Last year we visited the Christmas markets in Belgium and the Netherlands. While there, we were told that we needed to visit Germany if we really wanted to see Christmas markets. Well, challenge accepted. This year we traveled to Europe over the holidays and would like to tell you what we learned about German Christmas markets.
Each town/city has its own dates and times for its markets. Generally speaking, they all open around the end of November and close around Christmas time. It seems like the majority close on December 23 or 24. Since we were arriving on the 23rd, we had to plan out our schedule to make sure we maximized market attendance. B did a great job researching different towns so we could plan out a strategy of where to go when. There are several good websites to help with this; I particularly liked the English friendly website: http://www.germany-christmas-market.org.uk/.
Most cities and towns that we visited had Christmas markets. This is a really big part of the German holiday tradition, so if you go to Germany in December, you will most likely have a Christmas market in the town where you are staying. It is delightful. We even stumbled upon not one, but two Christmas markets within castles. That’s right, a Christmas market within the confines of a medieval castle. Ridiculous.
The part of Germany that we visited is known for wood-timbered buildings. In the smaller towns, the Christmas markets were right in the middle of these cool buildings, so it looked like it was straight out of a fairy tale.
Once you decide which town and which day you want to visit your German Christmas market, you will need to decide which market to go to. Because big cities have multiple markets. In Cologne, they seemed to be in the double digits! We probably made it to around four as we walked with the throngs through different city blocks. When there are multiple markets, they are differentiated by different themes and names. But to be totally honest, I couldn’t really tell a difference. They are all pretty stinking cute.
The first thing we did at our first German Christmas market was to get some food. We hit up a bratwurst booth and got a hot dog/sausage on a roll. If you are not familiar with bratwurst, it is a slightly more spiced version of a hot dog. They come in a few different varieties and you can put on a selection of sauces to make things fancy. I’m boring so I added ketchup.
Bratwurst was a common offering at every market we went to, along with some mushroom dish, which we didn’t sample, and some pizza thing that only disappeared everytime I went looking for it. My favorite item that I had two times was a delicious pretzel. Man, Germans know how to do pretzels right! We also tried our hand at the sweeter side of things with a fried pastry dish that seemed to be very popular and variety of gingerbread items. I steered clear of the roasted chestnut booth, having been enormously disappointed with that one last year.
The drinks booth was the most popular booth at every German Christmas market we visited. Gluehwein is a traditional holiday drink, but being as we are teetotallers, we instead went with the kinderpunsch (kid’s punch) which was a delicious apple cider. The most exciting part about the drinks booth is that you get a festive glass mug along with your drink. Each market has its own mug so if you’re not careful you’ll end up with quite the assortment. The idea is that you pay for the mug up front and then you can return in for a few euros, but really, these things are cute so we kept them as souvenirs.
Some of the markets seemed to be geared towards kids and had a kid’s ride or two, like what you’d see at a county fair. I saw the smallest carousel ever, with only four little choices for what to ride. That thing had better of moved slowly or else all the kids would get super dizzy!
There seemed to be about a 50/50 split between food items and other stuff to buy at the German Christmas markets. The booths that sold products usually offered christmassy/wintery things like ornaments and scarves and hats. I purchased a cool Christmas decoration that showed a winter scene all made out of wood. German put these in their windows and plug them in so they look similar to a hanukkah menora when they are lit up. The strangest thing (to our eyes) was a booth that sold a variety of brushes. It must be normal for Germans, though, because we saw that booth in several cities.
The German Christmas markets did not let us down. Most of the stores were closed on Christmas Eve, Christmas and Boxing Day (the day after Christmas). So if we wanted to buy anything we had to do it at the markets. Fortunately for us, they had everything we needed! (Pretzels, cider, and gingerbread.)