Top 5 small-town German Christmas markets

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Rothenburg ob der Tauber at Christmas | Photo by Boris Stroujko
Rothenburg ob der Tauber at Christmas | Photo by Boris Stroujko

Top 5 small-town German Christmas markets

by Elizabeth Jones
Stripes Europe

Christmas markets in Germany are a must for everyone to experience during the Advent season. While there are plenty of markets to choose from and many tourists flock to the big cities, they miss out on the treasures found within the smaller markets. Take a chance and fall in love with a quaint German town. You never know what Christmas tradition may come about from exploring the road less traveled by.

Rothenburg ob der Tauber

Along Germany’s famous Romantic Road lies the picturesque town of Rothenburg ob der Tauber. Go back in time as you walk through the town filled with cobblestone streets and colorful, half-timbered houses. The annual Rothenburg Christmas market has been around since the 15th century and hasn’t changed much from its origins.

The original name of the Rothenburg Christmas market is Reiterlesmarkt, named after a legendary Christmas. The Rothenburg Reiterle (Rothenburg Rider), makes an appearance at the opening ceremony of the Christmas market. Legend has it that the rider comes from the distant past from another world. He is said to fly through the skies with the souls of the deceased during the winter season. In the past, people were fearful of the rider’s presence but nowadays, the figure is seen as a friendly messenger of good news.


Schneeballen at Rothenburg ob der Tauber Christmas Market | Photo by Antonio Gravante 

When it comes to sweets, Rothenburg has you covered with the schneeballen, a short-crust pastry rolled into a circular shape portraying a snowball. The original schneeball is covered in sugar and cinnamon but the variety of flavors featured in cafés and bakeries makes it difficult to only choose one. The options are endless with flavors such as chocolate with sprinkled coconut, vanilla with a milk chocolate drizzle, strawberry topped with caramelized nuts, and many more.

Rüdesheim

This small town is well known amongst wine lovers for producing some of Germany’s finest wines. Each year the Rüdesheim Christmas market takes place in the town’s old quarter. The market is known as the “Christmas Market of Nations,” and features 120 stalls that line the town’s famous Drosselgasse. Or take a cable car ride up to the Niederwald Monument sitting on a hill high above the town. Once you get to the top, admire the quaint town as it twinkles with Christmas lights and buzzes with family and friends high in Christmas spirits. It’ll be a remarkable view unlike any other.

Something extraordinary about Rüdesheim’s market is the delicious Rüdesheim Coffee, made with locally distilled Asbach Uralt brandy, coffee, fluffy whipped cream and sprinkled chocolate shavings. This popular drink is served in an original Rüdesheim coffee set. You can even sink your teeth into Asbah Uralt brandy filled chocolates!


Winter in Bamberg | Photo by Andreas Zerndl

Bamberg

During the winter season, visitors enjoy the music playing throughout the town from church concerts, various musicians playing instruments around every corner and the highly anticipated New Year’s Eve concert by the Bamberg Symphony Orchestra.

The Route of Nativity Scenes is the most popular aspect of the Bamberg Christmas market. It features more than 40 spots, including churches, museums, town squares, public buildings and private houses. The route features a series of 36 beautifully, diverse Nativity scenes. Be prepared to go on a scavenger hunt to find the different scenes; there is no direct path to each one, which makes your visit even more adventurous. Maps for the Route of Nativity Scenes are offered in the Bamberg Tourist Center.

To satisfy your taste buds, take a bite out of a Bamberger Bratwurst, which is two long sausages on a short, warm bun. Chase your eats with Eier-punsch, similar to eggnog made with egg liquor, sweet white wine, orange juice and vanilla sugar. If eggnog isn’t your thing, try a fun twist to a Christmas favorite called, Schokolade mit amaretto, hot chocolate spiked with Amaretto.

St. Wendel 

Stroll along 130 stalls filled with local delicacies, arts and crafts and one-of-a-kind gifts for loved ones. Experience the medieval side of the market and try your hand at making baskets, lanterns, pottery, soap and blacksmithing. Craftsmen will be there to guide you step by step to help uncover any hidden skills you never knew you had! Visit in the afternoon to witness a train of camels, lead by the Three Wise Men, making their way through the town followed by fire eaters and musicians. At the end of the procession, visitors can listen as they tell the magical story of Christmas. 

Other fun and exciting treasures found within the St. Wendel Christmas include life-size nutcrackers making the perfect photo ops, a mesmerizing 40-foot tall wooden Christmas pyramid, St. Nicholas walking the cobblestone streets handing candy out to all of the children, and a snowy hill near the medieval market for kids to sled and tube down. The most popular is Santa and his reindeer making an appearance to give children the chance to hop on his lap and tell him their Christmas wishes.


Bernkastel Market Square at Christmas | Photo by Olga Gavrilova

Bernkastel-Kues

While gluhwein is a common beverage to come across in Christmas markets, Bernkastel offers a much different experience to the steaming wine. Ordering in Bernkastel calls for specifics. Do you want Dornfelder gluhwein or Riesling gluhwein? Or, if the warm temperature and mixed spices of gluhwein isn’t your cup of winedon’t fear! Throughout Bernkastel’s market, wine tasting booths and wine bars are around every corner waiting for you to sip on the Moselle region’s best wines.

Advent calendars are always a fun tradition throughout the Christmas season with each day holding a little surprise bringing you closer and closer to the excitement of Christmas Day. In Bernkastel, a larger-than-life-sized Advent Calendar sits on a half-timbered framed house with the windows numbering 24 days. At 5:30 p.m. each day, one of the numbered windows opens to reveal a colorful, hand-painted fairy-tale scene.

On the first Saturday in December, a highlight of the Bernkastel Christmas market takes place, Torch Swimming with Santa Claus. More than 100 people jump in the cold waters of the Moselle River holding torches in their hands. According to tradition, these polar-plunging divers are lighting the way for St. Nicholas to find the small town. Once the divers get out of the water, St. Nick is waiting there to give presents to the children.

Small-town Christmas markets bring something charming and unique that can be hard to find anywhere else. The magic of Christmas fills the air with children running around with shiny eyes enjoying sweets and staring in awe at the glittering lights and festivities around them. Adults relish in the winter wonderlands, making memories with loved ones that will be cherished forever. No matter which small-town Christmas market you find yourself visiting this year, it will certainly be a memorable experience.
 

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