Out of the corner of my eye I see them. By rote, my feet steer to the table housing the red, brown, green and gold painted balsa wood configurations. I walk directly up to the festive card table in the middle of the green house filled with Poinsettias. I know people are milling. I see no one.
Bending down, I bring myself eye to eye with the miniscule faces, Christmas trees, stars, nativity animals and assorted Weihnachtliche scenes. The outdoor scenes leap out at me. Diminutive sheep and deer hand painted in white and brown graze on the tiny spikes of green wooden grass. Their eyes are the size of the dot on a manuscript, marked with a .7 pen. I see the brown and black hands of the painters, on the work benches in small German villages. It suddenly smells of Lebkuchen spices cinnamon, allspice, cloves and nutmeg. Half sized electric lights glow behind the balsa warming the cold noses and hooves.
The Christmas market stalls are stuffed with holiday items you can only find this time of year in these places. The Stuttgart market is one of the largest in Southern Germany. My grandmother and I travel via bus, streetcar and foot to arrive there in the late afternoon. The light evaporates leaving a moment of emptiness, making space for the rooftop stall lights to scallop across the December night sky. We pick an aisle and begin. Momentarily, walking past the balsa wood advent houses, we land at the Gebrannte Mandeln hut. The smells of cinnamon, vanilla and allspice saturate the arising steam. The man inside the hut holds out his woolen moss green handwarmers and hands us a paper cone of warm almonds from the heated display. Sechs Euro bitte. I bite down on the warm, crisp exterior, delivery to a softened sweet inside.