Gluhwein

 

It’s anything but summer now.

There is snow all around us, piling around the wooden stands of the Christkindlemarkt . Flakes compact together in solidarity, making the fussgaengerzone as perilous as an ice skating rink. The wind is keening out of Siberia. If you listen closely, you can almost hear the whispers of carols from the East.

It’s minus nineteen Celsius, and I have never been so cold.

There doesn’t seem to be enough clothing to keep me, or any human warm. Fleece-lined boots, five layers of woolen undershirts, sweaters, more sweaters and heavy wool coat, and still Winter’s icy fingers manage to tickle my neck, find the one square millimeter of bare skin and freeze it. My bones ache, and my muscles are rigid from so much shivering.

We hurry from stall to stall, trying to slow down to admire the handiwork, to shop and be merry. But it’s too damn cold, and we give up, rush on, looking for shelter from the relentless wind.

The only shelter seems to be the gluhwein stands, sensibly sprinkled every few meters. German logic strikes again, and we are grateful. Form follows gluhwein, and who are we to argue?

We bounce over to one, since it is hard to walk gracefully when one is padded and dressed like Bibendum. The fragrance of red wine and spices hits us like a tropical breeze – warm and seductive. The earthenware mugs beckon like an oasis to our chilly souls.

We order two of them, and watch eagerly as our cups are filled. The final touch? A sugar cube soaked in brandy, and then set afire. As we clumsily grasp our cups, we dare to take off our gloves, and hold our Popsicle fingers over the miniature campfire of a sugar cube. One push, and the sugar cube plops into the pool of red, and flames briefly hotter before sputtering out.

We gulp as quickly as we can the warm wein. The man at the next table is feeling his brandied sugar cube acutely, and belts out a special ode to the majestic Christmas tree. What he lacks in talent he makes up for in volume and enthusiasm. Boy, is he enthusiastic!

His voice is rough and gravelly, like a rusty wire brush attacking last summer’s greasy grill. He gulps another mouthful of wine, and this time dances a little jig in time, sort of, to his ditty.

Oh tannenbaum, oh tannenbaum, da da da da da da da da!”

Apparently, humming da da da when you don’t remember or know the lyrics is universal.

He’s having a grand old time with himself, and we laugh at him, and with him as he ventures into his special version of Stille Nacht. In the freezing cold, the warm wine has turned this reserved German into a juke box hero. The metamorphosis is amazing, and is happening to people all around us.

We fuel up at the bratwurst stand next door, the smell and sizzle of sausages as good as a siren song in this gelid Munich winter. Extra lashings of mustard and curry ketchup complete this gastronomic feast. Eaten out of paper boats with rudimentary wooden forks, the cold elevates the humble sausage to food of the gods. How can food taste this good??

Sated, we brace ourselves, and re-wrap the shawls, scarves and coats around us. In the shadow of the somber Fraunkirsche and the playful chiming of the glockenspiel, we venture back into the Bavarian winter, celebrating the lights, the snow, and the traditions of a Munich Christmas season.

 

 

 

 

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