Archive for the “Germany” Category
I saw my first Cirque du Soleil show in Las Vegas in February 2008 – Mystère – one of the seven Cirque shows in permanent residence there. It was magical – I loved the fusion of acrobatic talent with whimsical creatures and a spectacular set. When I heard that Cirque du Soleil would be touring Europe, I signed up in anticipation. When Cologne was announced, I hesitated. Could I really go all the way to Germany just for a show? Admittedly, it’s under two hours on the train, but still, it seemed a bit indulgent. I decided to try to act like a European, and buy the tickets as soon as they were available.
So on the 15th of January, I bought two front-row seats for the show on the 5th of June. It was a long wait, but this weekend we finally popped over to Germany to see the show.
It was fantastic. The story was a little confusing – a white bird loses his wings and lands in a forest inside a volcano. He then gives a feather to a lizard, who is captured by blue creatures. The white bird is then entranced by a shiny stretchy creature, and then they get married to the jubilation of fire animals.
However, the acrobats were astonishing, and I often found myself holding my breath in anxiety. As the acrobats soared over us, my heard leaped with their beauty and grace. The sound-track was created with live musicians and a singer. The singer would stand to the side of the action, spreading their arms as they seemed to narrate the actions in a mysterious tongue. Other creatures would also creep around the background, climbing trees or attempting to mimic the acrobats.
Being so close to the performers was great. They would frequently make eye contact with us, and I loved seeing their smiles when they landed a difficult move. After the show ended, they all came out to receive their standing ovation. The same performers have been touring since 2002, yet they still seem to have the energy of opening night.
Adrian Dennis/AFP/Getty Images
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On Saturday night we boarded the train and headed west to Aachen. We walked through the city to our hotel, passing through the markets all lit up against the darkness. Giant inflatable gingerbread men stood guard over the markets, for we were to discover that this city was the home to dozens of different varieties of sweet biscuits called printen - similar to gingerbread but sweetened with sugar instead of honey. Once we got to our Best Western hotel room we discovered that it included our own private sauna, and we were able to soak in the steam to completely rid ourselves of the winter chill before bed.
In the morning, we stumbled across a great bar/restaurant called Havana (Homphausbadstr 17) that served a delicious buffet breakfast. The chicken was succulent, the potato gems were crisp, the tomato was fresh, and the mozzarella was bursting with flavour. We then meandered through the streets towards the markets, admiring the quirky statues that seemed to lurk on every corner.
The markets were much smaller than those of Cologne, but well worth exploring. It was very cold outside, with a high for the day of one degree above freezing. I drank plenty of hot chocolate to ward off the ice, and we often popped into cafes or museums to defrost. Many people in the crowd were wearing novelty hats, often resembling a great herd of reindeer and elves. We caught sight of this hungry little puppy called Dusty, who was desperate to sample one of the German sausages.
The printen stores were everywhere, and happily offering free samples and describing their contents. There were hard and soft biscuits, covered with white chocolate, milk chocolate, dark chocolate, or icing, and filled with nuts or raisins or liquor. We picked our favourites and took some small samples home to tide us over for the rest of the winter. I was smitten with the sight of a printen reindeer in one of the shop windows, but when we went inside they told us that they were sold out. Adrian told them how much I loved the reindeer, and begged them to sell us the last one in the window. They obliged, moving boxes and tables out of the way so that I could take the very last reindeer home with me to Belgium.
We also explored Aachen as Charlemagne’s capital city back in the 8th century. We saw his portraits and treasures proudly displayed in the opulent rooms of the town hall and walked around his hodge-podge cathedral. He spent his winters in Aachen, solidifying his control over the region and planning his future conquests. He was buried in the cathedral that had been initiated on his orders 28 years previously.
Then we hopped onto the train at 4:20, sped back to Belgium at 300km/hour, and we walking through our front door at 5:45. One of the many joys of exploring Europe by rail.
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What would be a rare treat to many Australians was somehow just a weekend away for us. We spent two days exploring the winter markets of Cologne and Aachen, in Germany. Our friend Ellie suggested the trip and joined us for the first day in Cologne.
I am now starting to understand the European concept of December. The air is so cold that the lakes ice over, yet it carries the scents of mulled wine and fresh gingerbread. Fir trees are everywhere, decorated with baubles and fairy lights. Strains of accordions and organ grinders waft over the crowds. Everyone is rugged up from head to toe, and babies are pushed around bundled up in thick sleeping bags. December tastes like hot chocolate and nutella crepes and tiny Dutch pancakes. They have found a way to bring warmth and anticipation to a cold dark month.
Cologne was bustling with visitors streaming in to experience its seven different winter markets. One of the advantages of having to rebuild Cologne after the war is that the train station is now situated right next to the cathedral, and so we were right in the middle of the action as soon as we stepped off the train. The majestic Cologne cathedral, grey and black in the dim light, and gold and black in the night, towers over the main market.
We lunched on some delicious garlic bread topped with an intriguing yogurt, tomato, chilli, and basil topping, and we stole some of Ellie’s poffertjes (tiny pancakes) for dessert. I did not envy the poor woman who had the job of endlessly flipping hundreds of the tiny pillows with two wooden sticks, but the result was delicious. We spotted our first European mistletoe, bearing fruit and hanging overhead. Ellie was kind enough to take our photograph.
We moved onto the Cologne Old Town Heimat de Heinzel (home of the gnomes) to see the handcrafted goods for sale. The market was constructed in the style of tiny Swiss chalets, all bordered by fir trees and giant wooden carvings. There was an ice-skating rink and a carousel, and so many intricate items on offer. It made me wish that we had a tree at home so that I could hunt out some wooden treasures to hang from its boughs. However, we were able to sample a lot of the regional delicacies, and we piled our bag full of winter liqueurs, lollies, and biscuits.
The onto the Schiffsweihnachtmarkt (ship market), Europe’s largest floating market on the MS Wappen von Köln. Here I managed to find some fabulous purple gloves and a scarf for myself, as well as a v-shaped couples’ glove that meant that Adriana and I could still hold hands while out in the cold.
The final marketplace that we visited in Cologne was the Mittelalter-Weihnachtsmarkt (medieval market). This one might have been my favourite market. All the shopkeepers were dressed in simple canvas clothing, and only traditional items were for sale. A woman dressed in a flowing black cape guarded the entrance with a tall wooden sword, and only those children who were shorter than its hilt were permitted to enter for free. We drank steaming Viking Blood Wine out of terracotta goblets – honeyed white wine with cherry liqueur. I took part in a game of “mouse” roulette (similar to the guinea-pig roulette at Foire du Midi in Brussels). A girl, draped in a forest green cape and repeating herself in German and English, told us the story of a wizard who had conjured too many spells and had turned himself into a mouse (it was actually a gerbil). I placed a euro above the arch decorated with a crown, but the rodent ran into a different arch, so I did not win a magic stone. I cheered myself up with a traditional lumpy but delicious flat bread filled with hazelnut.
By this time it was 5pm and the sun had set. We walked back to the cathedral, admiring the thousands of fairy lights that lit up the city, and waved goodbye to Ellie. Soon it would be time to hop onto the train to Aachen for our next winter market adventure.
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On Saturday we took a day trip to Köln in Germany. A day trip. Without even leaving the ground. Transnational rail trips still astound me. I had booked the tickets many months ago in order to snag the cheap fares – 30 euro each for a return trip to Köln. The best part was using my Thalys ticketless card – as if international rail was so common for me that I never bothered with the paper tickets.
I had a delicious long nap on the hours long ride, broken by Adrian repeatedly waking me up to show me beautiful and interesting vistas from the window. Once in Köln I begged Adrian to take me to the Chocolate Museum. We trekked through the city to arrive at our destination, when Adrian realised that he had instead taken us to the Memorial Gestapo and Torture Museum. So instead of a fun-filled journey through the history of cocoa, we walked minuscule prison cells that had held 20-30 people at a time. We could still see the hundreds of inscriptions on the walls, and I listened to the translations – prisoners writing of their loved ones, their torture, and their imminent execution. The floors above were an archive of the history of the Nazi movement. It is good to see how much Germany has come to terms with its past atrocities. Perhaps one day the USA will have a Abu Ghraib memorial.
We then strolled through the pedestrian mall of Köln, picking up a beautiful Orthoceras cephalopod fossil from Morocco. Wikipedia tells me these fossils may represent post-mating mass deaths. It is now sitting on our bookshelf at home, a beautiful remnant of a now extinct species. The Lego store was also lots of fun – one side laid out like a lolly shop, with Perspex bulbs filled with eclectic Lego pieces. Some of the models looked like so much fun – I loved the European city scenes with canals and corner stores.
Finally, finally, the chocolate museum. There was a small theatre playing ads for chocolate from 1926. Alas, the parents had a thin child who refused to eat. They tried beating her but she was still stubborn and thin. What to do? Stollwerck hot chocolate happily transformed their daughter into a plump strong creature, and the father no longer had to beat his child. Stollwerck chocolate – muscle fortifier.
This building combined two of my favourite things – chocolates and robots. And such dedicated robots too, diligently producing and packaging delectable Lindt squares and truffles. I was even able to sample a truffle while watching fresh ones come into creation on the conveyor belt, made with micron precision and electronic diligence. Robots make the best chocolate.
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