The culmination of 10 years of intense study of the German language and a minor in the subject was five hours one afternoon at a Christmas market in Koln.
(Yes, Koln as in Cologne, but I like to use the German spelling, minus the umlaut, to make you think I'm erudite. I also like to use words like erudite to make you think I'm even more erudite.)
I always intended to live in or travel through Germany. My sister had moved to Germany when I was in middle school, and I started studying the language so I could write her letters in German...which I'm pretty sure never happened. But I did develop a fascination for the culture and language. And yet, my five hours in Germany, ordering sauerkraut and gluhwein, are the only workout my linguistic skills have ever gotten. (Unless you count IMing with my coworker in the Dominican Republic in German.)
Back to the Christmas market, or Christkindlmarkt, as us erudite people say. I had moved to Amsterdam, after this last trip, which afforded us incredible access to travel around Europe. I had always wanted to experience Christmas in Germany, so my friends Rachel, Naomi, Diane and I took the train that wound down south through the flat landscape of the Netherlands. The green fields of the Netherlands were slowly replaced by the thick forests of Germany and into Koln itself.
The first all-encompassing thing you have to mention about Koln is the Dom, or cathedral. I've seen a lot of European cathedrals in my day, and none come anywhere near touching this thing, not even St. Peter's Basilica in Rome.
It's big, imposing, impressive, beautiful, breathtaking, and...big. It's so big, in fact, that it took 600 years to build. At the base of the cathedral is the Christmas market, looking like a perfect story-book wonderland.
We wandered around the market trying chocolate covered bananas and gluhwein (mulled, spiced wine), and rubbed our frozen little hands together in the warming hut while eating crepes. We browsed the many stands selling ornaments and cuckoo clocks and every German delight imaginable.
After we could fit no more down our little gullets, we wandered the streets of Koln, peeking in store windows and taking pictures in front of stereotypical looking pubs. When it was time for dinner, we found one such pub and squeezed into one of the tiny booths. Americans were a novelty, apparently, and many in the pub blatantly stared at us while we tried to figure out how to order in German. I remember I ate something red...red meat and red cabbage.
And it's so sad to admit, but that's all I remember of my one glorious day in Germany. My sister spent several years there and her remembrances of castles and cheeses make me want to go back someday. Einmal, gehe ich zuruch nach Deutschland.