delivering the goods as it should, I removed the pump filter and found it well blocked with a white film, which was strange, I’d never seen it like that before. We refilled and all seemed ok.

Next we drove to Munster via the “scenic” route as indicated by the Michelin map - which turned out to be mostly urban and included a big diversion for roadworks, delaying our arrival at Campingplatz Munster till after dark. We booked in for two nights on the stellplatz in front of the main campsite – not cheap at 15 euros, especially as you have to put a coin in the slot for water as well. We also paid €3 for 24 hrs wi-fi access and this caused us no end of frustration, simply, I believe, because the system was overloaded.

The full campsite costs 26 euros a night, but I suppose that is Munster prices. However, the bus stop into town is 2 minutes away and there is a large and interesting looking Chinese restaurant nearby.

GPS: 51.9465 N, 07.6907 E

18th December
The rain didn’t stop from morning till night. Sue went to reception for a refund on her wi-fi ticket and they gave her a new one, but threw her out when they closed at 1300. We just could not get it to work satisfactorily in the van, despite having a supposedly good signal. Fed up with constantly dropping wi-fi, I went for a walk along one of the rural back lanes behind the campsite, but heavy rain brought that to an early and soggy end.

19th December
A dull but dry day, my turn to get up to date with the wi-fi in reception, but I too was given a summary dismissal, this time at 1200 – what does it cost to say “we are closing in ten minutes” rather than “we are closed, you have to go”?

After a quick lunch we caught the bus into Munster. It’s a ten minute ride and the driver couldn’t have been more helpful, selling us a 9 hour TagesTicket - usable on any bus - for €4.70, and marking a timetable with our return stop. He was a real character, ticking off the cyclists and pedestrians who got in his way. The trouble with these modern, rear-engined buses is you just can’t hear them coming on pedestrianized areas, but I don’t think he appreciated that!

We alighted at the Domplatz in front of the Cathedral and a massive open market. True to our form, the church was closed for restoration – it’ll be nice when it’s finished! The food on display on the market stalls was of the highest quality and presentation and we were tempted to do our Christmas food shopping there and then, but for the effort of carrying it around for the rest of the day.

The Dom was closed, but the market was in full swing

Munster has an attractive old town, with lots of interesting architecture, posh shops, cafes and restaurants. The Christmas markets are however, spread around the town as the large square in front of the Dom is kept for the general market. We slurped our now customary gluhweins to soak up the atmosphere. Some sellers charge a deposit on the decorated mugs, so don’t be surprised if the price seems to have doubled, though of course if you desire some cheap and cheerful mugs you can always walk away with them. We did just that with a couple of red, heart-shaped items that Sue took a fancy to - on a trip like ours you could soon build up quite a collection of colourful cups, if that’s your thing!

There were some great craft stalls, really unusual work of the like we had not seen before. One trader, selling intricate and original wooden marquetry told us he worked all year and then sold virtually all his stock at the Christmas markets.

A few litres of Gluhwein got glugged by this gathering

Again the magic happens after dark as the lights grow in strength and the crowds gather…. a fiddler strikes up in the street and young children dressed in Santa fancy dress play carols on their trumpets. Not forgetting a gent in a trilby hat playing an upright piano, sat on a low rubber wheeled trolley complete with skateboard to help push it along! 

Play it again Sam!

Most bizarre of all was an elderly Santa on a tricycle - his uniform a cross between a Cardinal and Father Christmas. His bike was loaded with a tree covered in lights and a pile of presents, also trailing a small sleigh commanded by a doll, and behind that a cooking pan for collections! He stopped in the street and seemed content to have his photo endlessly taken as young children and adults put their arms around his neck.

Santa - or was it the Cardinal - spreads his greetings

The choice of food on offer covered the usual range of grilled and fried delights, with the addition of some rather large sauce covered dumplings, which I didn’t get the opportunity to try, instead settling on Bratwurst and chips. We followed that up with chocolate covered grapes on a wooden kebab stick – they were good!

One thing that amazed us was that with all the alcohol being consumed on the street, all the produce on sale, all the happenings going on, in all the markets we have been to, I don’t think we have seen a single uniformed policeman! No doubt there were plain-clothes officers about keeping a watchful eye, but the absence of the grim faced, yellow jacketed, two by two, radio-squawking arm of the law that we have in the UK was truly refreshing and uplifting.

Later, as the cold began to get to us, we sampled some hot chocolate and warm apple strudel in the Kleimann Café on Prinzipalmarkt, a traditional old coffee house. As we left I spotted some chocolate and apricot Sachertorte - next time!

The Dom makes a fine sight at night

Munster, as are a lot of German cities, is a biking town. After dark the bikes can be a menace; they were everywhere - more than you could shake a stick at - and with small LED front lights, set against all the other lights on decorations and shop fronts, it could be hard to see them coming. Some of the new electric bikes can silently reach 35 miles an hour and are on you before you know it!

Finally, we bought some bread and a heart-stoppingly heavy Stollen cake from the Tolkötter shop and headed for the Hauptbahnhof bus stop back to the campsite.

Next: Our tour of the Christmas markets continues!

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