Newspaper article International New York Times

Seasonal Tastes: Christmas in Germany

Newspaper article International New York Times

Seasonal Tastes: Christmas in Germany

Article excerpt

The chef and restaurateur Hans Rockenwagner recalls the Weihnachtsmarkt (Christmas market) in his home village of Schliengen, in southwestern Germany.

As a boy, the chef and restaurateur Hans Rockenwagner looked forward to late November, when the Weihnachtsmarkt (Christmas market) would open in his home village of Schliengen, in southwestern Germany.

"Everyone in town went," he said. "It was a tradition, a sign that Christmas was finally here."

He remembers munching on gingerbread cookies shaped like Santa, with tiny ceramic pipes baked into them, while his parents toured the red and ivory stalls for local crafts. In 1985, he left Germany to open a restaurant in Venice, Calif., and for 20 years he passed the holidays at work, too busy to return home. As a small consolation, every late November, he changed the menus to include a traditional German dessert.

In 2006, while back at a Weihnachtsmarkt in Berlin, he paused before biting into one of his favorite gingerbread cookies. He didn't want the experience to be a disappointment, compared with what he remembered as a child.

Below are excerpts from a conversation with Mr. Rockenwagner, who will be opening his latest Los Angeles restaurant in January, about the ambience and flavors of the Weihnachtsmarkt.

Q. What does it feel like to walk through a Weihnachtsmarkt?

A.It's just a jolly atmosphere. You might say, "I'll just go in and check it out," but then you get drawn in. You'll walk by a stall where people are making knives with beautifully carved wooden handles, or a cart where on top there's a wood-burning oven, and you can see dark, crusty flatbreads, covered with cream and speck, baking inside. This is called rahmbrot. And all of the buildings are designed to capture the season. Some of these little villages have two-story-tall nutcrackers and windmills that turn. …

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