Christmas enchantment abounds at German markets
Since many service members and their families stationed in Europe will spend Christmas away from extended family, there is simply no better way to experience the holiday than celebrating with the country that invented many of the Christmas traditions Americans enjoy today. And the place where beauty, tradition, seasonal cheer and consumerism converge is the Weihnachtsmärkte, or German Christmas markets.
Amidst a sea of glittering lights, colorful nutcrackers, delicate ornaments and fresh gingerbread, millions of Germans and foreigners alike brave the cold each winter for a mug of spiced Glühwein, candied nuts, handmade gifts or simply some Christmas enchantment. Because there are so many markets throughout the country – just about every city and small community has one – selecting the right one is really a question of personal preference.
Indulging all of the senses, each Christmas market’s main attraction is atmosphere and the accoutrements central to that location: amusement rides, festive lighting, regional foods and sweets, winter sport, local artisans, petting zoos, musical performances and so on. Often situated in medieval market squares, narrow, winding cobblestone streets or near the steps of ornate cathedrals that tower over the holiday festivities, it’s hard to not be overcome by history. Many of the festivals have taken place for centuries.
Keep in mind that most Christmas markets are akin to an outdoor winter festival so anticipate large crowds and long lines. Do not expect to get all your Christmas shopping done at one location. Typically there are few bargains and the goods can be compared to collectables and stocking stuffers. Wood carvings, candles, holiday decorations and toys can usually be personalized for a more memorable souvenir/ gift. If you have a lot of Christmas shopping, choose a market that is near a large shopping district for convenience.
Most Christmas markets started in the last week of November and run through Christmas Eve. They are usually open every day from 10 a.m. to about 9 p.m. Appropriate winter clothing is an absolute must!
One of the oldest and most renowned markets in Germany is in Nuremberg. The market boasts nearly 200 wooden stalls and dates as far back as 1628. Another favorite is the one held in Munich, which has a 100-foot-tall Christmas tree lit by 2,500 candles. The Christmas market in Frankfurt was first referred to in documents some 600 years ago and these days it receives three million visitors per year.
Those seeking something a bit quainter should consider Michelstadt, about 20 minutes north of Heidelberg. A unique town surrounded by half-timbered houses – called fachwerkhäuser – provides a true holiday atmosphere. The fachwerkhäuser construction dates back several hundred years. Highlights include an enchanting Nativity scene with life-size figures, a 23-foot Christmas pyramid, and an enormous brightly coloured wooden musical box.
“I liked the idyllic historic medieval town that brings back that old fashioned classic image of Christmas,” said Jeff Teeselink, an American living and working in Germany. “You walk through an old town gate into a market in a picturesque town of fachwerkhäuser.” Teeselink and his wife, Katharina, enjoyed typical Christmas market fare, items like crepes, bratwurst and glühwein, a wine served warm that includes sugar and spices.
The market in Heidelberg is touted for its blend of tradition, charm and intriguing nooks and alleyways where you can purchase unique handcrafted gifts. The event is spread along several squares in the old quarter beneath the grand Heidelberg castle, illuminated with thousands of lights for the season. Kids can enjoy rides and entertainment such as choirs, orchestras and storytellers.
For an international flair, visit the Christmas Market of the Nations in Rüdesheim am Rhein. Set in the town’s chocolate-box old quarter, it features around 120 stalls displaying crafts, customs and traditions from twelve countries. Europe’s largest Nativity scene, with surrounding scenery, conjures up a magical atmosphere in the heart of the old quarter. Varied entertainment runs every day, and you can go on a romantic river cruise or cable car trip. The highpoint comes on 21 December with Christmas traditions on St. Thomas’ Night.
For a complete listing of German markets, visit the Web site www.cometogermany.com to find listings of over 80 Christmas markets, including dates, times, tips and a map. For those interested in markets throughout Europe, check out the website.
Contributions made by Stacey Peters