Christmas time in Düsseldorf
Around Christmas time a lot of cities and towns in Germany have the long time tradition of the Christmas market. The city of Düsseldorf boasts it has the biggest and most beautiful of them all. And I must say, the Christmas market with 200 (!) lovingly decorated nostalgic huts transforms the city into some kind of winter fairy tale. Illuminated streets, the fragrance of roasted almonds and cinnamon.. Yummie! The huts are set up at seven different locations, all with their own theme and all within easy reach of each other on foot. You can find glittering Christmas tree decorations, carvings from the Ore Mountains, handmade candles and light decorations as well as hand puppets or tin toys. There also are plenty of tasty seasonal treats too including roasted chestnuts, gingerbread, “Dampfnudeln”, festive “Feuerzangenbowle” and hot chocolate milk.
Last year my girlfriend Ellen and I went to the Christmas market of Münster, this year Düsseldorf was the destination. It is advisable to arrive after noon because in the morning there is not much going on and all the huts are still closed. Well, we certainly managed to arrive in the afternoon because of all the “Stau” (traffic jams).. From my home-town it is a 2 hour drive but thanks to a burned out lorry and a car wrapped around the front of a truck the ride took an hour longer. I hope nobody was injured.. In Düsseldorf the system for parking your car is pretty good.. If you follow it.. Of course I was too busy paying attention to my old TomTom and I drove right by the parking garage I wanted. Argh!! I could not turn back because it was all one-way traffic and Ellen had to laugh hard because I started swearing and cursing immensely. I very much dislike driving in busy cities. So we made a short trip around the centre of Düsseldorf and that time I did find the entrance of the parking garage.
First I wanted to go to the most well-known tobacco store in Düsseldorf: Linzbach. A little history about this wonderful place: It was August Otto Schmidt who founded the company, that later became known as Linzbach, on the Graf Adolf Strasse 78 in the centre of Düsseldorf in 1902. In 1938, shortly before WWII began, Peter Linzbach took over the business from his predecessor. When he returned from Russian captivity after the war he found his house and store destroyed down to the basement.. With his wife Elizabeth he began with the reconstruction of the tobacco store, according to his ideas.
In the years 1947 to 1960 Linzbach focused on the import, wholesale and retail with own subsidiaries and distribution of pipes, tobacco and cigars. Linzbach became the first tobacco store in Düsseldorf with a Davidoff depot and had Germany’s first walk-in humidor. In 1974 the was among the co-founders of John Aylesbury. This is a group of select independent shops with the common goal to offer customers expert advice, a high quality and yet a worthy price range. By 1977 the core business had grown to its current size . Then Peter Linzbach decided to close all stores and abandon the direct import and wholesale. This proved to be a visionary decision for the now well known Düsseldorf store.
In 1983 Peter and Elizabeth Linzbach withdrew from business life and daughter Margaret Schmitz and nephew Heinrich Linzbach took over the store. In 2000 Peter and Elizabeth Linzbach died at the age of 93 and 89 years. Until then they were always helpful with strategic advice. An example is Germany’s first walk-in humidor I mentioned earlier and its expansion to a total of over 130 square meters to Germany’s largest and most versatile assortment for tobacco and cigar imports from Cuba, Spain, Jamaica, Mexico, Honduras, Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic. In 1995 Linzbach grandson Werner Schmitz claimed the domain “www.tobacco.de” as the first internet address of a German tobacco merchant.
In 1996 Margaret Schmitz became the sole owner of the shop and her son Werner became junior partner. Just as her parents had sent her at the age of 19 to England for a pipe-making training, she sent her son to the Dominican Republic to Davidoff . Also Werner was the first German tobacco retailer who had a unique opportunity to a 4 month training in Cuba in which he learned the entire process of tobacco production. In 1999 Ms. Schmitz asked her niece, Christina Lüdtke (who already had led her own small shop) to join the family business.
In 2004 the third generation, Christina Lüdtke and Werner Schmitz, took over the business. Heinrich Linzbach died in 2013. He had devoted his whole career to teaching his experiences to the family. Ms. Schmitz remains connected to the business today with her vast experience, strategic skills and presence in the store.
When you see the front of Linzbach you don’t expect the store is pretty big. It is not so wide, but very long. Upon entering we were directly greeted by a member of the staff. Normally I dislike this a bit because I first want to nose around in peace and quiet. However, Ellen was with me and she is not too fond of tobacco stores. So unfortunately I was in a bit of a hurry.. Luckily the friendly staff member offered us a cup of coffee. Just what we needed after a hellish ride. We were taken through the immense cigar humidor to a smoking lounge. Not that you are not allowed to smoke in the rest of the store but it was just a place where you could sit, smoke, drink and relax. I packed my new forum pipe with some Penzance, lit it and we both enjoyed our coffee. At the back of the lounge was a stair which went down. Being curious I looked where it went and to my surprise there was a sort of basement where people could also sit and smoke. Definitely a good place for a pipe-smokers meeting. Pictures of the store and the smoking lounge are at the bottom of this post.
When we had finished our cup of coffee we went back to the store, I wanted to buy some tobaccos. I asked if they had the Honoré Flake and the staff member was in doubt if it was in their assortment. After asking several other members of the staff and some searching a tin was found to my delight at the bottom of a shelf. I also wanted a tin of the marvellous McConnell (formerly Ashton) Old London Pebblecut. Once I smoked a tin of it and I downed that one in a record time. Seeing their immense collection of John Aylesbury house-blends I just had to have one and ended up with a tin of Golden Flake. A nice light Virginia flake in the vein of Dunhill Flake. However, I do have one remark for them: keep your tobacco samples in airtight jars. No customer likes trying to smoke a dry sample. At the counter when I wanted to pay I received some goodies from Werner, a John Aylesbury magazine, another magazine about men-culture and a Linzbach lighter. Very nice! I definitely will be back at this store with some more time on my hands.
Not far from Linzbach began the famous Königsallee, the big shopping street. Since most of my budget was blown on tobaccos we pretty quickly walked through it. Ehmm.. And even if I still had my budget, most shops on this street are just too expensive for people with a moderate income. I mean, Cartier, Chanel, Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Swarovski.. Come on.. At the end of a side-street of the Königsallee we encountered the first Christmas market. Ellen and I both were a bit hungry so we decided to buy some crêpes at one of the huts. Beside us stood a group of Belgian folks who clearly did not speak German. They were looking at the menu card and could not decipher the word “Zimt”. So I asked Ellen out loud (while pointing at the word) if she wanted a crêpe with cinnamon. The reason I know this is because last year when I was at DTM for the forum tobaccos I was interested in creating a blend with a slight cinnamon flavour.
After having eaten the delicious crêpe we moved on to the Altstad. Unfortunately Düsseldorf was heavily bombed during WWII so the Altstad is a mixture of old and new buildings. The eye gets most attracted to the old (1209 AD) St. Lambertus church with its twisted spire. A folk-tale tells the story that an angry Devil twisted the spire in an attempt to destroy the church. Another eye-catcher is the Schlossturm, which partly dates back to the 13th century. In this time of the year yet another attraction is clearly visible, the “Riesenrad” (Ferris wheel). This piece of engineering should give you a beautiful view of the city with all its Christmas lights. We did not go on it, it was a bit too expensive, €7 per person. Well, for €14 you can eat and drink a lot in Germany so.. We did make a stroll across the Rheinufer-promenade along the Rhine river, a nice walk with beautiful far-sights of the city.
Back into the Altstad-centre it was getting dark and more and more people gathered in the Christmas markets. The atmosphere was getting pretty cosy, especially on the marketplace near the old Rathaus. You really could notice it was the time for the German inhabitants to flock together after their day-jobs and chat, drink and eat. It was around dinner time so Ellen and I decided to look for a restaurant.
I must say Düsseldorf really has some inviting looking streets stocked with all kinds of places to eat. I was searching for somewhere I could have dinner and smoke a pipe afterwards. Just a little time ago this was possible but due to a smoking ban I could not lit up a pipe indoors. But outdoors, no problem. Big kudos go out to the owners of the restaurants because almost all of them had made heated covered terraces in front of their buildings. So in the end we found a comfortably heated place where we had dinner. Unfortunately the food was lukewarm, it was just hot enough to eat. Also I did not eat all of my vegetables ( I know, I know, I am a bad unhealthy man) for which the waiter foolishly remarked, while pointing at the green stuff “What? Too healthy?” He did not enjoy my smile when I gave him a tip of only €0,50 cents which is a bigger insult than giving nothing at all. That will be the last time he gives a smart remark to a cheap Dutchman.. After dinner Ellen and I regretted not having booked a hotel room, we still had to drive home. This because the nicely lit streets with all the pubs looked very inviting. But sitting there without having the opportunity to drink a nice glass of heavenly Altbier (no drinking and driving folks!) would be too much to bear. So we walked to the parking garage and drove back to The Netherlands.