Aachener Printen and the Printenmann, the landmark of the Christmas Market

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Christmas Market
Christmas Market

[ source: Flickr]

Aachen in North Rhine-Westphalia, right in the triangle formed by the countries Germany, Netherlands and Belgium, is not only locally famous for its Aachener Printen, a type of gingerbread, but sweetened by sugar beet syrup. Many cafes and bakeries in historical Bad Aachen (Aachen vacation rentals | Aachen travel guide) offer this specialty and you can look the baker over the shoulder to find out more about the ingredients and processing, both in ancient times and nowadays. During the annual 3rd largest Christmas market in Germany held in the Advent season, you can shop in historical surroundings for your Christmas decoration and presents while enjoying the lovely flavors of Printen, hot spiced wine and fresh roasted almonds.

Molasses, flour, powdered and candied sugar as well as a choice of exotic spices lend this confectionery, a kind of gingerbread, its unique flavor. In the local dialect they are called Öcher Printen and are not only nationally renowned. In history its origin can't be traced for certain but it is believed, that the first Printen were produced in Dinant, Belgium. Story has it that in the year 1620, a statue of Charlemagne was cast in Dinant and should decorate the well in front of the Aachener City Hall. At the same time the bronze basin was being made in the Emperor's City of Aachen itself. The caster from Dinant came to Aachen for the well construction and during a breakfast break he offered the Aachener masters and apprentices some of his delicious homemade, molded gingerbread! They enjoyed it so much that later the recipe was tried out in Aachener bakeries and further improved. Because the molded gingerbread specialty of Dinant can be traced back to the year 1000, Öcher Printen are a part of a very long tradition!

Modern days Aachener Printen are not sweetened with honey as the Nuremberger gingerbread, but since the start of the 19th century with sugar beet syrup. Wild flower honey, previously imported from America, was no longer available due to a continental trade boycott. Also cane sugar was not an option at those times, so Napoleon encouraged the cultivation of sugar beets, which was enforcedly used as a substitute by the local Printen baker. The dough was ropy and tasted a little bitter, but nevertheless the baker kept that tradition. At first the molds used showed mostly religious motives, but since the early 19th century French- and after that Prussian soldier motives were favored. It is a bit similar to the Rhineland Carnival humor, in this way people could at least figuratively bite the heads off their unpopular occupying force.

Aachener Printen are not only eaten during the Christmas season but used in a classic dish in the Rhineland, the Sauerbraten, a marinated beef with a rich dark gravy, comprising of Printen, raisins and sugar beet syrup. Also with roast venison dishes, Printen round up the taste with its sweetness and flavor and in the high-end cuisine Printenparfait is a specialty. Original Aachener Printen are crispy and hard, because the sugar caramelizes during the baking process. If you prefer Printen to be soft, please try following, store the Printen cool and moist, or store the Printen with fresh bread in the bread box, or store the Printen for a short time together with a cut apple in a cookie tin. Those old German Hausfrau tricks will surely work for you as well.

Many places around Aachen will have Printen with a lot of different flavors on offer and when you are interested in its history and like to see the old molds used, you might like to visit the Printen bakery Klein, central located in the town center. They offer guided tours on their premises, explain the basic materials used and show the traditional and the modern days production lines. In a neighboring Cafe you will be invited for a relaxing stay.

A huge artificial Printenmann is the landmark of the annual Christmas market, held in the old town center of Aachen, around the Dome and the City Hall, adding to the special flair. The market opens his over hundred pretty gift- and food- outlets on the 20th of November and runs through the Advent season until the 23rd of December. You will smell the Printen, hot spiced wine and the fresh roasted almonds and understand the fascination of this festive season in the romantic traditional part of Aachen. The Aachener Weihnachtsmarkt was called earlier Printenmarkt and is with around 1.8 million visitors per year the 3rd largest in Germany. Other typical Christmas sweets include Dominosteine, Spekulatius and Marzipanbrote. Never mind the translation or the calories; it's a delight for every sweet tooth, almonds and chocolate are a part of the ingredients and there is only one Christmas season in a year.

About this Article

Monika Petra

This travel guide has been written by Monika Petra.

In her own words: When children are born they receive certain gifts to put them to good use or not. In my cradle there must have been at least music and the curiosity for the world we live in. Luckily I could combine those gifts eventually. My live as a jazz vocalist guided me to see and experience many places in Germany and far beyond. As in my music I like to dive in the historical background of given facts, simply to understand the present. During my travel, my circles got wider and wider and since many years I am now living in Thailand, very interesting to say the least. I grew up in Paderborn, lived and studied Jazz in Cologne's Musikhochschule and worked a while in Bayreuth and Kulmbach. My travels throughout Germany took me to all major cities and small towns. It was the people and local differences, be it language, food, traditions and customs, which made it a lot of fun. When finally the wall came down, I was one of those in Berlin posing on the rests of it for the camera. Off course I took the first opportunity to rediscover the new but old states of Germany and finally understood the impact the wall had on all Germans and in regards to the worst part in German history. Being a German living abroad, I discovered in years what I value most about Germany. Rest assured it is a country of rich cultural background still alive today. I visit my home country regularly and stay in touch with my friends, even those back from school. Another thing I always felt passionate about is writing and sharing my experience and thoughts. The internet provides us all with a great opportunity to connect, tell stories, read and learn from others and grow as a global community.

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Location: Markt, 52062 Aachen, Germany

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