Fröhliche Weihnachten...

Last night I scratched a major item off my holiday season to-do list: Lisa and I visited the Christkindlmarkt in Daley Plaza for our annual photo session with the municipal Christmas tree and some German delicacies. Just as I had feared, the tree was in a sorry state, but it was not the only victim of the Great Recession -- the market itself was smaller as well.

Daley Plaza, with its iconic Picasso statue.

There were fewer vendors this year than in years past, which wasn't a huge tragedy for us, considering we seldom buy any of the over-priced handicrafts on display anyway, but there was less material to browse through. The decrease in vendors made for wider aisles, which would have been nice if they hadn't accentuated the lack of visitors present. It was a Monday, so I'll give them the benefit of the doubt that things are probably more bustling at other times.

I like the shape of the tree in juxtaposition with the Gothic Revival skyscraper behind it.

As predicted, the tree was sparse and sickly looking. When you looked at it, you could see through it to the buildings behind it. The lack of ornaments compounded the depressing tableau. I'm not sure that I agree with the city -- no tree at all might have been preferable to this sad reminder of our collective hard times. At least it still had a star on top...

Lisa and her commemorative mug of glühwein.

For the first time, Lisa sampled the market's primary claim to fame: glühwein, the German version of mulled wine. I am fairly certain that this is what most people come to the Christkindlmarkt for, not the delicate European glass ornaments, the strudel, or the opportunity to chat in German with the vendors. Last year, my German class at the Goethe Institut made a holiday field trip to the Christkindlmarkt, just so the class could get drunk together. I, however, do not like or drink wine, so I've always abstained, but I do admire the festive boot-shaped mugs in which the glühwein is served. They offer a different mug every year, and if you purchase one, you can return again and again for refills until the market closes on Christmas Eve.

The best apple strudel I've had on this side of the Atlantic.

For me, the greatest draw of the Christkindmarkt (outside of the Christmas Tree and our annual photo in front of it), is the apple strudel. They have a vendor who specializes solely in strudel-making, and they offer several sweet and savory versions, but I always go for the apple. The dough is light, flaky and crispy, and the filling is perfectly balanced with sugar and cinnamon. The powdered sugar might get all over my face and my winter coat, but it's totally worth the mess.

The annual photo: Haley and Lisa at the Christkindlmarkt, 2009.

Of course, the best part of the Christkindlmarkt is getting to spend time with Lisa, and strengthen one of the great traditions of our friendship. This year, we made no less than nine attempts at getting a decent photo in front of the tree. We first asked an obliging tourist to help us, but it soon became clear that the "night portrait" setting on my camera was keeping the aperture open too long to be able to hold the camera by hand and get a non-blurry shot. After four tries, we waited for him to wander away from the tree, and we set up my portable tripod on an obliging traffic-control gate. This too took several attempts: the initial shots were poorly composed, in the next couple we had difficulty getting both of us in the frame when I ran to get in the picture after pushing the self-timer button, the last few would have been perfect if the wind hadn't blown my hair in my face. Ultimately, I tugged my hat on, and we finally got the perfect shot. In fact, it is by far the best picture in our four year history. The tree in the background might be the ugliest of them all, but I guess we'll have to count our blessings that we look our best. Besides, the photo isn't really about the tree so much as celebrating another year of friendship.


  1. awww....."Of course, the best part of the Christkindlmarkt is getting to spend time with Lisa"....,AWWWWW! Are you sure it is a four year history? I think I've only seen 3 photos in your facebook photo album from this event.

  2. The photo has a four year history. We've only been to the Christkindlmarkt three times, but in 2006 we saw the tree when we went to see Short Bus with Alex and he took our picture in front of it. It's in a separate album on FB, because we were still in college at the time. It's in my "Senior Year" album, not my post-grad album.