They say the Germans invented the Christmas as we know it and thousands of us flock to their cities for its winter traditional markets while we try to replicate them at home.
But a Ballybrit woman is flipping that trend and beating them at their own Weihnachtsmarkt in her cafe in the Westphalia region by serving up a very merry Nollag — and the Germans are arriving in droves eagerly awaiting to sample the annual homemade fruity, boozy mince pies, classic Christmas cake and Chocolate Guinness Cake with a Baileys frosting.
“They want to know if the mince pies are ready yet,” says owner Ann McKiernan, who has to have continuous batches of brandy infused mincemeat prepped and ready, is delighted at the demand in her cafe in the heart of Gescher’s Old Town.
“I’ve been baking since I was nine years old and I have always loved it,” she says. Ann, who “cherishes the memories” of growing up, baking with her granny and mother still uses the 40 year plus battered, splattered and unbowed Stork recipe book at the McKiernan’s Irish Cafe which opened three years ago.
“I still remember cutting out the tokens from the margarine packet and saving up the coupons for the Stork offer and the thrill of it arriving by post.”
Family favourites are still the back bone of Ann’s unique cafe. Their legacy reanimated in another kitchen thousands of miles away from Racecourse View.
“Gescher found me,” says Ann, “I always dreamed of having my own business and moving to Germany has helped me realise a lifelong ambition.
Ann and her husband, Dieter Bomers met in Galway nine years ago. They married in 2012 and relocated to his home town of Gesher four years ago, along with her son Matthew, now seventeen and fluent in German.
Ann is thrilled with growing success McKiernan’s Irish Cafe and the innovative and vibrant venture is flat out making up gift baskets of fudge, treacle cake and mince pies.
“I make two Christmas cakes, big ones, the second will be transformed into nine mini portions and popped into individual presentation boxes, very popular for gifts for friends and families”.
Customers are delighted with the variety and choice, “They love marzipan, anything almondy, and our white round Christmas cake version is so new for them,” she says.
Ann is also flying the flag for Ireland by promoting Irish produce — Galway’s Tara china, liquors and whiskeys, chocolates, and teas.
“I am very proud of being Irish and am keen to do more,” she declares. She has branched out into cookery demonstrations, whiskey tasting sessions, private catering and one offs.
“I make brown soda bread and creamy vegetable soup for the whiskey tasting evenings, it’s very popular too.”
To open up a restaurant in a new country and in another language is the stuff of nightmares never mind leaving family behind — (Ann’s sisters Helen and Marie and brother Stephen still live in Galway, and her mother Bernie died in January this year, predeceased by her father John in 2001 and brother Kevin 1991 ) but Ann’s solid work ethic and experience in broad range of jobs led to fulling her ultimate ambition.
“It was scary and exhausting. The letter of approval for the cafe came through on my 50th birthday day, and we opened on my parent’ wedding anniversary,” she recalls.
Scared but undaunted, Ann, after all, had established a childcare business and set up an interior design consultancy, she also worked for COPE Galway and O’Brien’s Sandwich Bar in Galway.
As a talented crafter with a grounding stain glass, DIY, photography and upholstery, McKiernan’s Irish Cafe reflects her flair for atmosphere and detail. It seems all the talent and graft have merged to realise her beautiful place in Lindenstrasse - the street of the Linden trees.
The former men’s fashion shop has been has lovingly renovated. Ann hand-painted the antique, farmhouse tables she discovered in the locality, a rural region close to the Dutch border. It has a relaxed, comfortable and friendly ambience with a nod to the emerald isle Ann chose green as the key colour- —“almost forty, fresh and clean shades of green,” she laughs.
She was reluctant at first, “I have to thank Dieter to see pass the clothes shop vibe, I wanted a more vintage vibe, but he was right, and the people who owned the building were so down to earth and nice and I then I got it, I saw it’. And it’s a great location near three museums, one for bells, one for bees and one on agricultural legacy beside us in the old town.”
Ann flew solo for the first two years as Dieter worked in a warehouse, but now he’s involved full time.
“My customers tell me, ‘It’s like stepping into my home’, the cafe is so welcoming’, and that is what I strive for. Baking is my passion and I love it and I love it when people enjoy the produce”.
It brings Ann joy and the townspeople of Gesher so let the bells ring out in the Glockenmuseum - joy to the world and a Happy Galway German Christmas.