Germans know how to get into the spirit. When they celebrate something they go all out.
When invited to a themed party they will be without a doubt dressed appropriately from head-to-toe.
When they invite friends over for a ‘Grill- session’ they will ensure they have a surplus of cold beers available and extras on hand for just-in-case.
When going out to party you can be assured they won’t be home before the wee hours of the morning.
It is no surprise then, that the annual celebration of Christmas is rejoiced with vivacity, as if one would think it wouldn’t return the next year. In this way you could say that the German spirit at Christmas gives meaning to the word festivities.
I’ve seen a few Christmases around the place – and I can say that while the effort put into the light displays on the homes of Sydney’s houses is astonishing, and despite how much I love the festive feeling throughout New York around Christmas – Germany takes the pretty light displays, decorated street lamps, ice rinks and the official town Christmas tree that one step further. The Weihnachtsmarkt transports these festivities to the next level.
The Weihnachtsmarkt (Christmas Market) can be recognised by the festively decorated stalls open throughout Advent and located in popular city spaces. These annual markets are said to have originated in the late middle ages as a means for tradesman and craftsmen to bring their goods to market, as well to make fresh foods and household goods available to the town folk before the colder days would settle in. Nowadays the Weihnachtsmarkt is a place to find a selection of traditional Christmas decorations – like my favourite little Räucherfigoren (smoking figures), Christmas wreaths, Christmas delicacies and handcrafted or hand-woven items.
The smells and lights of the Weihnachtsmarkt instantaneously inject the city with the cosy Christmas feeling – even in freezing temperatures. There is nothing better than huddling together with friends under the little wooden hut of the Glühwein stall, red-cheeked faces wrapped in woollen scarves, hands tightly gripping to the sides of the Glühwein cup and the spicy wine warming your insides with every sip. (Distracted by the warmth and sweetness of the wine one can easily get carried away with too many cups.)
I have been lucky enough to visit a few Weihnachtsmärkte throughout Germany over the last two years and can say that while each city offer the ‘standard fare’, the larger cities compete with each other for the prettiest and most traditional Weihnachtsmarkt – thus justifying a trip to see what the different cities have to offer.
Over the weekend I was lucky enough to visit two beautiful Weichnachtsmärkte – Stuttgart and München – igniting the Weihnachtsgefühl for the first Advent. As an aside – I am usually not one to embrace the Christmas spirit so early (yes, the first week of December is still early) – but given the fact that I will be flying home to Sydney for a not-so-white Christmas, I had to ensure I could pack in some of Germany’s cosy christmas cheer before departing.
Stuttgart’s Weihnachtmarkt is particularly beautiful with the elaborate Christmas scenes that decorate the roof of each stall. Although the market is spread throughout the city, in spots it hugs the narrow laneways, forcing visitors to get a little more cosy as they try to eat their half-a-meter Bratwurst.
The stalls along the Schlossplatz provide a warm glow over the square, but the main attractions here are the ice rink and large model train that wakes the kids with its loud ‘toot’.
We made the obligatory Glühwein stop, trawled the rows of stalls and their kitschy gifts and ended with a mammoth-sized crepe.
When visiting Stuttgart’s Weihnachtsmarkt last year, we were lucky enough to catch the city recital band playing Silent Night under the Town Hall’s glowing Christmas Tree – reminding me a little of when Mr Bean hijacked the conductor’s role in his famous Christmas episode.
München’s Weihnachtsmarkt is located throughout the city centre – and comprises various themed markets, at Karlsplatz, Sendling Tor, the Christkindlmarkt at Marianplatz, the Weihnachtsdorf in the Residenz and the medieval themed Weihnachtsmarkt at Wittelsbacherplatz. Although I had visited during the week (a quick dash during my lunch break), the glowing lights of an evening make the markets feel really special.
Das Mittelalter Weihnachtsmarkt – The medieval Christmas market
Outside the city centre and one will also find smaller Weihnachtsmärkte in popular residential suburbs – Schwabing, the Glockenbach Viertel (Rosaroter/Gay-lesbian Weihnachtsmarkt) Rosenheimer Platz, Haidhausen, Solln, Pullach and Grünwald.
The many delicacies on offer make visiting the Weihnachtsmarkt on a winter evening a dangerous affair – the tasty treats an easy distraction from the frosty temperatures. The standard ‘offerings’ usually include Glühwein (spiced, warmed mulled wine), the Feuerzangenbowle (Glühwein with a flaming cube of rum-soaked sugar), Wurst (of many lengths and varieties), Flammkuchen (flat bread pizzas topped with sour creme, bacon and onions), Geröstete Nüsse (roated nuts), Lebkuchen (spiced cookies), chocolate dipped fruit (I’m not a fan of this one) and Crepes. Regional delicacies are a highlight if visiting from another city – last night I came across Schnupfnudeln (finger-shaped potato noodles), Dampfnudeln (steamed bread dumplings) and Fruchtbrot (fruit bread).
While tempting, one mustn’t try to eat their way through the markets on one evening – as they are open throughout Advent, giving one plenty of time to make multiple trips to have a taste of everything.
After two consecutive days touring the Weihnachtsmärkte, the Christmas feeling has truly been ignited. I’m awfully tempted to take a bit of this spirit back home and prepare a pot of warm Glühwein on Christmas Eve in Sydney. Whether it will go down so well on a hot and sticky summer’s evening, hmmmm…