Wednesday 21 December 2016

What, no Stollen or Lebkuchen? What will Brexit mean for the Christmas markets?

One of the great things about living near Manchester is that we have some fabulous Christmas markets. Some people don’t like them and I’ll admit I prefer to go on the quieter days of the week – Monday, Tuesday Wednesday. There’s still a buzz and there’s still plenty to see.

We have local crafts people, local producers of fine foods, and plenty of representation from France, Germany, the Netherlands, Spain and Italy. 

We have our own personal shopping list: some nice soaps (usually form one of the French vendors – France takes up most of  whole street), some Dutch cheeses, maybe a selection  of cold meats form one of the German stalls, a large tub of mixed olives and picked garlic, some Turkish delight,  some of that delicious Italian nougat / truffle / fudge. We snap up of course also a Gl├╝hwein, and maybe a Bratwurst and some pancakes or poffertjes (Dutch mini pancakes). Chocolate generally comes into the equation as well. We also buy a selection of Dutch biscuits and of course we must have our Stollen and Lebkuchen.

Except that this year we couldn’t find the latter.  There was no Stollen and there were no Lebkuchen anywhere on the Christmas markets. There was a stall selling hot Strudel of all kinds, but this was more street food than a chance to catch up on your Christmas shopping. 

Was this the beginning of Brexit? Or was it simply that the German vendor who normally brought them didn’t think that they sold too well in England? I asked around a little at the other German stalls and no one could shed any light on this. 

Lebkuchen is impossible to make at home and Stollen is difficult. Mind you, Tesco’s own Stollen isn’t bad.
We eventually bought a nice Stollen at the renowned Westmoreland Farm Shop at the Tebay services on the M6. We obtained some Lebkuchen fresh from Nuremberg at a branch delicatessen in the Lake District.
But was the absence of these items at the Christmas markets a sign of what is to come post Brexit? Will it be worth their while coming if there is no Free Trade agreement? Will they be able to come if there is no free movement? 

Maybe the Stollen we bought form the farm shop is symbolic of all that is good about having close ties to the EU.  It was the best Stollen I’ve ever had and it was made in England. It has improved on the original German recipe. That is what exchange and interaction is all about. Think also of balti, spaghetti hoops and pizza. 

At the Christmas markets I ended up buying a tipsy cake. The fruit was soaked in gin. It was gorgeous and was made on an English farm. Fantastic. But it shouldn’t mean that we have to  give up our Stollen.                    

Monday 5 December 2016

Forty Years of International Friendship

It started during my year abroad. In the academic year 1972-73 I spent six months in Rennes in France and six months in Stuttgart.

Rennes was a little tricky: they put all of the foreign students together and we started speaking a sort of creolised French. In order to get to know French people I joined a choir, started learning Breton and played basketball. In the Breton class I got to know a young French woman who invited me and a classmate back to her home at weekends several times. She eventually came over to the UK and worked for a short while as a French assistant in Scotland. We visited each other for years.

When I went to Stuttgart I was fortunate enough to have some instant friends in the children of my future mother-in-law’s best friend. I then also shared a flat with a German girl. I met more people by playing chess.  

Then I became a secondary school teacher and the French and German exchanges began. We gained some close friends though our local twinning association. I also worked with the teachers professionally. What a joy when one day when we were on holiday in the Netherlands, near the German border, they suddenly turned up with a cake from a good cake shop we’d mentioned. And it was funny when our children, on the same holiday, went back to stay with them and their hamster ate our daughter’s jeans.

One delightful French couple stayed with us at the last minute when my colleague had several family problems. They loved the tennis and they were here during Wimbledon weeks. I would actually come home from school each day and find them with the curtains drawn, and the television on. And they always supplied the strawberries. Well, it was easy in Hampshire in those days when the strawberry fields still existed.    

Later, when the French exchange teacher from another school was looking at the horoscopes in the Sunday Times magazine, we discussed birthdays and found that we were just twelve hours apart in age.

We are all still in contact.

My greatest joy perhaps was when I was in Germany and bumped into a former student and her German partner shopping together two years after she’d left our school. They still visited each other regularly. Their friendship had endured. I was delighted also to hear my student speaking fluent German.

Difficult / impossible to go to war when you’re friends, isn’t it?

In the days leading up to the 23 June 2016 referendum, several people on the mainland flew the union flag and said “Please stay”.  Have we slapped them in the face? Guys, I didn’t vote to leave. I apologise for letting it happen.