Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Magic of Christmas Markets in Germany

There’s no better way to experience the festivities of the holidays than Christmas markets (Weihnachtsmarkt) in Germany.
The markets take place usually in the center of the town, and you'll find all manner of stalls selling a wide array of crafts and tasty regional delicacies, sweets, cakes, food, mulled wine (Glühwein) and other delights. Especially, if/when there’s snow, the atmosphere is absolutely magical.

Almost every city, town and village in Germany has its own Christmas market, and deciding on which one to attend is not easy, as each of them are unique and reflect local and regional culture. I’ve enjoyed almost all of the ones I’ve been to, but my favorites are the markets in Heidelberg and Frankfurt.

Heidelberg is an absolutely lovely city (located about an hour south of Frankfurt), and the market on Karlsplatz is stunning, with a spectacular view of the Castle and surrounded by trees glistening with hundreds of stars … and as if that wasn’t enough, there’s even an ice skating rink.

Frankfurt, of course, is a bigger city and an ideal location if you’re planning to travel around Germany or Europe, and if offers great access to a lot of different venues. The Christmas market on Römerplatz is gorgeous, and what I really like about the atmosphere of this market (and the city in general) is its diversity of people and exposure to different ethnic groups versus other cities in Germany, which tend to be rather homogeneous.
Römerplatz, Frankfurt
Berlin also has a wonderful market(s). I’ve been told that there are 60 markets in total; however, my favorite is the one on Gendarmenmarkt. It is one of Berlin’s most charming and picturesque, with the German and French Cathedral and Berlin Concert House beautifully lit surrounding the market. Located in Gendarmenmarkt Square, one of the most scenic squares in the centre of Berlin, the Christmas market is conveniently located, and there are endless market stalls offering traditional souvenirs including wood crafts, jewellery, toys and confectionery, and the market has a performance stage for musicians, jugglers and acrobats. Of course, the city itself is fantastic … my favorite city in Germany … and offers a lot of great sites, restaurants and activities. For more information & recommendations on Berlin.

In addition, there are quite a few other well-known Weihnachtsmarkt throughout Germany: Braunschweig, Nuremburg (located about an hour north of Munich), Cologne (Köln), and of course, Munich (München).  But beware, although the Christkindl market (Christkindlmarkt) at Marienplatz in Munich is marvelous, it can get extremely crowded and touristy.

One thing to keep in mind, most Christmas markets start in the last week of November and run through to Christmas Eve or a day or two before. They are usually open every day from 10am to about 8 or 9 pm. Also, as Christmas is one of the biggest holidays in Europe, most of the businesses (shops, restaurants, grocery stores, etc) can be closed for 3-4 days in a row.

Visiting the Christmas markets in Germany is an absolutely magical experience, and some of my fondest memories in Europe were at Weihnachtsmarkt, huddled with a cup of Glühwein, sharing laughter and festivities with friends.


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