Santa’s German Gingerbread Village with touches of Hawaii in Waikiki

‘Tis the season to be jolly…yes, it’s Christmas! And we do celebrate it even in Hawai'i, “the land where palm trees sway,” in winter time. Today I’d like to write about the gorgeous Santa’s German Gingerbread Village that is displayed at the Sheraton Princess Ka'iulani Hotel in Waikiki. It’s huge, 14 ½ feet tall and 24 feet wide. Chef Ralf Bauer and his staff spent over 250 hours using 120 gallons of icing, 60 pounds of dark chocolate, 20 pounds of white chocolate and 30 sheets of gingerbread to construct this replica of a village that could be found in Germany, where Chef Ralf comes from. It includes medieval churches, bell towers, train stations, aerial cable cars and an ice skating rink. Chef Ralf has been constructing this beautiful display for the past fifteen years at the Princess Ka'iulani. Why? He says, “When I started at the Princess Ka'iulani Hotel, I wanted to create something special, what nobody else has. So 15 years ago, when Christmas came around, I started to build a Gingerbread Village. I try to get something different every year, but stick to the overall theme. This year we have a few new carousels, and of course for the first time, Kawaiaha'o Church, the first Christian church built in Hawaii in the 1830’s, including palm trees!” Chef is self taught in the art of gingerbread village making. His solid, basic culinary education definitely helps but perhaps just as important or even more important is that he is a big kid at heart. When I say big, I mean big and tall, since Chef Ralf towers over all of us at six feet plus. Perhaps a former basketball player in Germany?

So what exactly is gingerbread and where did it come from? Gingerbread is a sweet dessert made of ginger and sugar that can be made into a cake or cookie. Historically, it was brought to Europe by the Crusaders, quite possibly from the Middle East. They brought back the spice ginger, known for its preservative qualities, in the 11th century. During the 1200-1300 it was brought to Sweden by German immigrants. It was the custom to bake white cookies and paint them as window decorations. Swedish nuns baked it to cure indigestion in the 1400’s. Gingerbread cookies were first sold in monasteries and markets in the 1500’s. Gingerbread became widely available in the 1700’s. It quickly became popular, especially in Germany. Nuremberg, Germany is the gingerbread capital of the world. Gingerbread treats were made for special holidays and festivals. The Brothers Grimm, who wrote Hansel and Gretel in the early 1800’s, made gingerbread houses even more popular. They inspired the German "hexenhaeusle," or witch's house. "Lebkuchen" is the German word for gingerbread. "Lebkuchenhaeusle," the gingerbread house, was made with large slabs of lebkuchen and decorated with sweets.

Early German settlers brought this gingerbread house tradition to America. Baking gingerbread cookies and gingerbread houses to celebrate the Christmas holiday became a tradition in the United States that is still popular today. I know my children loved making gingerbread houses in school. It’s fun because you can stick all sorts of candies on the gingerbread and be creative.

So I asked Chef Ralf if his Gingerbread Village tastes good and he replied, “Even if it is made with real chocolate, icing and gingerbread, we add non-edible glitter and other materials. But it tastes delicious before I work with it. ” And so, what happens when the holiday season is over at the Princess Ka'iulani? Chef Ralf keeps all the hardware such as the trees, figurines and carousels…for next year. The houses are sadly thrown away.

I encourage all of you to go to the Princess Ka'iulani in Waikiki and take a look at this magnificent masterpiece before it is too late. And be sure to take a picture in front of it…I did.

Mele Kalakimaka or better yet, Frohe Weihnachten!

Iolani Palace and Kawaia'hao Church in back of me

The Moana porte cochere, Christmas tree in the lobby and the view of the ocean and the Banyan Tree...Christmas in Hawaii!

Hyatt Regency Waikiki's Christmas decorations and the view from their lobby

Honolulu Festival

Sheraton Princess Kaiulani

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