An American Couple in Delft
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Christmas Bazaars

Not long after we arrived in Europe at the end of last year, we heard about the terrific Christmas bazaars in Germany near the Dutch border. At the time, we could barely find our way to the Markt (sic) Square here in Delft, so we weren’t about to venture too far out of town.

This year was different because we had become acclimated so we visited the bazaar in Düsseldorf. Say that a couple times. Düsseldorf. Düsseldorf. It kind of rolls off the tongue. I love that name. Düsseldorf is a city of about 600,000 people, 3.2 million if the metropolitan area is counted, on the Rhine River in northwestern Germany. Lynn hadn’t been there before but I had, very briefly, when Bruce was here in October. He and I drove into town and looked for a place to park. None was to be had. We drove through some very small city streets, the kind one might encounter in Society Hill in Philadelphia, and I eventually made a turn into a narrow street, went a block and was faced with an interesting conundrum. I could either make a 90 degree right turn, or a 45 degree left turn. However, both streets were clearly marked with the international symbol for "do not enter." I decided the street I was on must have been one way the other way, so I had no choice but to make a u-turn amid all these delivery trucks with one of "Düsseldorf’s finest" standing on the curb in deep conversation right next to me. My car is small but not that small, and I thought I had to be attracting some unwanted attention. However, the policeman paid no attention to my plight. We escaped with no ticket. Looking at a map later on, I had no idea where in the city this happened

For this visit, we went by train. Unlike Berlin, the trip was uneventful and much shorter, only about three hours. We arranged for a hotel about two blocks from the train station through a website for expatriates because the website was in English and I could read what the thing said. The hotel had a three star designation. We decided that it had the three star rating for one of two reasons: first, one could read three books while waiting for the elevator to reach the fifth floor, and second, there was one star for each square foot of floor space in the room not occupied by the bed.

The bazaars are in the old part of town called Altstadt. It’s a walk of about a mile or so from the hotel. It was gray and overcast but one doesn’t come to this part of the world in December for the weather so as long as it wasn’t raining, we were happy.

The markets are all that they were billed as. Some were in areas that looked as though they are open promenades the rest of the year. Others were along streets in front of existing stores. The booths look well coordinated. They are not uniform in size or shape, but they were all of the same style giving a visitor the feeling that this place was well established. There were booths that featured all sorts of food like curry wurst, which was really good, and the heart attack inducing fried potato pancakes which, in very small doses, were delicious and in larger doses are probably lethal. There were many booths that featured crafts, all sorts of hand made objects, some very German, others more generic. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the Germans do Christmas much differently from the Dutch and more like Americans. In the Netherlands, the Christmas decorations in homes and commercial establishments are much more understated. From the little we saw in Germany, understated is not a word one would use. It was very festive and invited one and all to come out and celebrate.

And celebrate they did. We walked through the streets of Altstadt wandering through all the bazaars and thoroughly enjoying every minute. We bought a couple things and were having fun seeing everyone else having so much fun. Then I noticed something. It was very chilly, maybe about 40F. The clouds hung low everywhere. Yet people were outdoors walking and having a ball. Not only that, but there were a lot of bars that had doors open to the sidewalk with hundreds of people standing around small tables on the sidewalk with glasses of beer or wine. They were able to do all this because there was no automobile traffic. We had noticed on the walk over there that "new" Düsseldorf had wide streets, tall buildings, lots of cars, and no foot traffic. Everything was closed. But "old" Düsseldorf had lots of people, all the stores were open, everyone was spending money and having fun and there were no cars. So I wondered. What would happen in, say, Society Hill if cars were banned from Friday at 6 p.m. until Sunday at 6 p.m.? People could walk the streets and hang out at bars, shop to their hearts content while supporting local merchants, and generally make the place come alive even in rotten weather. Think about Downey’s at Front and South St. If that area were free of automobiles, imagine how much more fun it would be to visit. I don’t know how the locals got to Altstadt but presumably it was by trolleys which run through the area. That means that one wouldn’t even have to worry about being or having a designated driver. This could work. Americans, particularly in the old eastern and midwestern cities, might even like the idea of being in an urban setting, easily traversable, and not having to worry about parking.

After a while, it began to rain. Lynn saw an interesting looking place nearby that had outdoor seating covered by a clear plastic tarp forming a sort of tent. There was even a heater inside the tent. We were outdoors but we were warm and sheltered from the rain while we enjoyed a glass of wine waiting for the rain to stop. I looked down the street and saw that we were about 150 feet from the corner. This was the same three point corner that I had to make the u-turn at two months before because there was nowhere else to go. When we finished our wine, we went to investigate what I had done wrong the first time. Nothing. It’s just the way the street is designed. That would never fly in Philadelphia.

See the rest of my pictures of Düsseldorf.


© 2008 Rick Wexler   last updated February 21, 2008