It gets cold in the winter in Europe. I’m from Houston, Texas. I don’t “do” cold. Despite living two winters now in Germany, I still do not know how to properly dress and complain far too much about the (literally) freezing temperatures. Christmas markets are literally all over Germany, and even in other European countries! Anyways, the one outdoor activity I will do in the winter that is not walking from apartment -> tram -> work and back is attending the Christmas Markets.
The Christmas Markets are street markets of little vendor stands set up during the Advent period. The stands are wood and lined with lights and Christmas furs, which smells awesome and only slightly irritates my allergies. The tradition stems hundreds of years old with roots in Germany, but the popularity ($$) soon caught on in many other countries. The market in Dresden is the original and was first held in 1434. You know, hundreds of years before the US thought about becoming a country, no big. People gather at the markets to socialize, ice skate, warm up with hot drinks, eat, and shop.
Things to Look Forward to at Christmas Markets
Glühwein - maybe better known as Mulled Wine among English speakers (although Glühwein sounds much more appetizing), it is a red (or white) wine heated up and traditionally seasoned with cloves, cinnamon, sugar, and some orange and served up piping hot! You can often add in some whiskey or Amaretto for an extra Euro. It’s delicious. It’s also a massive hangover waiting to happen.
Lebkuchen - Christmas Cookies. Eat’em.
Schupfnudeln – rolled thick noodle/finger shaped dumplings that come mixed with sauerkraut and ham bits. They may even throw it on a bratwurst and in a bun for you. It doesn’t get more German than this.
Langos – a fried Hungarian dough that comes sweet or salty. I suggest the salty option with the garlic sour cream sauce and loaded up with cheese. They should not be hard to find as it is easily the longest food line at the market.
Ornaments – Christmas market souvenir? Check! Although, my favorite souvenirs are keeping the mugs instead of getting your deposit back.
Ice Skating - many of the larger markets have gorgeous ice skating rinks. Germans own me on the ice, so I prefer to observe with Glühwein in hand.
Candied Nuts - because markets and festivals are all about taking healthy foods and making them worse for you and I’m ok with it. The roasted chesnuts are winners, too.
Things to Steer Clear of at Christmas Markets
Crowds – nearly impossible to avoid, but your best bets are daytime (but hello, Christmas Markets are much prettier and more fun at night). Weekday evenings are certainly more clear than the weekends, though. I also reccommend avoiding the known touristy markets. Sure, hit up one or two, but you can have a gorgeous and tasty experience in smaller towns, too.
Candy stands – yes, they make pretty photos and the meter long licorice is cool looking, but really it’s been sitting out there for weeks and it’s not the best around, I promise. Oh, and you can make chocolate covered fruit at home, so hold off on that, too.
Beer - yes, I know you are in Germany and you are tempted to drink a beer, but now is not the time. Do you want your hands to be even colder? I didn’t think so. Save the beer when you seek warmth indoors later. If you don’t like the Glühwein, try it as the white wine option or a coffee or hot chocolate with Bailey’s.
Pizza – as delicious as it is, it’s not a Christmas market delight. Order it when you have the munchies later instead.
The following photos are all from my homebase Christmas market, the Karlsruhe Weihnachtsmarkt.
What do/would you look most forward to at the German Christmas markets?