My first exposure to Christmas Markets was in Italy. Food, artisan clothing, hand-made goods, and Christmas decorations were the major attractions.
Some also included carnival rides and entertainment for children. It was a fun place to visit; yet, it felt much like any American state fair. My experience with Christmas markets in London and Vienna was much the same.
So, when in 2016 my friends asked if I could organize a German Christmas Markets tour, I only did so as a favor. I did not expect to find anything new or unusual about markets in Germany. I could not have been more wrong! For the past three Decembers, I have been returning to Germany to experience, explore, enjoy, and be educated, enriched, and entertained at various Christmas Markets. In Germany, markets are first and foremost about Christmas, community, family, traditions, and fellowship. Each Christmas market offers rich historical (I notice contrast between markets in the former East Germany and the west), cultural (Protestant cities vs. Catholics towns), culinary (see list of “must try” treats below), and spiritual experiences. Because of these trips, my Christmas festivities and celebrations back home have become more meaningful, enjoyable times with family and richer spiritually.
One of my most enjoyable moments at each market is gathering around a festive stall with my family and friends, devouring rich, warm treats to counteract the cold outside. Here are my favorite treats, the “must try” list, so far:
- Kartoffelpuffer: German potato pancakes are deep fried and served with a variety of toppings. I really liked them slathered with applesauce (apfelsoße) for a sweet-salty combo. They’re filling and meant to be shared (if you can part with one or two)
- Thuringer Rostbratwurst: To be fully authentic, a German Christmas market experience must include having a sausage or two, or five. With so many varieties to choose from (I have counted over 12), there’s certainly no shortage of options in the land of sausage. Bratwurst and rostbratwurst (traditional, white pork sausage that can be up to half a metre in length) are the most popular.
- Maroni: Freshly-roasted chestnuts stalls are dotting all the German Christmas markets. Warm, soft, fragrant…the perfect snack on a cold night!
- Christstollen: This traditional German Christmas cake is surprisingly heavy, made with a thick dough using plenty of butter and dusted with powdered sugar. Dried fruits, almonds, spices and candied orange/lemon peels are other star ingredients.
- Glühwein: I learned quickly Germans LOVE their glühwein. A constant thread at every market, it’s the warm drink almost everyone sips as they wander around from stall to stall. The mulled wine is made with red wine, spices (cinnamon, cloves and sometimes aniseed or vanilla), lemon and sugar. Poured into the cutest mugs (which you can keep as a souvenir for a small fee), it is THE drink to have at German Christmas markets.
- Heiße Schokolade: Hot chocolate is a staple at every Christmas market. Some sell the treat by combining real chocolate, milk and whipped cream. Do yourself a favor and get a cup or two—you will not regret it.
I want to invite you to experience Christmas markets firsthand, as soon as you feel comfortable to do so. I hope that you will add German Christmas markets to your “must-see” and “must-do” lists. Here are details for the markets trip that I am doing this year.