• Germany edition
 
The Local's guide to German Christmas markets
The Dresden Striezelmarkt covered in fresh snow! Photo: DPA

The Local's guide to German Christmas markets

Published: 10 Dec 2012 07:30 GMT+01:00
Updated: 10 Dec 2012 07:30 GMT+01:00

Germany’s Christmas markets, or Weihnachtsmärkte, are world famous for their seasonal cheer. Musical programmes, parades and the unique traditions in each city make the German Weihnachtsmärkte more than just a place to buy gifts and enjoy Yuletide treats — they are long-standing cultural events, some dating back centuries.

Christmas markets typically open the last week of November and stay open until just before Christmas. Almost all markets serve Glühwein, or mulled wine, perfect for warming chilly fingers on cold winter nights. Vendors sell regional food specialties, as well as classics like the gingerbread-like Lebkuchen, roasted chestnuts, spiced almonds and sausages.

Germany’s larger cities typically host a number of markets where locals and tourists stroll past craft stalls full of hand-made nicknacks to stuff the stockings on the mantle. One of the oldest and most famous of these is the Christkindlesmarkt in Nuremberg, which gets some 2 million visitors every year.

Christkindlesmarkt, well-known for its 180 stalls and specialty sweets, dates as far back as 1628. The appearance of the Nuremberg Christmas Angel, known in German as Christkind or “Christ-child,” gives this and many other German Christmas markets the name Christkind(e)l(s)markt.

The Christmas Angel, a girl between 16 and 19-years-old, is chosen every two years by Nuremberg residents and opens the Christmas market by reciting a short speech. She also visits charities, children’s hospitals and other Christmas markets. Representing the Christ child, the Christkind was first suggested by Martin Luther to replace the Catholic gift-giving figure of Saint Nikolaus.

Bavaria’s capital Munich also has a historical Christkindlmarkt, lit by 2,500 candles that bedeck the 30-metre Christmas tree in the city centre’s famous Marienplatz. Merrymakers can try Munich’s culinary specialties such as Bratäpfel, or fried apples, and honey cake called Honigkuchen while they watch spectacles such as the Krampuslauf, when St. Nick’s trolls march through the market.

Just around the corner from Munich’s Christkindlmarkt is the Kripperlmarkt, or manger market, which features nativity scenes.

The Römerberg Weihnachtsmarkt in Frankfurt was first referred to in documents some 600 years ago. These days it receives some 3 million visitors per year. The carillon bells at Frankfurt’s Nikolaikirche can be heard three times daily during the Römerberg Christmas market, and visitors can enjoy visits from St. Nicholas and a number of choir performances.

Click here for The Local's visual guide to Christmas markets.

Berlin also offers a number of markets to choose from, with at least one in each of the city’s twelve districts. For an upscale market, the WeihnachtsZauber - which charges a small admission fee – occupies the refined Gendarmenmarkt square. Covered tents provide gourmet food specialties and pricey handmade goods - offering much more than standard kitsch.

The charming Scandinavian-influenced Lucia Weihnachtsmarkt, nestled into the courtyard of a former brewery in the gentrified former East Berlin district of Prenzlauer Berg, also has a cozy atmosphere. There’s even a sauna for those who want to beat the chill alpine style.

Berlin's largest market in the Spandau district old city centre has about 200 stalls on weekdays and 400 on weekends. But the biggest attraction is a big nativity scene with live animals in front of the Nikolai church.

Hamburg also has several markets to offer. The old-fashioned Rathausmarkt, named for its location in front of town hall, is one of the most popular. Styled by a former circus director, it holds rarities like an old carnical organ, vending trolleys from the turn of the century, an art nouveau coffee house, and an 1920's merry-go-round.

Another well-known Christmas market is the Hanseatischer Weihnachtsmarkt in Hamburg’s Gänsemarkt. This market will enchant visitors with gospel choirs, literary goodies, trumpet orchestras and church services.

In Cologne, the most popular market is located in front of the city’s stunning Gothic cathedral, the Weihnachtsmarkt am Kölner Dom, which boasts the largest Christmas tree in the Rhineland and a number of open-air concerts. There is also a medieval Christmas market at Cologne’s Chocolate Museum. Visitors in search of extra novelty can find it on the MS Wappen von Köln, the city’s floating Christmas market on the Rhine River.

Dresden is home to the world-renowned Striezelmarkt located near the recently restored Frauenkirche. The market is named for its traditional Christmas cake, Hefestriezel, which has come to be known as Stollen, a popular holiday treat across the country. The Stollen festival, which takes place this year on December 6 is one of the market’s highlights. Dresden also boasts the world’s tallest Christmas pyramid, celebrated this year on December 13th. Christmas pyramids – spinning towers decorated with lights and figures - originated in the Erzgebirge mountain region near Dresden.

While bigger cities have the most well-known Christmas markets, almost every German town boasts a smaller, and perhaps even more charming market, each with its own traditions and regional specialties.

Frohe Weihnachten!

Elizabeth Norgard (news@thelocal.de)

Don't miss...X
Left Right
Today's headlines
Merkel targets 'shadow banks' in Lindau speech
Chancellor Angela Merkel opens the 2014 Lindau meetings. Photo: DPA

Merkel targets 'shadow banks' in Lindau speech

Chancellor Angela Merkel has opened an economics conference in Lindau, Bavaria, with a call for more regulation of so-called shadow banks. READ  

Dying town centres seek the miracle cure
A senior couple walk down Delmenhorst's main pedestrian promenade, amid a string of empty shops. Photo: Tomas Urbina

Dying town centres seek the miracle cure

Home to two-thirds of Germany's population, many of its small cities and towns are struggling to revive their declining centres. The Local's Tomas Urbina reports from Delmenhorst in Lower Saxony, as it tries to dig its way out of the economic doldrums. READ  

Quick-thinking trucker stops wrong-way driver
Signs warning drivers against entering a motorway off-road. Photo: DPA

Quick-thinking trucker stops wrong-way driver

Erich Mairleitner thought Tuesday would be another ordinary day hauling a load along the A3 motorway, but found himself the hero of the hour after stepping in to stop an accident. READ  

Germany ready to send arms to Iraqi Kurds
Usula van der Leyen and Frank-Walter Steinmeier. Photo: DPA

Germany ready to send arms to Iraqi Kurds

Germany is ready to send weapons to support Iraqi Kurds in their battle against the "barbaric" jihadist militants of the Islamic State, Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said Wednesday. READ  

The Local List
10 things to do before summer is really over
Photo: DPA

10 things to do before summer is really over

The German weather service (DWD) is blaming "Wild Wilma" for blanketing the country in cooler temperatures, but we know it's going to get a lot colder before the end of summer. This week's Local List challenges you to take advantage before autumn really sets in. READ  

Energy policy falls foul of federal auditors
Lightning illuminates the sky above a wind turbine. Photo: DPA

Energy policy falls foul of federal auditors

The Federal Court of Auditors (BRH) has sharply criticized Chancellor Angela Merkel's energy policy, saying that the previous coalition government failed to produce adequate financial plans. READ  

China orders German's execution for murders
A paramilitary guard stands inside Beijing's No.1 Detention Centre. Photo: DPA

China orders German's execution for murders

Update: A German man has been condemned to death in China for murdering his ex-girlfriend and her partner in a frenzied attack, it was reported on Wednesday. READ  

German aid planes to Iraq delayed
All filled up and nowhere to go. Photo: DPA

German aid planes to Iraq delayed

A German military flight to the conflict-addled region in northern Iraq has been delayed because Turkey denied landing permission for the layover at Incirlik airbase, according to a spokesman for the air force. READ  

Bomb shuts down A3 motorway
Photo: DPA

Bomb shuts down A3 motorway

A controlled detonation of a 500-kg bomb from the Second World War has left a 20-metre-wide crater in the middle of one of Germany's busiest traffic corridors on Tuesday night. READ  

Saxony schools get top marks
Photo: DPA

Saxony schools get top marks

A country-wide analysis has shown that Saxony has the best schools and Berlin has a lot of homework to do. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
Culture
Sprechen Sie Deutsch? 10 reasons why you should.
Photo: DPA
National
Berlin's senate puts the brakes on Über
Photo: DPA
Gallery
The mysteries of Berlin's abandoned theme park
Photo: DPA
Culture
How I deal with my German Hausmeister
Photo: Ingrid Eulenfan/flickr
Gallery
Nine German treats you'll want to eat right now (and one you won't)
Photo: DPA
Society
Who's getting German citizenship?
Photo: DPA
Culture
How World War I changed Germany forever
Photo: APA/DPA
Gallery
The 12 best words in Austrian German
Photo: DPA
Society
'Look at those German shanty towns!'
Photo: Europeana.de 1914 - 1918
Gallery
A German soldier's life behind WWI lines
Education
Raising the bar for law & business in Germany
Photo: DPA
Business & Money
JobTalk: All you need to know about working in Germany
Photo: DPA
Features
The Local List Archive - Your guide to all things German
National
Share news tips with The Local Germany
Sponsored Article
Bilingual school turning education on its head
Latest news from The Local in Austria

More news from Austria at thelocal.at

Latest news from The Local in Switzerland

More news from Switzerland at thelocal.ch

Latest news from The Local in Denmark

More news from Denmark at thelocal.dk

Latest news from The Local in Spain

More news from Spain at thelocal.es

Latest news from The Local in France

More news from France at thelocal.fr

Latest news from The Local in Italy

More news from Italy at thelocal.it

Latest news from The Local in Norway

More news from Norway at thelocal.no

Latest news from The Local in Sweden

More news from Sweden at thelocal.se

3,322
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd