Imagine a cold so deep it takes mere minutes before you begin to wonder whether you still possess all ten toes. A cold so penetrating that the words you speak don’t quite seem to match up with the limited movement your mouth can make in a face that feels frozen. It’s Christmas. Welcome to Hannover.
This isn’t quite what I expected flying in from an already-icy UK and even in my thermal socks and thick, fleece-lined coat, I’m not dressed appropriately. I need to buy a hat. And fast.
Luckily for me I’m standing at the gates of one of the world’s most famous Christmas markets. So I put a woolly jumper on under my coat and purchase I hat with pom poms on top (comedy value is important in arctic conditions) and away I go.
My first stop is a food stall. I’ve been dreaming of authentic bratwurst for a week and my stomach is rumbling. But I find something even better: kartoffelpuffer mit apfel mus. It’s a mouthful in all the best kinds of ways. The vendor hands me what is essentially a potato fritter slathered with apple sauce and I devour it. If you ever visit Hannover at Christmas, try it. Your arteries won’t thank you, but your taste buds will.
This place is an unbelievably pleasant assault on the senses. Looking around, you’ll see red-nosed, smiling families wrapped up against the chill; you’ll smell the aroma of roasting chestnuts, grilled sausages and gingerbread biscuits, mixed with the scent of real Christmas trees; and – if you’re lucky, you’ll catch a few notes of your favourite Christmas carol drifting through the air – in German, of course. It’s a happy, life-affirming break from the commercialism of the festive season.
You’ll also find craftwork of the highest order. There are hundreds of stalls selling unique Christmas decorations, crib figurines, candles and hand-woven rugs. Whatever you want, they’ll have a beautifully traditional version of it. And with scores of hand-crafted toys and trinkets, this is the perfect place to bring children – and even if you don’t have any, admission is free for the young-at-heart.
So sink a cockle-warming mulled wine in front of one the many (controlled) kerb-side fires and soak up the quintessentially German atmosphere.
Just don’t forget your gloves!