December is almost upon us and it’s time to break out the Christmas jumpers, turn on the holiday playlist and pick out a tree. In Germany, the world-famous Christmas markets are central to the holiday festivities, and the Germans know how to do them right! Here’s what you should know before visiting the markets this winter.
Pick the right market
There is a Christmas market in just about every city and town across Germany in December, and they aren’t all the same. Know what you want before you go: if you want a market in a picturesque location for the perfect Instagram photo, check out Berlin WeihnachtsZauber in the shadow of the Französischer Dom, or the picture-perfect Ravenna Gorge Christmas Market, set at the foot of railway viaduct in the middle of the snow-covered Black Forest. If tradition is what you’re after, your best bet may be the Dresden Striezelmarkt or Munich Marienplatz Market, two of the country’s oldest. Alternatively, if a modern twist is more your style, be sure to visit Cologne’s Gay and Lesbian Christmas Market, featuring stalls decorated in pink tinsel and phallic chocolate lollies.
Know what to eat
When it comes to traditional Chrismas market fare, there are a few things that you can’t leave Germany without eating. Start with the obvious: a wurst, varying in style depending on the region you are in – make sure you try the local speciality. Next, grab yourself a plate of spätzle, a sort of cross between an egg noodle and a dumpling dish, typically served with gravy and some form of meat. If you’re visiting the south, try some traditional Steckerlfisch, a whitefish grilled on a stick over the fire. It’s simple, smoky and delicious. If you’ve got a sweet tooth, pick up a roll of candied almonds to munch on while exploring the market.
Come ready to drink
Christmastime in Germany is cold! But wrap your hands around a mug of hot mulled wine and you’ll be warm in no time. Each market has its own distinctive Glühwein mugs, which you put down a small deposit for when ordering. Return the mug, and you get the deposit back, or if you prefer you can take it home as a souvenir. If you’re feeling adventurous, try an Eierlikor. This is a smooth egg and brandy liquor similar to eggnog. It is usually served warm with a generous helping of whipped cream. If you’re not in the mood for alcohol, every market has hot chocolate vendors. Can you imagine a better setting in which to enjoy a mug of chocolate and whipped cream?
What to buy at the Christmas markets
Christmas markets are invariably full of local handicrafts, from the traditional to the small local producers. The classics you’ll find at every market include hand-carved and painted wooden toys and ornaments. If you want to choose just one, go with a nutcracker: it’s considered good luck to have one at home. Alternatively, pick up a porcelain house or two and create your own miniature Christmas village. If you want to bring home a tasty gift, you can’t go wrong with gingerbread. It comes in many shapes and sizes, and you can even get a piece with a message iced onto it.
Now choose a market, wrap up warm, and enjoy an evening out at one of Germany’s many Weihnachtsmarkts!