Germany’s Christmas Markets-Cologne Highlight
Nestled amongst medieval castles and villages along the Rhine River are charming cities featuring Germany’s Christmas Markets. An excellent way to tour the area is aboard a Viking River Cruise. Although we’ve never really considered ourselves a cruising couple, believe us when we say one trip into the category and we’re hooked. The concept of unpacking once and having the hotel smoothly glide along the river while you have the opportunity to visit four different countries can not be emphasized enough. Along with the luxury service and onboard restaurants, Viking has perfected the art of travel experiences in the world’s great destinations.
Recently, we visited Cologne, Germany as part of our Viking Cruise on the Rhine. We toured the Cathedral and the exquisite Winter Market situated directly adjacent to the square. We had never visited a European Christmas Market before and must say the experience was special for many reasons. The markets consist of multiple small, beautifully decorated stalls selling a wide variety of items for the Christmas shoppers. Many of the vendors are in costume and are artisan and handmade. Food and wine are part of the mix and each market (there are usually several throughout each city) seemed to have a central square where entertainment is presented. Guests can take a break from their shopping to drink some warm wine and enjoy the wide selection of food available.
This stop was a highlight of our Rhine Getaway itinerary and Viking’s included walking tour put everything into historical perspective. The great Gothic Cathedral, a Unesco World Heritage site, is a true architectural marvel. Construction began in the 12th Century, it took 600 years to complete and survived multiple wars and conflicts, including World War ll. Historical pictures of Cologne show the Cathedral standing amidst piles of rubble and bombed buildings. Cologne was, and is today, an industrial city. The Allies carpeted the city throughout the war; somehow northern Europe’s largest Cathedral never suffered a direct hit. Incredibly, the stained glass windows were all removed for protection, packed in BUTTER, and represent remarkable time pieces of the different eras of construction.
One would like to think the Allies deliberately tried to avoid bombing the Cathedral but seeing the pictures and the proximity of the bombed buildings directly adjacent to the edifice suggest Divine Intervention is perhaps a more logical explanation. To say the building is a historically significant place is an understatement on a large scale. As recently as last December the site was the scene of a clash of cultures as New Years Eve assaults launched a bitter debate about immigration and the future of the country.
Our visit to the Weihnachtsmarket am Kölner Dom was on a cold, cloudy afternoon. On stage in the square was a musical group and conductor playing Christmas carols. The ensemble consisted of 12 women and men playing acoustic guitars and mandolins. Not your traditional ensemble, outside, in cold weather, playing extremely technical versions of Christmas music.
They were wonderful. Jingle Bells and Winter Wonderland played on acoustic instruments was unique and very enjoyable. The crowd of 200 or so included families with small children, young couples, elderly people in wheel chairs and tourists from many countries based on the voices we heard. In the background was the awe-inspiring sight of the Twin Spires of the Kölner Dom. The spires seemed to be floating in the sky as we viewed them through a sea of sparkling white lights covering the entire square.
The band finished a Christmas Carol and the conductor raised his baton.They started with a slow introduction of a song. We recognized the music of Canadian songwriter Leonard Cohen‘s classic Hallelujah. The crowd, which had been boisterous and filled with holiday cheer, suddenly quieted as this most special of renditions slowly rolled off the stage and into the crowd. For those of you, who like us absolutely treasured Mr. Cohen, his version of the song transcends all others.
The conductor had taken notice of the fact the crowd had quieted and quickly turned his head to smile. As the musicians brought the song to the refrain everyone was silent and then, suddenly everyone quietly started singing; Hallelujah………. Hallelujah………….. Hallelujah. Is it playing in your head now?Take a minute to listen and enjoy. The accents were German, French, English and who knows what other languages were represented in the powerful word of Hallelujah. The voices grew louder until all had joined in.
Leonard Cohen had passed only a month ago and he was touching the hearts and souls of all these strangers in a random location who were connected and having a moment together over his music. The conductor and musicians heard and saw what was happening. Their sound became fuller and richer as they strummed their instruments. The crowd was now fully engaged and the music was emotional.
Directly in front of us was an older man standing at a round table, alone, with his golden retriever. The dog was also a veteran with white fur on his snout and hips that made his rear haunch tremble. Initially the dog was nervous as he stood next to his owner eyeing the large crowd and the hustle and bustle of people walking through the square in front of the stage. Now as the sounds of Hallelujah rang out, the people had quieted; everyone, including his owner was singing the refrain. The dog sensed the change in the atmosphere; he laid down on his side under the table and relaxed as only a dog can do.
Rather then ending, the conductor was inspired by the crowd to take us through one more full rendition of the song. We all sang along and the passion and intensity was powerful. When the song ended the crowd shouted and cheered. The conductor turned, faced the crowd and applauded us for our participation. Not saying which one of us had tears in their eyes, but you could venture a guess if you’ve been reading Green with Renvy for any amount of time. The musicians were beaming, their faces reflecting the fact we had all just shared a very special moment of peace and joy at one of German’s Christmas Markets.
There is a tendency in our world to overuse adjectives to describe events and moments. Things are “incredible, unbelievable, fantastic, amazing” and the words begin to ring hollow and lose their substance with overuse. We’ve been going back and forth trying to think of a word since that day to describe that short piece of our trip, at the Winter Market, next to the great Cathedral of Cologne, listening to a unique rendition of a powerful and emotional song, at Christmas joined by people from all over the world. There really is only one that fits: Magical. It is the first memory that comes to mind when both of us think of the trip. A highlight of our journey along the Rhine to Germany’s Christmas Markets.
We moved away from the crowd, trying to prolong the feeling, knowing we had just experienced something we would not soon forget. Although everything is still fresh in our thoughts, the recent attack in Berlin emphasized how significant it is to savor those special moments. More than ever it is important to travel now and learn from other cultures, to connect with citizens in person around the globe. We have to make decisions every day about what we are going to fear in life. For the two of us, travel will not be an item on that list.
Disclosure: Our exploration of the Christmas Markets was courtesy of Viking River Cruises and our post is a reflection of the Rhine Getaway Tour. Opinions are 100% our own.