So you’ve heard about German Christmas markets and wonder what all the fuss is about. There probably is some sort of Christmas festivity going on in your town so why should you add yet another item to your ever growing bucketlist? Let me tell you why: because Christmas markets are the best way to get into the Christmas mood fast. There is no better winter wonderland feeling when the chilly air makes your cheeks go red, you pull your scarf just a little tighter and wrap your warm wooly gloves around the steaming hot mulled wine that leaves your mouth dripping an icicle.
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Well, it’s not THAT cold in Germany but it certainly helps appreciate all the yummy hot beverages and foods across the market so much more when you are craving the heat. What makes it even better is when you look up to the sky and single snowflakes land on your lashes and you turn to smile at your friends in child-like glee. That, my internet friends, is the spirit of German Christmas markets. And I might miss it this year. Or maybe make it just for the last day or two, but I drift off topic.
Since I cannot go, I highly encourage YOU to go if you can make it. Even if Germany isn’t just around the corner for you, we have scattered across the world so much that A) I get pretty annoyed and run away from Germans so I can immerse in the target culture and not my own and, that’s actually my point, B) there surely is a mini German Christmas market near you. I encountered one in Manchester while I lived in Preston and I saw German sausage stalls when I lived in Malmo, Sweden. Trust me, we Germans won’t let anything get between us and a decent Christmas market. How about seeing Christmas markets in NYC, Melbourne or London?
To not be completely lost and confused in the crowds – and you will be anyway – here is the ultimate beginner’s guide to visiting your very first German Christmas market. And even if you’ve already been, there is always something new to see and learn. Christmas markets usually start with the first Advent, which is the fourth Sunday before Christmas Day. Suddenly cobblestone streets are filled with life again and wooden stalls are set up on old market places and in streets underneath half-timbered houses and medieval town halls. A giant fir tree is erected on site and decorated with lots of colourful baubles and a golden star on top. Live music is playing, children’s choirs are singing and the air is perfumed with spices.
Top Notch German Christmas Markets: Top Prices, Top Crowdiness
If you want to follow into the snowy footsteps of previous visitors to the beautiful lands of Germania, you most likely will look towards the big cities, such as Berlin, Frankfurt and Munich. Sorry, please don’t do that. There are so many more Christmas markets, in fact every town has their own and you would miss out if you saw only one. Plus, I’m not a big fan of Frankfurt. Note that the markets listed by international press include and highlight the typical tourist magnets. They are still pretty to visit but so are a lot of other markets as well.
The markets that are constantly leading the ranking of the top German Christmas markets to attend year after year are the following: Nuremberg, Stuttgart, Cologne, Hamburg, Munich, Düsseldorf and Freiburg. Also, look at other state capitals or even smaller but really historic places. I can highly recommend, Bremen, Kronach, Rothenburg and Leipzig. If you’ve never been to Dresden either, now is a great time to go.
Christmas markets have a very long-standing tradition in the German speaking centre of Europe. Dating back to the Middle Ages, the forerunner for the first Christmas markets is assumed to be Vienna’s “December market” from 1294. That is a long time ago and a few centuries later, Bautzen, Frankfurt, Munich and Augsburg followed suit and Christmas markets were mentioned in books for the first time.
This was because in the 14th century craftsmen, such as weavers, toy or pastry makers, were allowed to set up stalls and sell their goods for profit during Christmas season. You could say, it is a very German thing, but the whole tradition originated in a much larger area than Germany and Austria make up today. It actually covered Germany, Austria, South Tyrol in Northern Italy and the eastern French regions of Alsace, Lorraine and Savoy.
Dress Up in Layers of Winter Clothes
No matter how warmly I dress, I always end up freezing terribly. No amount of socks, layers of woolly jumpers or gloves has ever helped me. So be prepared for it. Check the weather report but dress warmly anyway because the thing you do on a Christmas Market after you’ve investigated all the stalls – which do not vary much from year to year – is standing around, chilling with friends. Literally.
Have a Gluehwein
Ultimate must try. Non-alacoholics have no excuse since there is a kiddie version. I still dislike it highly but everyone else swears on the mulled wine, which is basically hot spiced wine. It will instantly warm you up and I can tell you that that’s what you need, standing on a chilly Christmas market. The cobblestones certainly won’t help keeping the creeping cold from your shoe soles. At least your hands and tummy will be warm.
Listen to Live Christmas Music
Whether you love or hate it, live Christmas carollers and brass bands will provide the adequate Christmas soundtrack. You might be surprised too because most of the songs will be in German. Maybe you come to realise right there and then that ‘Oh, Christmas Tree’ and ‘Silent Night’ are actually German. The best you can get out of it, however, is during performances in churches preferably on the 24th. This is day actually the German Christmas Day with presents and all. Santa comes early for us because we are that good.
Have Langosch, Bratwurst and Burnt Almonds
Let’s face it, calorie counting during the holiday season is for grinches, so why not indulge in the main delight of a Christmas market? Food! Yes, get your hands on everything. Try a Hungarian langosch, eat a German sausage (they differ from region to region – so why not Christmas Market hop?) and eat sweets till you dose off into a sugar rush. Sugary stuff we have loads! Burnt almonds (oh, the delicious scent!), chocolate apples, cookies and so much more. Yum! You’ll happily drift off into a food coma once you come home.
Buy Christmas Decoration
Have you seen the intricate wooden decorations? Or the pretty baubles decked in all kinds of colours and glitter? How about the ultimate Christmas tree décor that is metaphorically the cherry on top, namely the Christmas tree top? Well, you will find all of this on any Christmas market and let me be honest, it will be hard to choose from the sheer amount of Christmas goodies. So if you want to stock up, this is your chance.
Many cities do not only have one Christmas market, but two For instance, my home town Jena as well as the nearby city of Erfurt both have a medieval Christmas market where you can watch nighlty performances of fire dancing and typical medieval music being played. You can get a taste of how bread tasted back then, get some real smoked meat and lots more. I absolutely love the vibe of those and the stall sellers are actually dressed (more or less) authentically. It’s a great sight to see!
Free Downloadable Guide for You
In case you want to come prepared (Which is what we like to do. Do it as the Germans do, right?), I’ve prepared a downloadable PDF for you to refer back to whenever you hit the Christmas markets and want to know what to look out for and what to try. There is so much to see and you will most likely start with just wandering around but in new surroundings you might forget what it was that you wanted to try as you are distracted by all the food, sights and lights. But don’t worry, I’ve got you covered. Download it here and feel free to share with friends. After all, it’s Christmas!