With the dawning of December, Munich put on its Christmas hat, and instantly became magical. Shop windows filled with tinsel and baubles and heavily-adorned trees, an enormous tree appeared in Marienplatz and strings of glowing star-shaped lights marked out the territory of the Weihnachtsmarkt. Later in the month, an ice-rink was built (free entry once a week if you wore traditional costume!) and finally, several Christmas markets opened up, selling all sorts of gorgeous things- brightly-painted wooden figures who ‘smoked’ if you put specially-shaped candles in their pipes, pick-and-mix style decorations ranging from the gaudy to the sublime, lace, ceramics, chocolates, the world-famous gingerbread hearts, sausages, candied nuts, fluffy plumes of candy floss, baked potatoes with sour cream and chives, and a Bavarian staple, Käsespätzle, which are very short egg noodles absolutely smothered in stringy cheese, and which are delicious, certainly life-shortening and make you want to hibernate for at least a week until you’ve managed to digest them. The nearby Odeonsplatz market had a fairytale theme, complete with Red Riding Hood, Santa and his elves and brightly-coloured Nutcracker soldiers as tall as me. Brass bands braved the cold and performed carols. It was all positively frolic-inducing.
At work, the office chocolate fairy visited and left Nikolaustag gifts on our desks on December sixth- chocolate Santas. We all exclaimed in delight, then proceeded to bash them to pieces and devour them. And since I was on a chocolate theme, I went to the Milka Welt shop and got an advent calendar, because you can never be too old for one! It wasn’t too difficult to catch up on all the missed days, oddly enough. The Germans, like the Swiss, don’t skimp with their chocolate. The sleighs, parcels and snowmen inside this one meant business.
My mother came to visit, and I proudly dragged her to my second poetry reading and choir concert in the Gasteig concert hall. Dressed in black with hints of festive red, we performed some Mozart, some Biebl, a couple of traditional carols and a Christmas medley which really put everyone in the festive spirit. One of our songs was aired on the radio, which was another really great experience. A couple of weeks later, we shivered our way through a Christmas market in temperatures of minus seven (!) and were rewarded with free Glühwein. I took what I was told was a cherry Kinderpunsch, but even inhaling the steam coming off it made me cough. It tasted like Calpol plus extremely concentrated Ribena, and I was forced to admit defeat, much to the amusement of my choirmates.
One weekend, I was minding my own business in Marienplatz, browsing the winter sales and admiring the markets once more, just enjoying the festive atmosphere. It was growing darker and colder, and the snow was beginning to fall anew, so I was about to set off home when I heard a steadily augmenting din of what sounded like cowbells clanking together, drumming and cheering. A stream of people was filing out of the market into a side-street, and I got sucked in and sandwiched between tourists, peeking out through gaps. Was I really seeing a parade of strange furry creatures with shrivelled faces, horns and beards, clutching drums and sticks, with enormous bells hanging from their bottoms, leaping out and growling at the children? Apparently so. This was the Krampuslauf, an ancient tradition, and these creatures were the Krampus, kind of an anti-Santa entity, whose mission it is to punish children who haven’t been well-behaved during the year. Eeep...
The crowd snaked through the streets, persistent in spite of the blistering cold; trailing the creatures through the markets, finally ending up in a field alongside Marienplatz. There the Krampus rounded on each other, roaring and brandishing their sticks, leapt up and down to make their bells jingle in unison for the amusement of their audience, and were kind enough to pose for photos, looking like something out of the Lord of the Rings films. You have to hand it to the Germans- they uphold most traditions, no matter how bonkers, exceedingly well.
A friend took to me to a painfully indie gig in a tucked-away little club. The first band gave out bananas to the crowd, as you do, and the second was a whole orchestra crammed onto a tiny stage, and a masked singer who had put a filter on the microphone so that when she sang, she sounded like something out of Doctor Who. That was a pretty strange night.
After a lot of patient waiting and also a lot of rather less patient waiting, it was finally time to go home for a couple of weeks, for the first time in six months. Excited didn’t even begin to cover it!