It’s December. And this year, that means three things: (1) this blog has been around for about a year, (2) my wife is in her 8th month of pregnancy, and (3) Christkindlmarket Chicago.
Chicago is a city scheduled around a series of street fairs. Most of them are in the summer. Christkindlmarket is the only one that I am aware of that is in the winter. It has a German winter village theme, so instead of the usual cheese fries booths and beer tents, there are little ski lodge-y huts. And instead of plastic cups, you drink out of ceramic novelty mugs shaped like footwear.
Last year, the mug/boots were red. This year, they are blue. And a little bit bigger, which is nice because you drink hot spiced wine out of them. The hot spiced wine is called gluhwein, with an umlaut over the u. So, if I recall correctly that one year of German that I took in high school in 1994, you pronounce it like “glug-wine.” But I could be way off on that.
This year, they also sold something called kindergluhwein, which they claimed translated to non-alcoholic gluhwein. It tasted terrible, but my pregnant wife could drink it. So, she got a mug this year. Last year, there was no NA version, so my wife couldn’t get her own mug, as we were trying to get pregnant and she wasn’t drinking.
This year, the Christmas tree looks a little sparse. When you think of a big Christmas tree, you usually think of something that is a little bit more robust. Perhaps it is a reflection of the times. But whatever you think of it, it is at least better than what they’ve done in years past. One year, I remember they used thirty small Christmas trees and arranged them in a pyramid to make one much larger Christmas tree. No joke.
After checking out the tree, we wanted to get something to eat. The best part about Christkindlmarket is that the smell of pork and fried food permeates the cold winter air. There’s something very decadent and familiar about that. The first thing we ate was a wiener schnitzel. For days, I had been watching them set up the Christkindlmarket as I would go in to the courthouse for work. And every day, I had been craving one of these. Normal weinerschnitzels are good. Chriskindlmarket weinerschnitzels are the best.
After the weinerschnitzel, my pregnant wife wanted to sit down. So, we walked past a German polka band playing the Bears fight song and in to the beer hall.
The beer hall is a relatively long building filled with long table and long benches. It reminds me of the setup at maifest. It’s very communal. And quite inviting. As we sat there, the crowd would ebb and flow. Most of the crowd seem to be tourists from who-knows-where who were visiting via tour buses (they all wore badges attached to lanyards hung around their necks). My guess is that they were from Rockford, or Joliet, or maybe suburban Indianapolis. At one point, we shared a table with a nice old lady from Toledo who had been driven to the Christkindlmarket from there directly. She complimented me on how well I spoke English.
The first thing I drank at the hall was a spatan lager. It’s delicious and crisp.
After the lager, I got the spaten optimator, which is German for doppelbock, I presume. It’s dark and acidic. And I’m pretty sure it’s got a heavier alcohol content too because afterwards, I was feeling pretty fine.
To go with the beers, we got a pretzel. There’s a couple of different pretzel vendors. The old lady who complimented me on my English got her pretzels from some place that was so terrible that she didn’t even want to finish it. We got ours from a stand selling only pretzels. You could get a grilled cheese flavor pretzel, pizza, tomato, or jalapeño. Why anyone would get these at Christkindlmarket? I don’t know. I got the Bavarian. I’m not sure what makes it Bavarian, other than it looks like a regular pretzel. But I suppose “Bavarian” sells better than “plain” or “original.”
For this particular pretzel, we had to wait. There was a run on Bavarian pretzels, and so I had to wait for the next batch to come out of the oven. So it was fresh-from-the-oven and super warm. My wife and I just loved it. We should have gotten ten.
When we left the beer hall, the day was still unseasonably warm, and the crowds were still thick. This was both nice and not-so-nice. At this point, I had to pee. And navigating the city-noob crowd was tedious.
As you head towards the bathroom, you will pass the nativity scene. It’s not directly next to the bathrooms, but it’s pretty much next to the bathrooms. Notwithstanding, I find it quaint and out of place to see a nativity scene in the city. Also, the animals are way out of scale to the rest of the scene, which no one seemed to notice or mind. I mean, look at the sheep. It’s the size of a cat. And that doesn’t weird you out?
After our bathroom break, it was time for my wife’s favorite part of the Chistkindlmarket – potato pancakes. There’s a couple of different places to get them. Some places reheat/fry frozen ones. But you have to find the ones that make their own batter. You can tell the good ones by their irregular shape. They’re just leagues better. You can get them with applesauce and/or sour cream. I also pulled off some of the sauerkraut from my leberkase sandwich to give to my wife because she loves warm sauerkraut.
Leberkase sandwiches are delicious. They’re described as pork and beef sandwiches. But it’s pretty much a German version of spam. Heated up on a flat top until it gets a little bit of crust and served on a warm bun with kraut and mustard – it’s a rare treat. I mean, you could get it any time you want at Paulina Meat Market (you could even buy an entire loaf of it), but I’m sure it’s pretty terrible for you. Which is probably why it’s so. friggin. good.
At this point, we had been eating and drinking for hours. So, of course, it was time for dessert. We had seen other people with fried dough covered in powdered sugar. I found the booth selling them, and they called them “snowballs.” (the quotes are theirs, not mine). I don’t know if these were German or not. They looked like zeppole to me. Or donut holes.
Whatever you call them, or whatever culture you want to claim they’re from, they’re awesome.
After we ate, we joined that long line in the picture above to buy some Christmas ornaments. There are numerous places you could buy glass ornaments, some of which are made in Germany, for whatever that’s worth. The place we went to this year had an animal theme, and we bought a glass giraffe ornament for our yet-unborn baby. Next year, I look forward to taking the kid to see Santa.