Here in Southampton we have a German Christmas Market. Across Britain there are numerous other cities with their own faux German Christmas Markets. Just like the ubiquitous Irish or British pubs you find abroad they are only a shadow of the real thing and are overwhelmingly kitsch. To really experience a Christmas Market of the German variety you need to visit…, yes, Germany.
Deciding on which one to visit is a task I hope I will be able to help with. There are so many German Christmas Markets it is hard to make a choice. In this post I have picked a few that may whet your appetite and point you in the right direction.
In many cases the German cities with the best markets are also easily accessible from Britain by a choice of airlines and a few such as the one in Cologne are easily accessible by high speed trains. Choose your destination carefully and you might be able to take in more than one Christmas Market – for example Stuttgart and Freiburg or Tübingen; Cologne and Dusseldorf. On the other hand some cities have more than one Christmas Market and you will need all your time there to visit them all – for example Berlin.
Traditionally you will find hot spiced mulled wine or Glüwhein served at every German Christmas Market. Most of them will also have stalls selling spiced sausages and plentiful supplies of gingerbread. Often the latter will be sold as tree ornaments to be consumed on Christmas Day. There will always be decorated tree decorations and many of these will be handcrafted in wood.
Its difficult to pinpoint which was the first Christmas Market in Germany as they were often simply winter markets held over a day or two, However one of the oldest recorded is in…
The Strieszelmarkt consists of a 250 stalls surrounding the Christmas pyramid in Aldtmarkt and is named after the type of light fruit cake traditionally sold there. It was originally called Weinachtsstollen also known as Dresden Fruit Cake. However, we are more familiar with it as stollen.
Not far from Aldtmarkt is the Children’s market were there are performances, puppets, acrobats and crafts for the children to do. They can also try their hand at baking.
The Dresden Christmas Market is the home of the carved wooden soldier painted with a smart wooden jacket. These soldiers became very popular thanks to Tchaikovsky’s ballet, the Nutcracker Suite, and can now be found in Christmas Markets across Germany. Both Tchaikovsky and the wood carver who first produced one of these delightful figures were inspired by the same story book.
Apart from stollen and the obligatory Glüwhein Dresden is known for its own version of gingerbread which is spiced and filled with marmalade or jam before being dipped in chocolate. Pflaumentoffel is another speciality. These are little figures made from prunes to resemble chimney sweeps.
Far from being the biggest or oldest th Nuremberg Christkinlesmarkt is probably the most well known of German Christmas markets. Plastic tat is banned and it retains much of its traditional atmosphere. Sustainability and organic products are important here; modern themes in a market that has been around since 1628 when it was first mentioned in writing.
There are plenty of ornaments and food including the local gold foil angel, prune figures and of course the lebkuchen the spiced cake often covered in chocolate and hung from the branches of the Christmas tree. Although common in most German Christmas markets Nuremberg has made it its own.
There is also a Kinderweihnacht or children’s Christmas market with rides and stalls aimed at the children.
To visit all of the 60 Christmas markets in Berlin you would need a week or two. The city wins hands down on the variety its Christmas markets. There are traditional markets, urban and chic style markets and even a Nordic market.
The classic Gendarmenmarkt has plenty of entertainment with acrobats, dancers and jugglers as well as choirs and other singers. Charlottenberg Palace and the parklands surrounding it are a great setting for a Christmas market. This market is full of gastro-stalls and is the place to go for some Christmas fair in traditional surroundings. The largest and most traditional market is found in Spandau. Once an old town in its own right it is now a district of Berlin and hosts a market full of traditional gifts, food and drink. The market in Potsdamer Platz is a modern Christmas market with a real urban chic feel about it. For some ice-skating and a Christmas market head for Alexanderplatz beneath the TV tower.
They say that you can get almost anything in the Berlin Christmas markets. There are new speciality Christmas markets popping up each year. The city has the first ever vegan and vegetarian Christmas market.
You could be forgiven for thinking Cologne is one big Christmas market during the weeks leading up to Christmas. The markets seem to run one into another in the centre of the city. However there several distinct and different markets each with their own appeal.
The biggest and most lively is the one in the square around Cologne Cathedral or Dom. This seems rather appropriate as the cathedral is said to house the relics of the Magi who came to visit the Christ Child and the reason we give gifts at Christmas. This market has a large Krippe or Nativity scene and a lively cultural programme of music, shows and entertainment. The 160 stalls sell a huge variety of local foods and crafts.
Just a short distance from the Dom and its market is the Altmarkt Christmas Market. This is also known as Gnomeland . As the name suggests the overriding theme here is gnomes; you can post cards from Gnomeland complete with their own gnome stamps. There is also an ice rink set up here.
A short walk from here along the Rhine banks is the Chocolate Museum and Cafe. On the harbour in front of the museum is the Hafen Weihnachtsmarkt or Harbour Christmas Market. This market in a wonderful setting beside the Rhine is best known for imported and local crafts and usually has a watery theme.
Close to the main shopping street and further away from the three mentioned above is the Markt der Engel. As the name suggests angels wander around wishing all the children well. This is the oldest and most traditional of Cologne’s Christmas markets.
Rothenburg ob der Tauber
The beautifully preserved medieval Bavarian town is the perfect setting for a Christmas Market. Narrow cobbled streets, steep-roofed gabled timber framed houses packed inside a city wall create an wonderfully romantic atmosphere for the festivities of a Christmas Market. It is not the biggest or even the oldest but it certain challenges for the title of the prettiest.
The Christmas market in Rothenburg ob der Taber can trace its origins back 500 years. The markets here are smaller and more intimate. The town is a great place to sample the Christmas treats traditionally bought by German families at this time of the year. Traditonal Christmas cakes and pastries, chestnuts and bratwurst are all available along with more local variations. You can try white mulled wine or the Rothenburg Schneeball (snowball). The latter is strips of fried dough covered in sugar or chocolate powder.
There is always a lively cultural programme with events coinciding with the Christmas market. Also, rather appropriately, Rothenburg ob der Tauber is home to the Christmas Museum.
There is nothing like the real thing when it comes to German Christmas markets. It’s something about the atmosphere and the people that put the finishing touches to the experience.
I have chosen just five but there are plenty more. I plan on visiting Heidelberg, Stuttgart and Leipzig or if I am lucky a Christmas market cruise down the Rhine which would include my favourite German city, Cologne, for the fourth time.
Do you have a favourite German Christmas market? Tell us about it and why it is your favourite in the comments below.