Friday, December 05, 2003

Der Deutsche Blog. (Die Blog? Das Blog?)

No snow in my suburb this morning, and none downtown. Just as well, I think, since I want to put up the Christmas lights this weekend.

In fact the downtown streets were fairly dry today around noon, when I visited Chicago's Christkindlmarket, set up in Daley Plaza, the open half block in front of the Daley Building, which houses courthouses and other municipal functions. According to season, various temporary structures find a home on the plaza, in the shadow of the Chicago Picasso.

This Christmas market appears around Thanksgiving, at about the same time as the municipal Christmas tree, menorah, and -- I just noticed this today -- Islamic crescent. The market is formed by a few rows of covered wooden stalls, mostly occupied by German vendors selling Christmas ornaments, knickknacks or food. A handful of the stalls are occupied by Chicago-area businesses with German themes, and a few others are from somewhere else all together. I saw Poland, the Ukraine and Ecuador represented.

I like looking around. The ornaments, some of them, are exceptionally fine, and some of them reminded me of the German ornaments that we hung on our Christmas trees when I was young, especially the glass birds and clip-on mushrooms. These were -- and are, my mother still has them -- souvenirs of my parents' sojourn in West Germany in the 1950s. But the ornaments I saw today were expensive, and I'm not buying expensive breakables this year.

Everything is expensive at the Chicago Christkindlmarket, unfortunately. It was as if the merchants priced everything in euros, then used a lousy hotel cambio exchange rate to price in dollars. And then tacked on 25%, for the trouble of coming all the way to Chicago. The ornaments, perhaps, should be expensive. But $4 for a skinny brat? Five dollars for a dwarf's portion of beer?

Still, I found a "Germanburger" with kartoffelsalat -- potato salad -- special for a not-too-outrageous price, and ate it at a stand-up table near a row of stalls. It was a chicken patty, not bad at all, and the potato salad was tasty indeed. Reminded me of something I might have eaten at the summerfest on the fussganger in Luneburg 20 years ago, though the finest cheap eating in that north German town was at a small joint that featured halb henchen mit pommes frites, half a roasted chicken with French fries.

One stall was selling chocolates -- $2 for Ritter Sport, which is closer to $1.20 at Trader Joe's -- and I eyed the marzipan pretty closely. Two women were asking the young German woman in the stall what marzipan was, and she described it. At the end of her description, I couldn't help telling the women, "It's really good." I've always had a soft spot in my large stomach for marzipan, ever since I visited Lubeck. After the women wandered away, I said to the stall-keeper, "I had good marzipan in Lubeck."

She was unimpressed. Maybe she thought I was flirting; she was a Teutonic cutie, but I didn't have that at the top of my mind. Or perhaps it had something to do with the fact that the merchants running this stand were from Stuttgart, as I noticed later. Talking about Lubeck marzipan in that case might be like saying to a Florida orange grower, "I had some terrific oranges in California once!"


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