Decadent Weihnachtsmärkte: Exploring German Christmas Markets

December is coming to an end, as everyone prepares for Silvesterabend.

Christmas time is all but a memory.

Germany had some beautiful Weihnachtsmärkte to visit!

What is a Weihnachtsmarkt you ask? Depending on the city in Germany, it could also be called Striezelmarkt or Christkindlmarkt – different variations of the beloved Christmas markets that run from the end of November until December 23. Every city, town, village, hamlet has their own version of a Christmas market. Usually they take place around the city centre, filling the main square and surrounding streets with wooden huts full of different types of vendors, there’s a large Tenenbaum that’s put-up by the city, as well as a large Weihnachtspyramide, and I can’t forget about the Nativity Scene (often including some live animals).

Christmas markets go back to the 1500s around the time of the Protestant Reformation brought about by Martin Luther. Let’s just say the traditions of this country go WAY BACK! Before this, gift exchanging and celebrations were often done on December 6: Nikolaustag, and the tradition goes something along the lines that St. Nicholas knows if you’re naughty or nice; put your shoes outside the front door before you go to bed, and if they’re properly shined and clean, you’ll get chocolates and treats!  In Germany, Nikolaustag is still one of the many occasions people celebrate with their families (for adults, a mini-bottle of schnapps is the usual). Advent is also widely celebrated across Germany, even those not religious participate in the four Sundays anticipating the birth of the Christ child (Christkind). Not only do many people make an Advent calendar for their loved ones, they might also purchase one from the store – and I’m not talking the cheap little chocolate calendars found around Canada and the US, they could contain beer, candies, perfume, sex toys, kids toys, bath products, and more! They’re so many varieties, I’d never seen so many Advent calendars before.

Alongside the daily opening of a mini-gift with an Advent calendar, each Sunday in December, families and friends come together to light a candle in their Adventskranz and are likely to enjoy some Weihnachtsplätzchen during a festive afternoon. A friend invited me to an Advent party during the second Sunday, I brought some homemade brownies, and others brought all sorts of cakes and cookies, I even tried some incredibly delicious treats that are a Syrian tradition (so sweet, without being that tooth-hurting sweet, and having a caramel-y finish). This friend introduced me to the concept of Feuerzangenbowle – don’t know what it is? I didn’t either, and it even took me a good few tries to remember the word and pronounce it properly. German language consistency: add words to other words to create new words. Feuerzangenbowle roughly translates to mulled wine with a rum-soaked sugar-cone that’s lit on fire above it so the drippings go into the wine bowl. Yes, flaming sugar cone sitting above a bowl of already mulled alcohol. It’s delicious. Up until this point, I hadn’t realized when I was drinking the Glühwein in the Weihnachtsmarkt that was more expensive and gave a buzz quicker – it was Feuerzangenbowle (but more on that later). At this party, there was a sugar-cone patiently waiting to be lit on fire; glorious.

I love the Christmas markets in Germany, it’s a great excuse to leave your home on a frosty (or in my case this past December, rainy) evening, meet up with friends, or perhaps make new temporary friends, drink a glass of Glühwein, eat a Bratwurst or some Knoblibrötchen, wander around listening to music and checking out what vendors are offering. Christmas here isn’t over-the-top, there isn’t giant inflatable snowmen towering over or obscene amounts of lights and decorations; instead, trends tend to stay with simple white lights, Christmas trees with glass ornaments, and Weihnachtspyramide. It’s elegant and inspires a warmth instead of throwing it in your face (not to say that there aren’t Christmas displays in Canada that I don’t enjoy, it’s just often so much about over-consumption).  Since I wasn’t seeing my parents, family, or best friends in Canada over Christmas, I didn’t have to participate in the usual Christmas shopping, Christmas was simpler this year.

Weihnacht_LEPyramid

There’s a common tradition to bake Weihnachtsplätzchen leading up to the Christmas holidays, so I (once again) braved the tiny kitchen and baked brownies, Butterkuchen, bacon maple syrup oatmeal chocolate chip cookies, and some actual Christmas cookies – sugar cookies.  I felt festive and inspired earlier in December, so I went gaga for baking. I mean in German, even the word for Christmas cookies (Weihnachtsplätzchen) is different from usual cookies (Gebäck or Keks). Located throughout the Weihnachtsmärkte there are also lots of bakery vendors selling classic Christmas cookies (like Zimtsterne and Vanillekipferl) and Christstollen (bread-y loaf like a Christmas cake with dried fruit and nuts. I’ve never seen so many varieties before than I did in Dresden, which is a known area for Stollen. I got a Mandelstollen, almond cake, and it was delicious).

dav

Along with each Christmas market offering its own specialties and unique architecture surrounding the open-air vendors, there’s different recipes for Glühwein, Feuerzangenbowle, Weihnachtsplätzchen, as well as the trinkets and gifts you can buy.  This year, besides Leipzig, I visited Bremen’s and Dresden’s markets.

Leipzig’s is nice, but isn’t particularly exciting for me because I’m living here, so I was walking through it any time I was in the city centre.  Leipzig’s main attractions were in the Marktplatz housing the big tree, one of the Nativity Scenes, many vendors, and a busy spot. On the surrounding pedestrian zone streets you would find more vendors of different sorts, move east to Augustusplatz and find a Kinderspiel area just in front of the Oper while across from it sat a Tyrollian-themed stack of pine-huts with Glühwein. There was also a small square housing a Medieval-type market, and I’m told here is where the heisse Maronen were hiding (I’ll find them next year!).

Weihnacht_LEtyrol

Bremen had two that I visited, the main attractions located all around the Dom of the Altstadt, and 200m away along the Schlachte and the Weser River. The Schlachte was essentially Bremen’s version of a Medieval market (which I later learned, all the cities have a variation), and here is where I had my first taste of the heisse Maronen. I grew up eating roasted chestnuts around Christmas time with my family and watching a movie in the evening – they’re wonderful – and when I lived in Austria, each Christmas market had heisse Maronen so I was excited to find them again in Bremen (chestnuts roasting on an open fire… YES!). Bremen, at least the Altstadt to me is more beautiful than Leipzig, has a lovely main square area with classical architecture and St. Peter’s Dom, providing lovely views while walking around with a Glühwein.

Weihnacht_Bremenpretty

The buzz of Saxony is that Dresden contains the prettiest Christmas markets around, which meant that a visit had to happen. The Dresden Christmas market is called Striezelmarkt, I think, because they have this dessert there during the season called Striezelbaum (also, very tasty to eat). The name comes from a yeast/bread pastry that translates to “All Saints’ braid”, the dessert I’m referring to is a dough wrapped around a cone and baked, then sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar (it could have nutella or whipped cream or other sweet fillings, but I stuck with the basics).  Dresden’s Christmas market is one of the oldest in Germany, and is a very popular destination to visit in December. Unfortunately while I was there, the beginning of winter was just rain, on the plus side though, it meant the markets weren’t so busy.  Dresden also has some wineries, so some of the Glühwein I had there, specifically the Winzer Weiss Glühwein, was one of my favourites! It was a not-so-sweet mulled white wine, from the Dresden area.

Christmas markets are magical moments waiting to be had. As 2018 comes to its closure (at least in the calendar year I follow), I will think positively of the end of the year to serve as a good omen for the beginning of 2019.  Let’s see what the new year brings!

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