The Christmas market trend is on the rise in towns and cities across the globe. Every year in London, the festive family favourite Winter Wonderland returns to Hyde Park, along with its garish flashing lights, cacophony of screams, shouts, big wheels and carousels that make your head spin. This chaotic theme-park does not resemble any Christmas ‘wonderland’ I know and certainly does not compare to the beautiful Weihnachtsmärkte found in most small cities and towns in Germany, each of which offering something uniquely Christmassy!
My first experience of festive German Gemütlichkeit was during a school trip to the Christmas markets in Aachen and Bonn. A little too young to enjoy the Glühwein and having exhausted the rows of stands selling hand-crafted toys and decorations, we of course went straight to what we knew and loved best of all – the oh-so-‘typically-German’ Crêpe. Little thirteen-year old Flora would never have imagined that one day, eight years later, she would be the skilful pancake lady on the other side of the glass counter, who could spread a perfect circle of pancake batter and make the dreams of hungry little, Nutella-crazy children come true.
When I discovered they needed staff to work on the Crêpe stand at the Freiburg Christmas Market, I simply had to apply. Like a lot of people, I get a little bit (too) excited when it comes to Christmas and couldn’t say no to the festive atmosphere, fairy lights and little decorated wooden huts. With absolutely no experience in making pancakes, I wasn’t sure that I would be able to recreate the perfect Nutella and Banana Crêpe. How would I ever manage to work that strange wooden stick that they used to spread the batter? I approached the first pancake with slight trepidation, but was surprised by quite how easy it was.
However, as with any job, there were bound to be some minor glitches along the way. I can recall the many instances in which the hot plates weren’t sufficiently ‘oiled’ or were set too high, resulting in a dark, burnt mess that I’d subsequently have to scrape into the bin, apologising to the anxiously waiting customer that ‘buckwheat batter is always a bit stubborn like that!’ Of course I’d have to be on top-form when my friends came to the stand for a pancake with their cameras at the ready! As may be expected at a Christmas market on a Friday or Saturday evening, the queue for crêpes tended to stretch all the way from our glass counter to the next stand or beyond. We’d always play the sad ‘can we beat the queue’ game, but would usually be onto a loser… good to see people enjoying their crêpes though, right?
As you can probably imagine, there were many perks of working at the Crêpe stand… I wish I could say that that a crêpe per shift keeps the doctor away, although sadly I’m not sure how true that would be. Nevertheless, I did enjoy the odd buckwheat pancake at the end of a tiring shift. Mine, I must admit, was usually piled high with all the yummiest toppings we had – mushrooms, olives, tomatoes, fresh herbs… the list of ingredients for the ‘Flora’ pancake goes on! During quieter moments at the stand, we would pass a cheeky Rafaello or olive or two to one another under the counter, or give a Kinder bar to the little boy with Celiac Disease who couldn’t eat a crêpe like his big brother. It made me happy to take the regular coffee order from the man at the hats stall, to wave at the friendly man at the ceramic stall opposite, or to laugh at the big air bubble that randomly blew up a Nutella pancake. Or better still, when the sweet little French children approached the stand for their Crêpe au sucre, tightly clutching their ‘Survival Guide to the German Christmas Markets’ phrase sheet. Word by word, they would cautiously proceed to read the ‘ich möchte’ formula. Small things in life, eh? No matter how many Nutella crêpes I had made, it was always satisfying to see peoples’ faces light up as their favourite sugary topping was sloshed or drizzled over their pancake, or to hear them excitedly discussing their ‘geil’ Nutella, Banana and Bailey’s Crêpe.
If I had kept a tally of the number of Nutella jars we used, or of how many times I asked whether that Apfelmus Crêpe was with Zimt und Zucker, I’d surely be hitting the thousand mark. My multi-tasking skills have certainly been tested and I can assure you, it’s not easy laying new pancake batter, taking new orders, putting toppings on pancakes and doing speedy mental calculations all at the same time. My stint working at the Christmas Markets is sadly over, but I’m so glad that I had the opportunity to try something completely different, meet new people and enjoy the festive pre-Christmas atmosphere. And if I haven’t already perfected the art of pancake making, I will have plenty of opportunity to refine my skills – the crêpe orders are already coming in from family and friends!