German roots mean the festive markets in Philadelphia and Baltimore have a different flavour travel2013
SNIFF, sniff. On the third day of Advent, I smelt something unusual at Baltimore’s Inner Harbour. Instead of a big whiff of fish or fried food, I inhaled the heady perfume of eau de mulled wine, roasted nuts and bratwurst.
The seasonal bouquet permeates the air of the Christmas Villages in Baltimore and Philadelphia, a pair of German-inflected colonies featuring crafts, local and Deutschland foods, toe- warming beverages and decorative lights as bright as a diamond tiara. The special events transport the glee and the glühwein of the German Christmas markets to the East Coast.
“It’s the spirit of the traditional Christkindlesmarkt,” said founder Thomas Bauer, from Nuremberg, which holds one of the largest markets in Germany.
Christkind the Christmas Angel flew in from Nuremberg to officiate over the festivities, which are in their sixth year for Philadelphia and the first for Baltimore.
Both villages centre on a compact collection of twee timber huts the colour of gingerbread, with white lights icing the edges. In Philadelphia, elfin structures occupied by 60 retailers encircle a tall Christmas tree in Love Park. The Baltimore venue sits on the lip of the harbour. A few of the 42 vendors brave the outdoors, including a purveyor of South American woollens, a mulled wine stand and a Nepalese shop of felt objects. But most are tucked inside a big-top tent illuminated by a Milky Way of lights.
I started my journey in Philadelphia’s wondrous land of Käthe Wohlfahrt, a Rothenburg company founded by a toy peddler. They sell handcrafted holiday pieces steeped in centuries-old practices. Every item is gift-wrapped in a story.
Gather round, for example, for the tale of the Christmas pyramids.
At the Baltimore outpost, I stopped by Karl Uebel’s nut stand. For the past five years, the Schweinfurter has moved his family of five to Philadelphia for the Christmas season, where they sell such Old World specialities such as roasted almonds sweetened with sugar and cinnamon. He wraps the snacks in paper cones. He presents gingerbread, three kinds of stollen (cranberry is the Yankeefied version) and pfeffernüsse.
Artisan Exchange sells knackwurst and a German-style smoked salami perfectly shaped for a long-toed stocking. But a farmersand-foodie collective sneaks into Italy with a pizza topped with mozzarella, sauerkraut and smoked knackwurst. Nearby, a woman pouring mulled wine into a mug uses a local Chadds Ford red spiced with cardamom, cinnamon, cloves and allspice – a “zingy apple pie” flavour.
For his Baltimore stand, Allen Blankenship invented the new national cuisine of Germtimore by inserting a crab cake into a pretzel roll. He also sells bratapfel but tailored the baked apple dish to mobile American diners.
For the bulk of their gifts and crafts, the villages spin the globe. Throw a sausage missile in the air and you could hit Janette’s Designs, which stocks wool and alpaca sweaters, hats, mittens and ponchos from Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador. Or you might bowl over a nesting doll from Gifts From Afar.
Silk Road Traders, in Philly, specialises in exotica from that legendary trade route. Owner Mark Metzelaar transformed his cube into an Eastern trading post.
As the clock ticked towards closing time, I raced through “Estonia” for red-capped trolls and patterned socks, and “Nepal” for felt jewellery and figurines.
The villages shut at 7pm, but the holiday wasn’t ready to call it a night. Standing near the darkened harbour, I could still smell Christmas in the air. – Washington Post
GERMAN TRADITION: People enjoy holiday treats and the scene during the annual Christmas Market in Philadelphia.