Klaus Tappe

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German-American Heritage Foundation International.


Christmas Magic in Chicago
by Stefanie Anderson

Silent Night, Holy Night….. Yes, it is that time of year again. Christmas is approaching. Your feet hurt, your fingers are numb, your nose is red and your breath casts white clouds into the cold winter air. Your arms feel heavy from carrying all those Christmas bags and boxes and yes, you are tired. Fighting your way through the crowd of shoppers you go on with only one thought on your mind: rest. But wait! What is that smell? Where does that music come from? You turn the corner and there it is, looking like a Christmas wonderland and certainly smelling like one, the Christkindlmarket.

Charming and invitingly lit timber booths, lovingly decorated by their vendors, tempt the passerby to stop, taste and explore. The vendors offer a wondrous array of ornaments, toys, gifts, and delicious cakes, pastries and confections. The air is saturated with various aromas of cinnamon, apples, roasted Bratwurst, spiced Glühwein (hot red wine), bee-wax and pine from the timber sheds.

Christmas carolers, chimes and the sound of laughter and merriment mingle and intensify the festive atmosphere. Winter oftentimes enhances the magic with a thick layer of snow on the rooftops of the booths. Cinnamon-roasted almonds, sizzling Bratwurst, marzipan, licorice, and enticing Lebkuchen (gingerbread-cookies) originally decorated with sugar-frosted love-notes never tasted better than on a dim and frosty winter day.

Christmas markets are an old German tradition to celebrate the time of advent. The markets, which are usually held in a historic setting such as an old market square, open on the first advent weekend and last until Christmas. Whether in the north, south, west or east, almost every bigger town and surely every major city has its own Christmas market. As various as the locations are the traditions. In addition to the market itself, some cities offer dramatic processions. Others present Nativity plays while others provide for Ferris wheels and carnival attractions. Christmas without a visit to a Christmas market and a sip of Glühwein is unthinkable to most Germans, Austrians and Swiss people.

"Christmas markets evoke childhood memories," Maike Ahrends, Ph.D., 37, a native North-German and Assistant Professor of German at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio said. "I would not miss the cozy, mysterious and festive atmosphere for the world. If I had the opportunity to go, I would. I love the unique seasonal atmosphere." For Ahrends, Christmas markets make the cold and dark winter days more bearable with their "yummy smells, delicious food and most of all Glühwein that warms you from the inside." It makes her revel in nostalgia for home. Swiss-born Margrit Zinggeler, Ph.D., 52, Assistant Professor of German at Eastern Michigan University, Ypsilanti, Mich., shares Ahrends' view. "The magic in the air reminds me of childhood and the feeling of suspense during advent and Christmas time," Zinggeler said.

To her, Christmas markets are a synonym for "cold weather and warm feelings," which always make her think about Theodor Storm's Christmas poem that ends with the sentence: "Ich spühr's, ein Wunder ist geschehn!" (I feel it, a miracle has occurred!).

However, in order to cross the border to this 'fairy tale land,' one does not have to travel all the way to Germany. Chicago, as well as other American cities, picked up the German tradition and has spoiled its citizens and visitors since 1996 with 'good ole German' Christmas spirit. Christkindlmarket Chicago is a replica of the famous Nuremberg Christmas market. The German city of Nuremberg most likely boasts the oldest Christkindlmarket in the world. Its famous tradition dates back to 1545.

While the Nuremberg market opens its gates on Friday, November 23, Chicago begins a day earlier this year in order to provide local and foreign visitors with an opportunity to gather and to get the first taste of Christmas already on Thanksgiving. To make the experience as authentic as possible, the German American Chamber of Commerce of the Midwest (GACCoM), the initiator and main organizer of the event, made the impossible possible and was able to acquire a liqueur license to serve the famous Glühwein in the aisles of the market in downtown Chicago. In addition to the famous hot, spiced wine, the market will offer many traditional foods and baked goods such as Bratwurst, Christstollen, glazed apples, roasted almonds, chocolates, and gingerbread. GACCoM organized more than 50 mostly European vendors who will present a broad array of special holiday products. The visitor will find wooden toys, traditional carved figurines such as nutcrackers, angels and others next to handmade lace, bee-wax candles, jewelry and handmade straw and glass ornaments, just to name a few. "This year, for the first time, professional artisans from the Bavarian Forest will present the ancient art of glass blowing," GACCoM announced promisingly in their press release.

Last year, the market attracted more than one million visitors. GACCoM expects these numbers to be topped significantly this year. Ahrends was one out of the million who visited the Christkindlmarket Chicago last winter. She was positively surprised about the market's authenticity in terms of the booths and the culinary goods, and she found its setting unique.

"The market is different in that one cannot ignore the setting: Chicago downtown is all present," Ahrends said, who is used to a more historical environment with old buildings and churches. Nevertheless, she loved the atmosphere and would go again if she had the opportunity.

EMU's German professor Margrit Zinggeler is about to accompany members of the EMU German Club for the first December weekend to the Christkindlmarket Chicago.

"I think it will be an authentic sample of a segment of German culture here in the U.S.," Zinggeler said. "From what I have heard, the "Stimmung" (atmosphere) will be very similar."

The Christkindlmarket Chicago has become the city's largest event during the holiday season, attracting visitors from all over the country. GACCoM gets positive responses from all over. Ruth Reichmann, Ph.D. is the Program Director of the Max Kade German-American Center of Indiana University and Purdue University, Indianapolis. The center supports GACCoM by touting the event on their Web site under customs and traditions: Max Kade site: The Chicago Christkindlmarket. They also included the Christkindlmarket in their event calendar. Reichmann, who is German-born and grew up with Christmas markets, said she supports the market because she wants to share with others what she herself loves.

"I am delighted that they are bringing some of the atmosphere, including the stalls, to Chicago," Reichmann said. "With so many Americans of German descent it is great that some of these customs are brought or revived."

The Christmas market is a warm spot in a cold Chicago downtown that will offer a different kind of Christmas shopping experience to the passerby. Let yourself be seduced and enchanted by the typical scents and tastes of the season - and do not forget: you will feel that "a miracle has occurred!"

Sidebar Information: The market is held at the Daley Center Plaza and Block 37, between Washington, Dearborn and State Streets. It will be open daily from 11am to 8pm (Fridays and Saturdays to 9pm); November 22 to December 20, 2001. Public transportation will be available via the "Blue Line" subway stop on Washington Street and all elevated trains with Stops on Clark and Lake Streets. For visitors from out of town, there are public parking facilities available throughout the town area.

Travelers by train, who arrive at either Union Station or Northwestern Station, are within easy walking distance of the Daley Plaza.

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Klaus Tappe
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