Christmas Markets Ablaze in Germany

As the winter solstice approaches each December, the cities of Germany come alive with light, color and festivals of food and drink.  I’m talking about the famous Christmas Markets of course, which draw revelers by the thousands to city centers throughout the nation to eat, drink, be happy, and push back against the chill of winter.

Now, to be sure, Christmas markets spring up in cities throughout Europe as November wanes, including incredible festivals in Prague, Strasbourg, Vienna and elsewhere.  But nowhere do they match the size and fervor of Germany, in which winter markets have blazed forth each December since the 15th century at least.  Here in most cities of all sizes, stalls spring up in the city’s central market square offering handmade holiday gifts, mulled wine (Glühwein), and delicious, spicy Lebkuchen. Here are a few of our favorites:

Although it vies with Dresden for the honor, there is no question that the city of Leipzig’s Christmas market is among the oldest in Europe. Dating its origins to 1458, the annual festival springs up in the square in front of the renaissance era Old Town Hall in late November.  Here you will find all of the favorites of course, as well as smoked salmon.  Leipzig is not only one of the oldest, but also among the largest markets, at over 250 fabulously decorated stalls.  Visitors also are treated to a huge Saxon spruce Christmas tree, often topping 60 feet in height, as well as a ferris wheel and live musical performances.

And speaking of venerable markets, not list would be complete without including the oldest, and among the most loved German markets, in Dresden.  Dating back to 1434, this market is famous for its marzipan and fruit-rich offerings of Stollen (Streizel), the delicious German Christmas cake. Among its other claims to fame are the world’s tallest nutcracker, a puppet theater and childrens carousel.  The stall offerings include glassware, candles, handcrafted wooden decorations (often the craftsman is present in the stall), and of course sausages and mulled wine.  The Dresden Striezelmarkt is celebrating its 583rd edition this year, running from the 29th of November, to the 24th of December.

If you’re looking for big and traditional, then head over to Stuttgart for its annual market.  One of the oldest in Germany, the festival sprawls over five cobbled squares in the car-free downtown area.  With some 300 stalls, many believe Stuttgart to be the largest Christmas Market, and it may well be.  You’re never short of entertainment here; musicians perform nightly in the courtyard of the Old Palace, where a towering Christmas tree stands forth to welcome revelers.  Stall operators compete for the honor of the most beautiful stall, decorating with fanciful lights, Christmas angels, pine boughs and all manner of handmade decorations.  Just check out the stall rooftops in the picture!  Here also you will find a wonderland for the kids, including a steam railway and outdoor skating rink.  Don’t miss it!

No mention of German Christmas markets would be complete without including Nuremberg.  This mammoth market is arguably the most famous outside of Germany, and for good reason.  The Christkindlesmarkt is very old, dating to 1628 by many accounts, and abounds with handcrafted items (mass-produced products are forbidden), boots filled with Gluhwein, grilled sausages and famous Nuremberg gingerbread.  A Christmas Angel and children’s market keep things festive and airy, and of course the Christkind.  This figure, the symbol of the market, adorned in blond locks, crown and golden robe, visits the market each day at 3PM.  Oh, and did we mention the stagecoach?  Offering rides around the historic city center and market, the coachman and his horses provide a great perch on which to enjoy the sights and sounds of this festival.

Finally, we love the market in Munich. A spectacular setting downtown, a very big Christmas tree, and all of the traditional goodies combine to make this one of the best.  At Marienplatz, the mammoth Christmas tree is festooned with 3000 lights, blazing forth to welcome visitors to the market.  The market sprawls from Marienplatz down size streets and into adjacent squares, but maintains its traditional Bavarian character, offering handcrafted ornaments, stollen, fruitcake, and chestnuts.  Each evening, glasses of Gluhwein in hand, festival goes gather in Marienplatz to listen to advent music.  Nearby the “square of stars” at Rindermarkt transforms this marketplace into a magical twinkling forests, with shops and food galore, including bratwurst of course, and steaming beer (try it you’ll see).

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