Cologne … getting into the festive spirit with frolicking elves, seductive baubles and unusual depictions of the nativity at some of the city’s famous Christmas markets

Fewer places in Europe seem to embrace Christmas as enthusiastically as Cologne. One event held in this charming German city at the end of November this year (2014) would certainly suggest this to be true…

Cologne's alternative to 'Black Friday'? If only I had been there on the 29th and 30th of November. From the official 'Cologne Christmas City' guide 2014, page 16

Cologne’s alternative to ‘Black Friday’? If only I had been there on the 29th and 30th of November. From the official ‘Cologne Christmas City’ guide 2014, page 16

Contrary to the exuberance expected at that particular festive event (or maybe something was lost in translation), Cologne’s famous Christmas markets seem to focus less on excessive consumerism and more on excessive festivities. Of course there was a certain level of encouragement put upon me to part with my cash at some of Cologne’s many seasonal stalls on my visit to the city earlier in December (2014). But so much effort was put into the look and feel of these charming markets, one almost felt that the consumerist element was merely incidental.

The main purpose of these markets seemed to be to get everyone into the festive mood and to just have fun. They certainly succeeded in achieving this. There was no animosity in the crowds, nor any ‘Black Friday’ style pushing or shoving. Everyone seemed relaxed, friendly and having a jolly time soaking up the festive atmosphere created under thousands of tasteful fairy lights and charming seasonal decor. Not a speck of tackiness nor kitsch in sight. The Kölner Altstadt ‘Heimat der Heinzel’ (Cologne Old Town ‘Home of the Elves’) near Heumarkt was a particularly delightful market creating such an atmosphere.

Elfish rather than selfish Christmas shopping: the 'Home of the Elves' Christmas market

Elfish rather than selfish Christmas shopping: the ‘Home of the Elves’ Christmas market

Fine, festive music ...

Fine, festive music …

... magical Christmas lights ...

… magical Christmas lights …

... romantic ice-skating around Friedrich Wilhelm III ...

… romantic ice-skating around Friedrich Wilhelm III …

... and elves! Lots and lots of elves

… and elves! Lots and lots of elves

There were elves absolutely everywhere ...

There were elves absolutely everywhere …

... having as much fun as everybody else

… having as much fun as everybody else

Their presence both in miniature form and in artwork brought real charm ...

Their presence both in miniature form and in artwork brought real charm …

... warmth ...

… warmth …

... and humour to the market

… and humour to the market

Germans are known for their attention to detail and the organisers of this market clearly lived up to that generalisation. Even the entrance posts into the market were panelled with these elf-themed stained-glass windows made especially for the market

Germans are known for their attention to detail and the organisers of this market clearly lived up to that generalisation. Even the entrance posts into the market were panelled with these elf-themed stained-glass windows made especially for the market

... and the market's family-friendly drinking huts were adorned with some enchanting artwork. It's a shame then that most of these painted panels were positioned at knee level so the market crowds generally missed them

… and the market’s family-friendly drinking huts were adorned with some enchanting artwork. It’s a shame then that most of these painted panels were positioned at knee level so the market crowds generally missed them

Cologne at Christmas Kölner Altstadt Heimat der Heinzel Home of the Elves Christmas market artwork elves washing

Cologne at Christmas Kölner Altstadt Heimat der Heinzel Home of the Elves Christmas market artwork elves ice skating

Cologne at Christmas Kölner Altstadt Heimat der Heinzel Home of the Elves Christmas market artwork elf making snow angel

Cologne at Christmas Kölner Altstadt Heimat der Heinzel Home of the Elves Christmas market atwork elf with polar bear and dear

Cologne at Christmas Kölner Altstadt Heimat der Heinzel Home of the Elves Christmas market artwork two elves cheering in a paper boat

The Markt der Engel (Market of Angels) at Neumarkt was just as charming …

The magical Market of Angels and fairy lights

The magical Market of Angels and fairy lights

… full of delightful ‘angel’ huts selling all kinds of items …

...

...

Cologne at Christmas Markt der Engel auf dem Neumarkt two huts

… but the items on sale were not the usual overpriced high street goods or ‘must haves’ that lack imagination and taste. Instead, the goods were hand-crafted, unique, charming and unusual:

They may lack branch space for baubles but Bonsai Christmas trees would certainly be a talking point in anyone's living room

They may lack branch space for baubles but Bonsai Christmas trees would certainly be a talking point in anyone’s living room

Christmas stockings, suspenders and basques ... tree decorations for every taste

Christmas stockings, suspenders and basques … tree decorations for every taste

Christmas foot-baubles!

Christmas foot-baubles!

Cologne cathedral-shaped waffles for Christmas morning breakfast ...

Cologne cathedral-shaped waffles for Christmas morning breakfast …

... and work tools made out of chocolate?!

… and work tools made out of chocolate?

...

I wasn't quite sure whether these were for consumption or for carpentry. Maybe the elves use them

I wasn’t quite sure whether these were for consumption or for carpentry. Maybe the elves use them

The unusual was certainly a trait of the Market of Angels. The market’s centrepiece nativity scene proved that point:

The delightfully unusual Hänneschen-Theater's nativity scene at the Market of Angels with a few extra characters

The delightfully unusual Hänneschen-Theater’s nativity scene at the Market of Angels with a few extra characters

The Hänneschen-Theater is legendary in Cologne. Since 1802 this local theatre company has been staging performances in the city using traditional string puppets which locals have held in great fondness for generations due to the puppets’ uncanny likeness to the locals. Some of the more popular characters are incorporated into the annual Hänneschen-Theater nativity scene to create an entertaining and rather unique portrayal of the first Christmas night.

Joseph, the baby Jesus and a rather startled Virgin Mary. Maybe her expression is the result of laying eyes on that odd looking angel hovering above Joseph

Joseph, the baby Jesus and a rather startled Virgin Mary. Maybe her expression is the result of laying eyes on that odd looking angel hovering above Joseph

Scary

Scary

Scarier

Scarier

I always thought the story of the three wise men lacked a strong female role. Hexe Befana accompanies the Kings to Bethlehem

I always thought the story of the three wise men lacked a strong female role. Hexe Befana accompanies the Kings to Bethlehem

Two rather odd looking figures by the crib representing the annual twinning of Cologne with the Italian city of Turin during the festive period, a Christmas tradition between the cities since 1958

Two rather odd looking figures by the crib representing the annual twinning of Cologne with the Italian city of Turin during the festive period, a Christmas tradition between the cities since 1958

Not invited to the stable. Schal comforting a disappointed Kobeschen

Not invited to the stable. Schal comforting a disappointed Kobeschen

The Market of Angels wasn’t the only Christmas market in Cologne with an interesting take on the nativity.

The nativity scene at the Nikolausdorf auf dem Rudolfplatz (Village of St. Nicolas at Rudolfplatz)

The nativity scene at the Nikolausdorf auf dem Rudolfplatz (Village of St. Nicolas at Rudolfplatz)

The holy family, a sheep, a donkey and of course a menagerie of other creatures including a monkey, a blue chicken and a top-hat-wearing penguin (bottom left)

The holy family, a sheep, a donkey and of course a menagerie of other creatures including a monkey, a blue chicken and a top-hat-wearing penguin (bottom left)

The setting for this nativity was rather sweet though in this tiny purpose-built chapel

The setting for this nativity was rather sweet though in this tiny purpose-built chapel

... and the other huts and buildings in this market were equally endearing

… and the other huts and buildings in this market were equally endearing

It's amazing to think these buildings are only temporary for the month leading up to Christmas

It’s amazing to think these buildings are only temporary for the month leading up to Christmas

I'd like to see the chocolate treats from the windows of that advent calendar

I’d like to see the chocolate treats from the windows of that advent calendar

The Village of St Nicholas had everything associated with Santa Claus that one would care to buy and enjoy, apart from one vital element …

So there is Santa's sleigh ... but where is Santa?

So there is Santa’s sleigh … but where is Santa?

I looked everywhere for Santa but there was absolutely no sign of him anywhere at the Village of St. Nicholas. Well, it is understandable. He’s a very busy chap this time of year.

...

Sadly, not all the Christmas markets in Cologne were as quaint or as endearing.

Christmas Avenue at Schaafenstrasse. Oh dear

Christmas Avenue at Schaafenstrasse. Oh dear

Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear

Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear

I think someone went a little overboard with the shiny Christmas wrapping paper here

I think someone went a little overboard with the shiny Christmas wrapping paper here

...

... way overboard

… way overboard

Cologne has a further advantage of a rich architectural heritage to stage the perfect Christmas market in. Historical monuments and buildings are not overshadowed by the decorations and fairy lights, rather they are enhanced and provide a stunning backdrop to the markets. The Weihnachtsmarkt am Kölner Dom (Christmas Market at the Cathedral of Cologne) at the foot of Cologne’s famous cathedral lights up the colossal gothic building in a magical Christmas glow from the canopy of fairly lights draping the market.

The canopy of Christmas fairy lights shrouding the Weihnachtsmarkt am Kölner Dom ...

The canopy of Christmas fairy lights shrouding the Weihnachtsmarkt am Kölner Dom …

... creating a dramatically magical glow over the city's centrepiece cathedral

… creating a dramatically magical glow over the city’s centrepiece cathedral

...

Delightful

Delightful

Merry Christmas

TLT x


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Cologne Kölner Dom looking down at Christmas market and Rhine from the top of the south towerLofty heights and love locks in and around Cologne’s stunning cathedral: the Köhler Dom


Rotterdam, art and architecture, art along Westersingel, Santa with Butt Pug, Paul McCarthy, front

Rotterdam: art, architecture and a rather cheeky statue of Santa Claus

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