Christmas Markets

One of the most impressive and lively variations of the Straßenfest is the Weihnachtsmarkt or Christkindelmarkt (Christmas market). Actually, the Weihnachtsmarkt predates the Straßenfest fashion by several centuries; originally, they were markets set up in major towns to allow craftspeople to sell their wares before Christmas.

This origin is preserved in today’s Weihnachtsmarkt, where one finds numerous small stands offering a vast array of small and large crafts items. Fittingly enough, the Weihnachtsmarkt is where you’ll find the best selections of and best buys on Christmas decorations (remember that Germans started the Christmas tree tradition). But there are also stands selling pottery, woodcraft and hand-crafted jewelry. In addition, there are frequently rows of stalls selling various other wintry articles at sharply reduced prices.

All this shopping and gazing makes one rather hungry and thirsty, so any self-respecting Weihnachtsmarkt includes a bounty of stalls offering Christmas season sustenance. In addition to the old German standards available at almost every large public gathering, there are several items most intimately connected with the Weihnachtsmarkt tradition.

A particularly favorite drink is Glühwein, a sweet, hot mulled red wine. Many Christmas-season candies, cookies and cakes (such as the beloved Lebkuchen) are also a standard part of the Weihnachtsmarkt landscape. Seasonal sustenance of a more substantial variety is available in the form of Kartoffelpuffer (potato pancakes) and Eintöpfe, the thick, hearty central European soups that can be a light meal unto themselves. (Common varieties include pea, lentil, Serbian bean, and goulash soup.)

Weihnachtsmärkte can be found in a large central square, a wide pedestrian zone, or sometimes just along a few small streets. Every large Germany city is home to a Christmas market during the holiday season.But these Xmas fairs are such a deeply ingrained part of German life that they even turn up in most small towns, even in a few sleepy suburban redoubts. They usually open in late November and run for about four weeks. But plan your visits carefully! Weihnachtsmärkte usually close down a few days before Christmas, so if you run over to your local Weihnachtsmarkt on the 23rd or 24th with some last-minute shopping in mind, you are liable to get an unpleasant surprise.