Christmas Season is a time for us all to indulge, and push the boundaries of the socially acceptable limitations of our indulgences. Inside each one of us is a disorderly elf who takes one detail of Christmas too far. Some people enjoy covering their house in Christmas lights until it shines from here to China. Others enjoy purchasing extravagant gifts for everyone from their mother to their favorite bank teller. I think each of us knows (at least) one person with a cookie baking addiction. They’ve got tins of cookies shoved in every corner of the freezer, cellar, and back porch until they get them all doled out. There are people with a separate wardrobe specifically for the holiday season. And let’s not forget the revelers that only listen to one kind of music for a month straight…Christmas Music.
Here in Germany it is difficult not to have a Weihnachtsmarkt (Christmas Market) addiction. If you’ve read my articles of the two Christmas’s past, then you are aware that I have no problem indulging in as many Christmas markets as possible. For me, the Weihnachtsmarkt maintains all of the wonder, glory, and festiveness, that this holiday has been groomed to evoke. The Weihnachtsmarkt is specific to Germany. (and certain other surrounding areas) For as heartless as the rest of the world likes to pretend Germans are; they sure let their sensitive side show for Christmas.
In my career of touring new, after new, Christmas Market, I can vow that no two are alike. And if you would disagree with this statement it means that you have not visited enough. That being said, the markets do have a few charming details in common. Every corner and cranny of every market is romantically decorated. At any market you need not walk too far if you are thirsty for a mulled wine or hungry for something savory or sweet. Saint Niklaus will surely be there. And in the event that you are at the market to buy an ornament, there will be millions for you to choose from. When leaving a Christmas market you may smell like a campfire and realize that you’ve OD’d on grilled bratwurst, but you will not be forlorn for any lack of Christmas spirit.
I love walking through a market in the evening. I love the miniature log cabins filled with smoke from roasting chestnuts, crepes, and bratwurst. I love the pine, the candlelight, and the mistletoe. I love groups of friends gathered around an open fire sipping mulled wine and eggnog from miniature mugs featuring images of Christmas. I love tasting the regional treats each market has to offer.
Bamberg is lovely Christmas market. In addition to two traditional markets the city also features over 200 nativity scenes on any given street corner or in any given shop window. Bamberg is also abounding with breweries and cozy pubs where you can escape the market crowds and rest at a hearty 15th century wooden table and sip a fresh beer.
A Christmas day in Regensburg is not to be missed. The city hosts four separate markets. I went to three. The first, and most impressive is the Weihnachtsmarkt at the Thurn und Taxis Castle. You’ll pay a heavy entrance fee to gain admission, but it is well worth it. The market is a nice size, the vendors offer artisanal goods, the food is exotic and delicious, and there is fire everywhere. Torches are lit along pathways, lamps hang from each awning, candles sit at each table, and large bonfires are surrounded by rustic seating. The backdrop of all of this enjoyment is part castle, part woodland. When you’re here you can definitely imagine being in another era. The other two Christmas markets in Regensburg are free. There is a traditional market at the foot of the church, and there is an Art Market at Haigplatz. Regensburg is a charming medieval city, and experiencing it through its Christmas markets adds just enough extra enchantment.
The Weihnachtsmarkt at Dinkelsbühl is too jolly not to miss. The town itself is a miniature medieval city. Within its walls, on the other side of its river, down the cobbled street from its main square with a large, bright Christmas tree is its Christmas market. It is deceptively large; the paths between its stalls wind up, down, and around a small hill. At the heart of the market is a miniature construction of the town itself. Children, young and old, can stand for extended lengths of time watching the choo choo train go ’round and ’round. During our stay in Dinkelsbühl there was a lively performance on stage with caroling and dancing bears. In addition to the Glühwein a delicious beer is also offered, and the fresh potato chips are divine.
It’s nothing short of a party at the Kuchlbauer Brauerei Weihnachtsmarkt. Maybe you remember my blog post about the best beer in Germany. It was all about a brewery Phil and I had visited with great art and a great brewing tradition. This brewery, the Kuchlbauer Brauerei, hosts a Weihnachtsmarkt as well. In addition to live music, shopping, amazing culinary offerings, and your very own mug of flaming wine and liquor (called a feuerzangenbowle), the architectural attractions of the brewery are open late and highlighted with over 250,000 lights. It’s a fun and funky atmosphere.
The streets in winter are full of people, but it’s different than the summer and spring crowds. People look more cheerful when they are bundled like Eskimos, their cheeks are rosy, and every time they speak you can see their breath, as a reminder that it is the coldest time of year. Despite the temperature, you are warmed by the ambient lighting, the joy in your heart, your semicircle of friends, and the heat packs you have shoved in every pocket and in your shoes. You come the market to pick up a souvenir or a gift and you come to be part of the fairytale holiday magic that these festivals deliver.
The past two weekends have been a Weihnachtsmarkt marathon for Phil and I. I like to sample all of the sweets, Phil likes to see how many sausages he can eat, and we usually end up splitting everything 25/75. It can be quite a challenge to decide which food stall to begin at, and which to end at. The hardest part though, is knowing when to say when. For me, when I’ve packed enough food in it’s time to go home. A good night’s rest is needed after a hearty evening at the market…and a week of detox so I’m rested and ready for the weekend to come.