The Magical Christmas Markets of Germany

Christmas markets have been part of this festive time for centuries in Europe but the most famous and oldest ones are found in Germany. They were usually held in front of churches and were looked at as part of a church visit. The oldest recorded market dates to 1310 in Munich, Germany. It was called “Nikolausdult” and was very different from the markets of today. It was an opportunity for farmers to come to town, do some shopping and at the same time, offer their wares.

About two years ago I had the chance to spend a month in Europe during the Christmas season.  I went around the Christmas markets in Italy and France but what really amazed me were the ones in Germany.  They were simply festive, with lots of activities, food galore, and downright just picturesque.

Although  many  associate this Bavarian capital with Oktoberfest, Munich equally is known for a fantastic Christmas market in the center of the city on the Marienplatz. The market surrounds an enormous Christmas tree, which glitters with almost 2,500 lights. While sipping on gluhwein (mulled warmed wine) or beer, visitors can find many traditional Bavarian gifts, like wood carvings and gingerbread called lebkuchen.  I tried walking to Marientplatz thinking it was that near to the train station but my memory failed me since I still had to pass  Karlsplatz     before reaching the main square.  It was a blessing though because there were many Christmas market stalls around this pedestrian lane.  The bulk however were in Marientplatz.

When I got to Marientplatz, although it was snowing a bit, the mood was truly festive with lots of wooden stalls selling all sorts of Christmas handicrafts and wares, food and fruits lots of Gluwein to warm you up, some   ”Kletznbrot” (a type of bread with nuts, fruit and honey) and ”Fatschnkindl” (a pastry shaped like the baby Jesus in the manger), lots of Bratwurst, other traditional Christmas gifts, lighting and decorations, including wooden toys, glass, ceramic and porcelain articles.

I learned that every evening, at 5.30 p.m., Christmas carols are performed by bavarian small string groups, wind players, singers and choirs  fill the air from the balcony of the Town Hall in Marientplatz.

I was not able to catch this performance though,  because I walked again to the metro to take the Christkindl Tram which I saw advertised in the train station.  Boy I was not mistaken to try it because at only 2 euros then the tram will bring you around the charming sites of the city while Christmas songs play inside and Santa serves you some warm Gluwein and cookies (for a price of course).

Another city with its popular Christmas market  is Dresden,  a must visit for market lovers. The Striezelmarkt on Dresden’s Altmarkt Square they say  is one of Germany’s oldest fairs with a particularly unique setting – the town erects a 48-foot high wooden “Christmas Pyramid” in the centre of the market.

The name of the market comes from the word  stollen, the Christmas bread, which is also known as striezel in this area of Germany. In addition to this food fare, the city  is also known for the pflaumentoffel, a good-luck charm made from dried plums, and famous for its handicrafts that come from all over the province of Saxony.

It is often said and written  that the Nuremberg Christmas Market is one of the oldest, and   most famous, Christmas markets in the world. It had to be one of our stops then during our visit in Germany.

Unfortunately though, it was raining hard when we went so the colorful decors could not be well appreciated and many booth stalls had to close early.

From what was left opened I noticed  wooden booths,  you can find traditional,  hand-crafted Christmas decorations and sweet treats such as gingerbread almond cookies.

I also learned that they also have the  Children’s Christmas Market, the Sternenhaus, the Market of the twin towns.  They usually hold a  lantern procession of Nuremberg children there.

Another favorite of mine was Rothenburg ob der Tauber.  When I first stepped into this quaint medieval city with my late parents a few decades ago, I was simply fascinated with the fairy tale like atmosphere and having seen  the pictures on window sills of the Christmas season in this city, I vowed to one day travel this way to spend the Christmas season.  My prayers and wish granted when this was included in our winter vacation.

Rothenburg ob der Tauber is a walled city that has been left largely untouched for hundreds of years and widely famous for its medieval setting.

Visiting this romantic place is like stepping into a time warp. The town boasts some of the most impressive medieval architecture in Europe.

I loved the half-timbered houses, the old towers and the castle walls that are free to wander. Of course the best spot for me at that time was the town center where the setting of the Christmas market or Reiterlesmarkt is held.

On this visit, we stayed for two nights so I was able to see the Christmas Market held in front of the Town Hall, both during the day and in the evening.

As I was walking around the different stalls at the market, I noticed some costumed men and women holding instruments walking toward the front of the Town Hall.  I presumed they will hold some mini concert so I made sure I was standing near them.   They started playing both classical and popular christmas tunes as more and more people gathered towards them.

What floored me however was when they played “White Christmas” then after a few seconds, snow began to fall!  For a Pinay like me I was thrilled with the experience since there is no snow in my country.

Lastly,  for those who can’t make it for Christmas in this charming city, Rothenburg ob der Tauber has an All Year Round Christmas Museum. This museum presents wonderful old Christmas decorations from Germany as well as the history of this festivity and its secular customs for all visitors interested in learning more about Christmas.