Oechener mulled wine stand
“Even as a small boy”, Marcel Schmitz reminisces, “I always tried to get to the very front.” He didn’t just want to do the dishes. He wanted to be in the hustle and bustle, just where all the action was. He wanted to stand at the counter of his parents’ mulled-wine stand at the Aachen Christmas market. The “Oecher Glühwein-Treff” has been around for more than four decades, and its (red, white, and alcohol-free) wine continues to be produced by the same winemaker as it was back in the early days in 1976. This Advent season, the large, atmospherically illuminated wooden hut is once again set up between the historical town hall and the Aachen cathedral right at the Katschhof, with Marcel Schmitz, now 39 years old and father of two children himself, behind the counter.
In continuous use
The stand building starts in early November already, and Marcel barely has the time to breathe until he takes it back down and loads it up again in pieces the night before Christmas Eve. “I’m spending 14 hours a day on duty,” says the boy from back then, who never knew any other way to spend the winter, as well as the adult of today, who wouldn’t have it any other way. “There’s no stopping me,” he quickly adds, putting on his most winning smile. “Not even by my wife...”
She followed the original “Oecher”, who calls himself an individualist and perfectionist at the same time, to his hometown of Aachen from Munich. When we first meet Marcel, the temperatures have not quite dropped to mulled-wine standards yet. In fact, summer is just about to bid its slow farewell. It’s a bit cool early in the morning, but that is all right. People still relax and enjoy the sunlight on the benches in the park by the Frankenberger Burg. Stories tell that even Charlemagne fell in love with it under the spell of a magic ring. A kiosk across the street gives the garbage collection men an opportunity for a brief break. Neighbours drop by to say hello, and a school class is standing at the crosswalk in excitement, patiently listening to a policeman’s admonishing explanations. It’s a perfectly normal morning in the Frankenberg quarter.
“We’ll be opening shortly…”
Marcel Schmitz has been known here for eight years, ever since he opened his “Oecher Eis-Treff” in one of the many art-nouveau villas of the lively, trendy quarter back in 2011. Three years of planning preceded that day, which was precisely twelve months after he had first hung his sign to announce “We will open shortly” in the window. “It’s a kind of running gag in our neighbourhood,” says the ice-cream parlour owner. It makes him smile every time as well. He just didn’t want to leave anything at all to chance.
First of all, however, we have an entirely different question: Why ice cream? Isn’t he a mulled-wine vendor? That’s right! You can enjoy fragrant wine in your cup in winter and grandma’s nut ice cream in your cone in summer. The two seasonal shops complement each other very well and match Marcel’s two great passions to boot.
Now the boss of seven employees, he does not even remember which passion came first as he gives us the first scoop of his homemade ice cream to try. As mentioned, he spent time at his parents’ “Glühwein Treff” even as a young boy, among strangers and friends he is still in contact with today. “My customers have grown with me,” says the 39-year-old while remembering his grandma’s nut ice cream. “That’s exactly what I wanted to do: making ice cream from real and good food, not just some powder.” As he says it, he serves us the next scoop to taste. The classics of vanilla and strawberry are followed by tomato ice cream with a touch of basil. We’re not quite convinced of that one, but our host in this small ice-cream parlour, decorated with loving detail, knows just how to save a situation by admitting: “Okay, I’m still experimenting a bit with this …”
Pay with Frankies
The man from Aachen, who studied business administration before veering down a somewhat different path in life, is not focusing mostly on new and preferably unusual ice-cream varieties. He cares the most about his ingredients and “that people know why my ice cream tastes differently”. Some customers actually ask him about it. Meanwhile, Marcel’s regular customers are long familiar with it all. They make sure to secure their 50 Frankies, which is a kind of discount coin they can use only to pay at the “Oecher Eistreff”, as soon as the season starts.
His care about ingredients is more than just pretty words for Marcel Schmitz. The enterprising young businessman stands by his word. He is very serious about issues such as climate protection. Sustainability is important to him and reflected in his uncompromising selection of products. After all, not all milk is the same, and neither is all sugar. “Vanilla beans are similar to wine, even,” he explains. “There are hundreds of varieties in the world, and each one has a unique taste.” The perfectionist tries (almost) all of them before deciding which specific vanilla pod to use for his ice cream. As a father who cares about the future of his children, he makes sure that the raw materials are sourced from ecological farming (from the region) as far as possible.
Conscious handling of food
Just as the “Oecher Glühwein-Treff” was the first climate-neutral mulled wine stand in Germany to receive an award in 2018, his “ice-cream kitchen” in the Frankenberg quarter also places great value on conscientious use of food and treatment of the environment. This is reflected even in small things, such as the brightly coloured magnets on his refrigerator. Yellow means lemon, orange hazelnut, and red strawberry. Every time a tub of ice cream comes out of the fridge, a magnet is taken off as well. "This keeps us from opening and closing the refrigerator all the time,” Marcel, who invented the system himself, explains. “That saves electricity and protects the environment.” He’s also currently in negotiations with a start-up concerning the production of edible spoons. That’s another plan for the future.
Christmas atmosphere at the Katschhof
For the moment, the “Oecher” ice-cream parlour has temporarily closed. With one season over, the other one is just ahead at the Katschhof. For four weeks straight, strangers and friends will crowd the “Oecher Glühwein-Treff” every day, swapping their EU-Glühs for a glass or two of original mulled wine and chatting with Marcel Schmitz about the old times and the future alike. They truly leave him barely any time to take a breath. Even before the many lights come on to bathe Aachen’s old town in the pre-Christmas atmosphere, Marcel sometimes comes here early on his own, to sit on a bench with a view of the town hall and enjoy “the time I don’t usually have”. He’d never have it any other way.