22 December 2014

ObserVation: Christmas Markets

alie asked me some time ago about the Weihnachtsmärkte here in Germany. And I agreed to give her the “lowdown” as best I could. Looking into it I realised it would be major project if I detailed all the Markets here in Germany, so I next looked only at the Markets here in Cologne. Again I realised this was not going to be so easy either, as we have six markets here! 
At this point I thought as it is still the festive season, I would make a post of out it and give others not fortunate enough to have a chance to visit the city, an idea of what to expect if one does. Some will say there are “better” markets in Germany especially from their own hometowns, but I can only talk about my local ones. 
The markets here in Köln can’t be that bad, as we expected over 600 coaches from as far away as the UK for the last weekend. How many got through and safely home again I have no idea, driving into work everyday is chaotic on normal days, on weekends in December you must be very desperate to try. Yes try, one year we for some crazy reason set off for the city. We live about 25 km from the centre 20 km of that is motorway, so 30 minutes is a good average for a oneway trip. I can make it in 19 minutes if I put my foot down, it’s the middle of the night and I keep my eyes shut for most of the way so the speed traps can’t see me. The trip was a disaster, we were home again after 3 hours without seeing the inside of a shop let alone a park house, a total waste of time, nerves and petrol. I still can’t remember what we wanted to buy..

The markets open their gates on the last Monday before Advent; each has either a historical or cultural beginning. I would say 5% of the people milling around in the crowds are out to relieve you of your wallet and anything else not nailed down upon ones person. You need your money and credit cards at least under 3 layers of clothing before they are relative safe. I say relative because they are good, very good. If a gang has you in vizier they will follow you around and eventually you are en’lighten’ed by the end of the day. They usually leave you your car keys so that you can drive to the next police station and tell your sob story. If you do plan a trip in the future, remember I’m not being just humorous here for once.

The markets may vary in themes from year to year, so I’ve included all the ones from the last few years. So lets have a look. 
Ah, I almost forgot, there is a Christmas market express our “Bimmelbahn”, it is used in the summer for tourists and at Christmas for the market visitors. It’s an open train that drives at regular intervals between the major markets. It is ideal for weary feet but also if you don't know your way around. It's slow and well worth the ride. The driver has a hand bell which he “bimmels” to scare / warn pedestrians out of the way. He will also ring it went he feels like it or when you flatter you eyelashes at him (no I haven’t). 

[Ed: Please note she does not work for the touristic office. The pictures are selected from the cities touristic web site and so she doesn't get into trouble, the photographers are Fabian Schmelcher and Joachim Rieger]

Cathedral market
The market is right next to the Cathedral, between the Roman-Germanic Museum, the Philharmonic Concert Hall and the Dom Hotel, situated on the roof of a large underground car park. When I first visited the city in 1971 it was still under construction, one could look down next to the cathedral it goes down about a third of the height that towers above ground, impressive! The market has about 150 wooden pavilions selling numerous regional specialities. As with all the markets, most locals go to eat and drink. Also with visitors who usually buy some knickknacks of some kind. The classical Christmas drink is mulled wine (Glühwein) in decorated Christmas mugs. There is a large variety of articles such as woodcarvings, glass balls, ceramics, accessories, children's toys, soaps, etc. usually local produce. There is also the fairground aspect of the markets with various Christmas performances of music and other entertainment. In the middle of the market is the largest Christmas tree in the Rhineland a 25m high Nordmann fir, lit up with 50,000 LED lights (no I have not counted them, well not this year anyway).

Angel's Market
This is Cologne's oldest Christmas market situated on the Neumarkt, right in the middle of the shopping district. The stalls have the usual variety of articles with the addition of artistic products like traditional decorative plates with illustrations of the Christmas markets. Here, the mulled wine stands have names like “Cloud Nine“ and “Gabriel’s“, if your not into the wine, there is egg punch and hot chocolate on offer. Again locals come here after work for something warm before fighting there way through the crowds to get home. The angels are one of the highlights here, particularly for children. Dressed in gold and red and sprinkling glitter powder, they wander through the crowded alleys trying not to get their wings broken. Once a week, Santa Claus, together with an angel, makes his grand entry onto Neumarkt on horseback.

 Harbour Market
This market overlooks the Rhine, with 70 stands next to the Chocolate Museum, this is a museum dedicated to Chocolate (well I be!). Its well worth a visit in its own right, there is a chocolate fountain at the end of the tour with a lovely view down on to the market. The market follows with its design, decoration and stage performances (sea shanties to traditional Christmas songs) themes of the harbour and seafaring. There is also a wide variety of fish specialities on offer. The stalls are white, festively decorated pagoda tents with wooden floors and pointed roofs giving the hint of the planks and sails of a ship. Also there is an impressive wooden three-mast boat 15m in length serving mulled wine out of its hull. Nobody has, if I remember rightly, fell in and drowned lately.

Old Market
Probably the most attractive Christmas market in town is on the Alter Markt in front of Cologne’s town hall. Legend has it that the Heinzelmännchen (house gnomes) performed all sorts of different jobs for the locals: they prepared the sausages for the butcher, sewed the clothes for the tailor, and baked the bread for the baker. The winding alleys in the market are differently themed, just like the guilds of the past. For example there is the “Futtergasse” (Feeding Alley) where visitors can buy national and international food specialities, and the “Glitzergasse” (Glitter Alley) where fashion accessories are on sale. For the kids there is a nostalgic children’s roundabout, puppet theatre, an area for Santa Claus and many toy stands.

Village of St. Nicholas
There are three main medieval Gates to the old city North, South and to the West the Hahnentorburg. With this historic backdrop the market gives a convivial feeling of cosiness, its not that big and not as hectic as with the other markets. There is, of course, the usual mulled wine, red wine punch and food stalls.

Stadtgarten Market
This market is not that old, about 8 years. It is positioned in the middle of the Belgian Quarter which has a village-like feel to it. There are 80 stalls selling modern creations, traditional crafts and nostalgic bits and bobs. The stalls and the exhibitors change weekly so it doesn't get boring. The food is a little more varied that the others: homemade organic mulled wine, stews, tarte flambée, crêpes, almonds, raclette and waffles. A highlight is the Christmas stage featuring puppet shows, children’s theatre, fire-eaters, story tellers, and jazz concerts. Santa Claus turns up now and then to give out presents to the little ones.

Gay and lesbian market
I mentioned in an ealier post that we have the largest LGBT community in Germany. Berlin also claims this and the cities have been at it, tooth and painted nail for ages, I don't think there ever will be a winner. Of course this market is open to all, not just the LGBT community. The pink and purple stalls are characteristic for this market. The market is placed in the so called “Bermuda Triangle” between Schaafenstraße and Pilgrimstraße on the “Christmas Avenue”. The stalls are not as conventional as with the others markets in decoration and in wares.

Nativity scenes
Not strictly a market, but still worth a visit is the nativity scenes laid out at around 110 different places in the city up to the 6th January (Holy Three Kings). The displays are from different historical periods and range from contemporary nativity scenes designed by artists through to traditional representations of Christmas from different cultures. The nativity scenes can be found at public places such as shop windows, cultural and religious institutions, and in many of Cologne’s churches. 

Well that's about it.

I’ll finish with a little story from a few decades back concerning things that get stolen and the relics of the three Magi. It's a case of honour among thieves when the relics of the three Magi were stolen from the Cathedral. There was of course uproar over this not only from the law-abiding community, but also from the local non law-abiding community. Within a short time they were ‘returned’ with an apology. If I remember rightly there’s a proverb about fowling one's own nest or the like. 
It would be nice if the market pickpockets would at least return the wallet and the pictures of our love ones instead of throwing them away. I mean if they can remove them without you knowing it, why can’t they return them the same way! 

Hope the texts with the pictures give you an idea of what to expect if you get the chance to come here.
Happy holidays to one and all.

10 December 2014

Windows: Double vision or first contact of the girl kind

grew up in a neighbourhood where everyone knew everyone else. My grandfather build our house with the help of the neighbours, each contributing as best they could with their knowledge and handiwork. Our street was just a dirt track and a cul-de-sac ending in a field with a gigantic oak tree. We have hardly any traffic other than locals or a rare case of someone taking a wrong turning. 
There was a little river for pooh sticking, fields of summer flowers to sneeze on and a forbidden sand pit with deep water to fall into, in other words idyllic. Of course I was part of a gang and of course just us boys. Girls weren’t taboo per se, they were just not any around in our street in our age group. It’s not that we wouldn’t have considered allowing girls into the gang, actually we did consider it for about 5 seconds followed by a short collective shudder and went straight onto the next point on the agenda. 
As we did happen to go to a mixed primary school, we had a pretty good idea of what girls looked and sounded like, there were enough examples milling around all day to cotton on to. Having any form of contact was another kettle of fish

With this as background I now come to my earliest memory of having anything to do with girls that were not family (I have two girl cousins that I saw on rare family occasions, both younger than me and therefore don’t really count). 
 It was in the 3 or 4th grade. I had a bike at this time for getting to school and on one occasion, just as I was about to leave home, there before me outside our front gate were what I can only describe as two “admirers” waiting for me. They were about my age and twins to boot! Dressed both colourful and styled a little like Alice from Lewis Carrol. I had seen them at school (I think) but never in our street, therefore they must have come out of their way to be there. I didn’t know what to make of it, I don’t remember asking why me, I think we hardly spoke to each other at all. It was all a little weird. 
I would move off and they would place themselves either side of me a little behind as with a diplomatic cavalcade. My mother was amused by this. I, on the other hand slightly embarrassed and wary of what this was all about. After some time I got sort of used to it. 
When we would arrive at school, they would demonstratively stay in close proximity, usually one on either side of me as with the ride, until the other kids in the playground had registered our presence. Then without a word or anything else, they would turn in sync and disappear to their own class. I don’t think my friends knew what to make of this, I certainly didn’t! This routine went on quite some time. My friends badgered me about it, asking who they were and how come I was getting this “treatment”. I tried to convince them that I was totally in the dark about it all, but I don’t think they believed me. 
And then one fateful morning before we left for school, I in a momentary lapse of emotional imbalance gave them all my cuddly toys, including my one and only Rupert Bear, much to the bewilderment and annoyance of my mother. 
I still to this day have no idea why I did this. Maybe they had developed a hypnotic hold over me in some way, it’s all a bit vague and long ago. What I do remember is that I never saw them again after my “toy purge”. I wonder if that was their motive from the outset, or behind it there was a dare to see how quickly they could manipulate someone into submission. Will never know. 
And the result of this? Of course as with most purging one regrets it afterwards and from this uncanny contact I developed a high respect for the manipulative powers of “girl kind”. Learning from them has been a lifetime experience and maybe now some of it is starting to rub off onto Abigale. 
Okay, I’m not that manipulative, 
well maybe a little. 

30 November 2014

ObserVation: The Naming of Cats...

ver the years, one sees the different trends in naming children. The fluctuations are influenced by film characters (we have trekkie friends that named their daughter Jadzia), idols in the music business and characters from books. 
Some parents have a hard time in choosing. They want to give their child a head start with a name that will stand out above the rest, so they look to exotic places and go through endless lists on Internet sites. Here in Germany Nordic names were in trend a few years ago, some unpronounceable without a phonetic life support system and in some cases leading to a lifelong hassle of having to repeat ones name more than once to all and sundry. 
Some parents take a well-worn name and start to add “i”s and “y”s, leaving out or swapping letters around until it looks different, sounds exactly the same as the original and gets the maximum number of points in a game of Scrabble. 
And of course there are those traditional parents who make a list of all relations going back at least three generations and without looking, stick a pin in the list hoping for at least the right sex. Although I get the impression that, this is not always a criterion to try again. 
Maybe we could follow Charlie Chan's example, who just numbered his sons. It would be a darn sight easier that way and would give the child time to select his or her own. If dolphins choose their own call sounds to interact within the family unit, why can't we? 
All my life I have had experiences with incorrect pronunciation, it started at school when I was nine. It was an emotional argument with a new teacher who thought he knew better that I, on how to pronounce my family name. I went home miserable and told my father. The next day he went with me to school and had a "word" with the teacher. Of course the teacher got his own back. From that day on, I was the only kid in my class that was demonstratively called by my first name. This you can imagine was not to my liking, especially when I was among my class mates. 
What is interesting is that here in Germany hardly anyone has difficulty with my family name. It’s only when I get calls from English speaking countries that I have to go into education mode. You may have gathered from this that I'm not talking about Abigale’s family name. Of which there are two different spellings with the same pronunciation! Don’t we make language difficult for ourselves! 
My parents’ generation had usually two middle names, my generation one. We are now down in many areas to only one name before (or after) the family name. If in the future, this trend continues the complete name will disappear and everyone will end up with a User ID.
[Ed: I think we are already there..]

[Ed: Really]
Oh gawd.. 

There is a group of people that can choose their own names! I have the privilege to be among them. Some of us will only use it for identification within selected communities others will go so far as to legalise it with a new ID. Whatever the reason, we chose it! Of course, our motives in choosing a name are as diverse as when our parents made their choice for us. 
The other day I reflected on why I chose Abigale. What I did not want was a name of someone I knew personally; I would always compare myself in some way with how I remembered her. Not in the way of looks, more the mannerisms and persona. With this in mind, I made a list of girl names to choose from, somehow without much thought a name just came to me. To not be "run of the mill", I chose Abigale in the spelling that my autocorrect keeps trying to change into "Abigail" (this time I let it). 
I also have a middle name, Belinda. This also follows the "don't know anyone" criteria. The name Belinda I connect way back to a song from my youth. It was the title and the text was about someone with that name. Unfortunately, after so long I can't remember the artist or the melody. All I know is that it was my one my favourite song for quite some time. I am quite net-wise but I still can't find it. If anyone can help me find this song, I would appreciate it. 
I think my names will be around for the duration, I am happy with them. There are some people that are not so happy and with little forewarning change them with the result that they disappear momentary from Google or leave corrupt links in the blogosphere. I think they both know who I'm talking about. I know it was totally unintentional, it can happen. Having an online presence can bring difficulties with it. I was clearing out multiple copies of my Celtic Tree Icon in Google with the affect that in some, but not all, the comments I left sprinkled about in early November have now turned into grey warning triangles! 
That was harmless; something’s or people disappear for more drastic reasons. 
This will be a subject for a future post.
[Ed: That sounds ominous!]
Not really, but something I feel I need to blog about.

The Naming of Girls is a difficult matter, 
It isn't just one of your holiday games; 
You may think at first I'm as mad as a hatter,
When I tell you, a girl must have three different names... 
T. S. Eliot / A. B. Stuart

21 November 2014

DeptStore 3rd. Floor: Hair

air has for me always been something fascinating especially when it is long. Mrs. A has it half way down her back. She spends a long time keeping it in check and would like to shorten it, but knows I like it the way it is. She constantly has to tie it back or pile it up on her head to get it out of the way. I keep being encouraged to practice some braiding. A couple of times in the past I have tried a few basic braids, but nothing really complicated. You know when it gets complicated; you need that extra hand to entangle yourself from an unlucky manoeuvre. 
I have a tick for Celtic Art and knots in particular (you only have to look at my blog layout) and have been collecting braiding patterns, some with Celtic knot work. My pin board has quite a number of examples that I would like to try out. If I go through the pin collection with Mrs. A. to see what she would like me to try, there is a good chance that afterwards will come the question "Who is this Abigale?" I think I will have to approach it from another angle, by surfing with her and just happen to “find” my pins along the way. 

Since I has started to fill my wardrobe with ..
[Ed: wardrobe? you mean the dozen boxes stacked away in the cellar]
Ok, yes it’s all in unlabelled boxes and yes, in the meantime I have no idea what I have and yes, it takes ages to find anything I want to try on with the rare occasions I’m alone and yes ..

..  sorry about that, my mind wanders off now and then. It is just so frustrating having to stash everything away, instead of hanging the clothes correctly in a wardrobe. With using overfilled boxes, it is almost impossible to keep them wrinkle free. 
There was something..
[Ed: Wigs?]
Yes, wigs that was it. 

I have until recently no experience with wigs; my mother never wore one and therefore I had no chance to try one on when growing up. No school plays with a prop and costume cellar to rummage about in. Moreover I never had the opportunity (why should I have) to go to a wig shop or stroll around in department stores and scrutinise the difference styles/colours and get funny looks or be asked awkward questions. As it is such a personal accessoire, I think when in drab mode, it would probably be easier to buy makeup and lingerie than a wig. I’m not sure on that one, as I have no experience with either. The only thing I have bought over the years was the odd lipstick. You all know how it goes:
While trying to look somewhere else at least two flybys to check the location of the target, third flyby with pickup, then to the next deserted pay counter collecting a few odd items along the way as camouflage, overreact while paying, forget your change, take bearings on the exit, head down and run as slowly as possible, if you’re lucky, jerking your head back up just before hitting the glass door, on getting out side, check the booty and realise it has not only the wrong number but also the wrong make and therefore a totally different colour, dam!
[Ed: I take it you speak from experience?]
What do you think!!
[Ed: okay, just asking..]
It is amazing how this is the one accessory that can transform the appearance of a person so drastically (a wig not lipstick). When one looks at the transformation videos out there, makeup is one thing, but at the end when an appropriate hairpiece is added the change really hits you.

Abigale has to-date accumulated 3 wigs since she started her online shopping spree in March, all in the very, very low price range. I know you have to give out good money for a realistic hairpiece with after styling to get it just right. I’m just starting out and buying something expensive just to find out it doesn’t fit and the colour and style doesn’t say something to “me”, is a waste of Abigale’s rapidly depleting budget. Anyway I could put the money to better use buying shoes. 
I selected three different styles/colours/length, a long blond one, a black/red with strains and a full red head. This whole thing was all rather experimental. See the thumbnails to get an idea (rolling your eyes is allowed). I just wanted to see what I would look like with a full head of hair in typical girl style. What stumped me to begin with was size. Not all wigs I looked at gave any indication of size and this limited my selection somewhat. Of the three I selected, two were 60 cm and one 58 cm. I measured the circumference of my head beforehand and knew that the 58 cm could be a tight fit. 
I wasn’t sure if wig size was in some way the same as my feet killing experiences with shoes, where a 9 is not necessary a 9. No matter I went “ahead” and bought the 58 cm anyway. 
I won’t go into details of the fight I had with the blond one. Trying to get myself and “it” orientated correctly beforehand and the numerous failed attempts at bodily contact. Coming up for air and seeing a wall of hair, sometimes it was the long bit upfront sometimes the short bit. Then removal, untangle, orientate and try again. The 58 cm was tight and I couldn’t get the hook done up at the back.  
After all this I do believe they have a life of their own.  
There is something I can now talk about from experience which I only read about before; it’s a hothouse under a wig! Unfortunately, I tend to sweat somewhat anyway and my self-inflicted fitting session was in the middle of a heat wave, did I sweat! Most of the time it was water and not hair getting in my eyes! 
I must say girls, my wig off to all of you who can spend a day under such a contraption! 
I will not inflict you (and never will) with pictures, let's just say you would have fallen of your chair laughing, I nearly did. I looked absolutely ridiculous. 
Will just have to look for something more fitting my age.

19 November 2014

Windows: My first time ...

y first recollections of trying on female attire goes back to the time I was still sleeping in my parent’s bedroom. I must have been 9 or 10 because after that I had my own room. 
In the mornings from my bed in the corner, when the chance arose, I would watch my mother indirectly and off hand as possible as she put on her nylons. I was fascinated in the way she treated them with care, making sure the seams were straight and ultimately the contortion act of fastening them to the back of her girdle. I would get a questionable look if I hadn’t turned completely away at this point. 
Oh, I just had to try them on! I won’t say it was a compulsive fixation, but dam nearly! 
One day when my mother was in the kitchen I sneaked into our bedroom, took from her draw a pair and scrambled under my bed in the corner. It was semi dark and I slid them up my legs, I could hardly see what I was doing and it’s a wonder I didn’t ruin them. The feeling was beyond all expectation, electrifying! 
At this moment, my mother called me and I automatically answered! She traced me to the bedroom and as she came and looked under the bed I tried to hide my legs up behind me! She asked what I was doing there with no mention of what I was trying to hide. I gave a feeble excuse of playing coalminers or something, she said ok and left. 
When it was quiet and my pulse had normalised I got out removed the nylons, blew off all the fluff and dust they had accumulated under the bed, rolled them up and placed them back where I had found them. 
No indication that I was “found out”.
I was now hooked!