Kitsch is a German word and the wonderful, warm, colourful Christmas markets of Germany demonstrate exactly what it means.
There were mock pine forests (trees nailed to the floor, Goslar); mock wooden houses (everywhere); mock stone ovens (plaster and fibreglass, Leipzig); and mock snow (fibreglass and glitter, Dortmund). The stalls sell traditional wooden toys, traditional sausages, traditional stollen, traditional cough sweets — you name it, if it’s ‘time honoured’ they’re selling it.
And yet, it doesn’t feel nasty, or tacky or cheap.
On our first night in Germany, we found ourselves in the Christmas market in Dortmund, surrounded by people slightly tipsy on gluehwein. Everyone was cold, but had hot booze to keep their hands warm. There was a genuine and general sense of well-being and togetherness, despite the fakery with which we were surrounded. And we didn’t give the absence of beer a second thought.
We’re no subscribers to the idea that we live in ‘binge Britain’, but the thought did cross our mind: could this ever work in the UK? Are we too cynical, too prone to drunken idiocy? It would be nice to think not…
Dortmund is one of those places whose name is famous amongst beer geeks, but where it’s hard to find any very exciting beer.
We did track down Hoevel’s Original, though, which we found interesting. It’s another one of those German local brands which has its own town sewn up but which you don’t see anywhere else. Every building, bus stop and billboard in town has one of their glossy adverts featuring a seductive nymph.
Their brewery tap (see Ron’s pub guide for details) dishes up the beer in perfect nick. It’s served in a custom glass (we love custom glasses) which they call a ‘Victoria’ — tall, and the shape of a trumpet bell. To all intents and purposes, it’s an alt bier, being brown, nutty, fruity and altogether very like a smooth, tasty best bitter. Not really worth going out of your way for — the alts in Duesseldorf are better — but, as they say in German adverts, “Mmmmmm…. lecker.” That is, tasty. There’s also a cloudy ‘zwickl’, which was a bit home-brewy.
In contrast, we also tried one of the local ‘premium pilsners’ which, in the case of most German brands, is a euphemism for ‘very bland lager’. Brinkhoff’s No 1 is probably the most boring beer we’ve ever had. It had less flavour and body than tap water. Worse than Cruzcampo. Sheesh.
Our holiday arrangements were pretty chaotic this time so we stupidly failed to pick up on Bergmann as recommended by Adeptus. If you are going to Dortmund/Muenster or anywhere in that region, make sure you check his blog before you go!