Last year around this time, just as I was returning from visiting my family in beautiful Bavaria, I found this gem of a book called Sound Bites from Franz Ferdinand’s Alex Kapranos. He wrote a little excerpt about his stay in Munich at Christmastime that I think perfectly captured the spirit of the season:
“When I’m on tour, I feel less of a sense of season than I do in real life. It can be any time of the year backstage or onstage. To remind myself that it’s winter, I wander with my band-mates to the Munich Christkinklmarkt. Under our feet, the sycamore leaves are as clear and dry as the cold air. We cross the tram tracks to the ice rink at the foot of the grand Justizpalast building. Schläger Euro-beat propels Münchners politely clockwise around the ice. Toddlers learn to stay skating upright by pushing a plastic bear on skis.
There’s a smell of smoke and spices in the air. Paul, our drummer, dribbles onion sauce form a Schweinenackensteak over his leather gloves. He gives me a bite of a corner and it’s good – a pork-chop sandwich with a spice and intense taste, like boar. I spot an odd couple of middle-aged women warming their hands on paper cones of chestnuts. One has a pink pom-pom that trembles as she laughs; the other is sour-faced in sable collar and cuffs. I grab a cone and crack the chestnuts as we walk towards the Rathaus (the town hall), around which the wooden cabins of the market are clustered. One contains a couple of copper cauldrons brimming with Glühwein. Standing in a circle, we sip and blow clouds of cloves and cinnamon at each other and munch on Lebküchen: soft gingerbread cakes sealed in a very thin wafer then dipped in chocolate and icing sugar. It’s the same wafer that is used for communion and is wrapped around the cakes to preserve them through the winter.
The stall next door sells Nüssknäckers, and among them are the most elaborate nutcrackers I’ve ever seen. Like Chitty Chitty Bang Bang extras, a platoon of foot-and-a-half-tall wooden soldiers stands to attention with open, toothy mouths. Put a nut between their teeth, yank their arms and they’ll spit out the cracked pieces for you. I’m still hungry and find more Munich street delicacies. Leberkäse is, literally, ‘liver cheese’ and looks like a loaf of bread, but is really a baked pate. A slice is tasty in a roll, covered in sticky, sweet, dark mustard. I follow it with a slab of Krustanbraten – pork crackling, that which looks like varnish under a heat gun.
Everything smells and feels like December should. A man with a face pink from the cold hides a smile under a huge, curving moustache. His felt hunter’s hat has a twig of mistletoe tucked into the brim. He has a beatific calm about him, as if he knows he has found the purpose of his life: standing in the Christmas cold, blue eyes twinkling as he warms Bavarian bellies with baked apples.”
Keeping with the musical theme, I bring you my Winter Playlist, infused ever so lightly with wintery gusts and holiday cheer. Enjoy.
The Winter Playlist 2013
Air – Owls
Calgary – Bon Iver
Afterlife – The Arcade Fire
Little Drummer Boy – David Bowie and Bing Crosby
It’s Hard to Get Around the Wind – Alex Turner
How Come You Never Go There – Feist
Tomorrow Has To Wait – Peter Bjorn and John
I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm – Billie Holiday
Horchata – Vampire Weekend
Little Shadow – Yeah Yeah Yeahs
Marshmallow World – Dean Martin
For Beginners – M. Ward
Empty Nest – Wild Beasts
Rhineland – Beirut
Avalanche – Zola Jesus