My parents are coming to Germany for Christmas for the very first time. Sure, they’ve been to Germany before. They’ve climbed the 111 steps up to our beloved Dachgeschoss in Berlin; they’ve driven all over the Romantic Road, they’ve fallen in love with its small towns and cities. But they have never experienced the true magic that is Germany at Christmas.
The biggest draw is sure to be their granddaughter (and native Berliner), but I am excited to introduce them to the beloved tradition of Weihnachtsmärkte (German Christmas Markets). The food, the Glühwein, the crafts, the food, the decorations, the holiday performances, the food….I want to do it all with them. If you are facing a similar undertaking (cram as much holiday cheer into a relative’s visit) I have prepared the Newbies Guide to German Christmas Markets so you can experience the true meaning of Gemütlichkeit.
Food at German Christmas Markets
I may have mentioned food in the intro. (I did? Three times? You can tell where my priorities are at Christmas markets.) The truth is, as nice as it is to shop for trinkets, the real gold at a Christmas is eating and drinking with friends. This all sounds fine and cheery until you consider that we are talking about standing around tables (no chairs ever at German markets) in sub-degree weather. That makes food not just an enjoyment, but a necessity to stave off freezing to death – stomach first. A brief rundown of the deliciousness you can expect to find at a German Christmas Market.
- Sausage – This is one of the cheapest things you can buy at a Christmas Market (around 3.50 euro) and a classic. Get a basic Bratwurst, or try one of the regional versions like little Nürnberger Bratwurst. In Berlin get the omnipresent Currywurst and in Bavaria start your visit with a Weisswurst. Eat it straight from the schwenkgrill, a grill on three legs that lazily swings over the open coals.
- Champignons in Knoblauchsosse – A personal favorite, I always am on the lookout for the perfect mushrooms in garlic sauce.
- Reibekuchen/Kartoffelpuffer – These deep-fried German hash brown comes covered in Apfelsoße (apple sauce) or the aforementioned garlic sauce. Greasy and delicious, prepare to stand for a moment over this steaming hot beauties. More potatoes? Germany’s got them with classics like Bratkartoffeln (fried potatoes with onions and bacon).
- Stollen – This traditional Christmas cake resembles a dense fruitcake and comes in loaf form. This is a must-have in Dresden where they have a festival dedicated to the cake.
- Gebrannte Mandeln – Sugared almonds can be found at every market and a fragrant, toasty paper cone only costs about 2.50 euro for 100 grams making it the perfect snack and stroll treat.
Drinks at German Christmas Markets
There are non-alcoholic drinks at Christmas markets like coffee, hot chocolate and Kinderpunsch, but the highlight is in the booze. Forget what I said about staying warm and alcohol lowering your temperature and just enjoy the buzz.
Note: The beautiful mug your drink is served in comes with a pfandt (deposit). Return the cup to get your money back.
- Glühwein – This mulled wine drink is impossible to avoid during Christmas.
- Feuerzangenbowle – Booze, now with more fire! A bowl of red wine is topped with a sugar cone that is then doused in rum and set ablaze. The alcohol-soaked sugar drips into the wine and you have a Feuerzangenbowle.
- Eierlikör – If you like eggnog you’ll probably like Eierlikör? Ok – I haven’t tried it as the spinning blender it is presented in freaks me out, as does the description of milk, cream, sugar and beaten eggs with cinnamon and a shot of rum, brandy or whisky.
So, you’ve eaten and boozed. Time to shop and notice your beautiful surroundings.
Not all German Christmas markets are created equally. In Berlin, the Christmas market in Alexanderplatz isn’t half as nice as the markets at Gendarmenmarkt and Charlottenburg. Do a little research to find the best in major cities (Berlin has at least 20 including pop-ups!).
This includes the trinkets they sell. That cute little drum frog may look adorable at the first market you go to, but it is a little less cute after you have seen it a dozen times. Some markets specialize in unique products and one-off items.
Also pay attention to the performance schedule as special events may occur only once or twice a season (like the Krampuslauf in Munich) or daily (Santa flying by Berlin’s Rotes Rathaus).
It is just over a week til my parents arrive so I will continue scouting locations and testing Glühwein til then. If this is your first or fiftieth Christmas in Germany, get ready to embrace the holiday atmosphere.