The Germans have a fondness for celebrating. Peppered throughout the year, in various cities, towns and villages, are weekends or weeks wherein costumes are donned, beer/warm wine is poured and a vast selection of disastrously-bad-for-you festival foods are consumed. Foods like Gebrannte Mandeln – warm, sugary almonds stuck in clusters and twisted into cones of paper – piping hot pommes topped by an overly generous swirl of full cream, whole egg mayo, crepes lathered with Nutella, Lebkuchenherzen – gingerbread hearts – Bratwurst clutched by a fresh bread roll, Quarkbällchen – fried balls of sweet, quark-based dough and Schmalzkuchen – little fried squares of donut. So, you know, healthy things. Then there’s the beer and, in the colder months, the mulled wine and schnapps to put a rose in your cheek and a little fire in your belly.
This week Kiel is celebrating the Kieler Umschlag and so far, approximately no one has been able to tell me what it’s all about. From what I can gather from a spot of Googling, not from actual Kielers themselves, the Kieler Umschlag was established as a market in the mid 1500s with a focus on financial transactions being made between people from surrounding cities and Kielers. Mayor of Kiel from 1702 until I’m-not-entirely-sure-when, Asmus Bremer, was particularly concerned with the economic strength of his city and subsequently is now, along with his wife, the ‘figurehead’ of the Kieler Umschlag.
So, what does one do at the Kieler Umschlag? You can, should you want to, pop on a costume from the middle ages. Many people have done so this week. I suspect they also use this week to stock up on Medieval garb in the various stalls peddling hand-made leather shoes with pointed tips and rough laces, cloaks, hats, knife belts, helmets and viking horns. You can eat as many balls of fried dough as you can fit in and wash them down with cherry beer in big, heavy, old-fashioned tankards, or crockery cups of various fruit-infused hot wines. You do this standing at a pop-up wooden stall at which sit three old men in vibrant cloaks singing old English folk songs. You can go on the same rides spotted at various fairs around the world, the ones that make you want to bring up your pommes and bratwurst. You can drink Estonian beer-wine, eat Danish cakes and biscuits, buy odd trinkets (like bottles of love potion) eat sugared almonds until your teeth squeak and generally revel in what is a weird, old, vaguely inexplicable and I daresay rather under-appreciated excuse to celebrate.
Which is pretty much what we did yesterday afternoon. And yes, the sun shone the whole time.