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We’re back from our visit to the Cologne Christmas markets! Our goals for the trip were: eating, drinking, and feeling festive, and I think we really knocked ’em outta the park.

First, a few words on Cologne, or Köln. The city was pretty much decimated during WWII, and was rebuilt in the nouveau concrete style. Miraculously the giant Cologne Cathedral was hit but didn’t collapse in the air raids, and is now the rightful pride and joy of the city. It’s massive. Coming out of the main train station a traveler is likely to run smack into the back of another traveler. Then they’ll see the looming cathedral in front of them and stop in awe, causing the next traveler to repeat the same smack. It stops you in your tracks, towering above the city in Gothic glory.

The second thing Köln is known for is its local beer, Kölsch. It’s clear, bright, and hoppy, but not as bitter as a regular lager. It’s also warm-fermented, which is unique. I fell in love with the style from tasting Double Mountain Brewery’s version in Oregon, so it was an exciting moment to try the real thing!

The real reason we came was for the Christmas Markets, of course. The city has over eight, and we made it to a solid five, all of which had a different theme. One was nestled under the Cathedral, one was decorated with Brothers’ Grimm fairy tales, one had elves everywhere, and one was even on a boat! We spent our time wandering, people-watching, sipping drinks, gazing at goodies and eating said goodies.

The best part about a Christmas market are the warm drinks designed to fend off the cold. Germany’s specialty is glühwein, a hot spiced wine that comes in colorful mugs. You pay a deposit for the mug, so you’re welcome to keep it when you’re done (We came home with two!). All that wine-drinking demands some food, so of course we had to eat a lot. Sausages, poppyseed cake, gingerbread, noodles with sauerkraut, pretzels, candied almonds, and bread were purchased and consumed with glee. My favorite? Hot potato cakes with applesauce.

There’s something about a group of people bundling up and facing the cold to be festive that I love. We string up lights, we brew hot drinks and fry food, we offer our wares to others in a big warm mood of good cheer that has Christmas written all over it. There are sweets to eat, friends to chat with, and presents to buy. It might get dark at 4pm, but we don’t care because we have glühwein in our mugs and twinkling lights up everywhere.