Last year was my first Christmas in Germany, and my first time visiting Christmas markets. I was emotionally surfing between being terrified of the crowds and anxious worrying whether I’d be warm enough to have a good time to bubbling to delirium level of excitement to drink authentic Glühwein and see a new facet of German culture I’d heard so much about. All of our friends and family wanted to take us to a Christmas market, so we ended up seeing four in 2017: Frankfurt am Main, Michelstadt, Nuremberg, and Hanau. I’ll share my favorite photos from each throughout this post.
What to Wear to German Christmas Markets
As a Florida girl, I have thin blood to begin with. Anything 60 degrees Fahrenheit and below and I start layering. This is exactly what I ended up doing for the Christmas markets. I tried fleece lining leggings from Modcloth, and I could wear those under my straight legs jeans without anyone being the wiser. I really think they were a huge help to keeping me warm. When I put my thick boot socks on, I’d use the elastic from the sock to go over top the bottom of the leggings layer so no skin around my ankles were exposed. I always wore leather boots with two pairs of socks, a thin pair with the boot socks over those. Sebastian brought over air-activated heated insoles for his shoes. I tried them once, and I felt like they got too hot for my preference, but he loved them and used them throughout the whole Christmas vacation.
When picking out tops, remember it's unlikely anyone is going to see them! Layer up, and grab anything you have that is thermal. Even though your coat may have a hood on it, look for a winter hat that fits securely on your head. Hoods limit your peripheral vision too much to be practical. Plan on wearing gloves as well, and if you’re planning on taking pictures look for the gloves that are convertible between being fingerless and mittens. All this being said, I was NOT miserably cold. I was able to enjoy myself, and of course the hot Glühwein (pronounced glue-vine) helped!
What to Drink at German Christmas Markets
Speaking of Glühwein...this hearty hot, spiced, mulled wine is the starlet beverage of the holiday season. Some Christmas markets, like Nuremberg's, the Glühwein is regulated, and all of the booths offer the same make. If you see a particular stall that has a longer line, don’t be fooled into thinking their Glühwein is better. In Nuremberg they’re all from the same manufacturer. But, other markets like Michelstadt you see the Glühwein is being freshly made in the background out of a slow cooker labeled Glühwein! It depends on the market you’re visiting. In Frankfurt am Main, they offer a hot, holiday version of their Frankfurt Äppler, called Glühäppler. Basically hot cider, which sounds odd at first, but tasted amazing.
What to Eat at German Christmas Markets
Definitely go to the Christmas Markets hungry! There’s a breadth of choices. Michelstadt really pushes their boar specialities, Hanau we were encouraged to try (and we loved) the Kartoffel-Käse Dinnede. It's a type of flatbread pizza with sour cream, potatoes, and onions grilled. A safe bet is a Frikadellenbrötchen, a German meatball nestled into a sourdough bread roll. It's not messy to eat, and easy on the stomach for a night of drinking Glühwein.
Personal Safety at Christmas Markets
When planning a fun, festive night out at the markets pick a meeting spot within the market in case someone gets separated in the waves of crowds, and pick a meeting spot outside the market in case of an emergency. Sebastian and I were at the Nuremberg Christkindlesmarkt the same night there was an attack at the Berlin Christmas Market. Overnight the security drastically changed in Nuremberg. Where there were open streets the night before, by morning large police vehicles and fire trucks were parked along any open area in order to shield the market area from attackers hoping to use vehicles for mass-harm. Don’t let fear keep you from the markets, but do be safe, smart, and plan ahead!
Each Christmas market we visited offered exclusive events or experiences in order to distinguish themselves from other markets. Nuremberg has the Christkind legacy, a special childrens’ market, a global market, and strict standards on booth decorations in order to keep the market feeling traditional. Frankfurt am Main has coordinated ringing of the Church bells, a stunning decorated tree in front of the Römer, carolers singing from the rooftop of the church, and alternative smaller markets within the city’s market. Michelstädt’s and Hanau's star attraction is a larger than life Christmas pyramid while you stroll through the tiny cobblestone streets.
Craving Christmas Markets
I really fell in love with Germany's Christmas markets, and sorely miss them this year. I wonder why they haven't taken off in the United States? If you're looking for ways to bring German Christmas spirit home with you, read our earlier article here. Are you going to visit any German Christmas Markets this year? If you have any questions, we'd love to help! Leave a comment below or send us an email.
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Although I’ll always advocate for experiences over things, I’ll admit that sometimes a ‘thing’ has magical powers to bring wonderful memories of an experience rushing back into your present. If you’re looking to bring a touch of the German Christmas Market home with you to reminisce, consider choosing one of these souvenirs.
A pyramid? In Germany?
One thing I can always count on with German culture is to be surprised and delighted by their attention to detail. I’d heard rumor of ‘Christmas Pyramids’. Honestly I was a bit perplexed by the mention of it, and my train of thought was on its way to Egypt and wondered how they’re connected. Seeing is believing, and Sebastian’s parents carefully brought over a pyramid for us one Christmas.
Sebastian’s parents carefully lifted out of a box this meticulously handcrafted, wooden, contraption with figurines, helicopter fans and candle holders... Suffice to say, when his parents lit the candles, causing the heat to rise and the fan to spin, turning the figurines, making a visual play of shadow and light- my mind had been blown. No batteries required!
And while we’re talking about lighting up things.
Here’s a stinker! I say stinker, endearingly..
This clever little guy actually is hiding an incense stick in his belly. No joke. Once lit, the smoke will travel out through his pipe. I’d imagine this would be a great way to convince your little niece, nephew or other naive child that he’s actually alive and smoking. You’ll find these ‘Smoking Men’ in all sorts of occupations and forms. This one is a seller, in my opinion, and he’s selling Christmas souvenirs..oh the irony, and one of which is my next suggestion.
Always the Overachievers
Again, the attention to detail, so German.
You know, and I know, that something used for cracking open walnut shells does not need to be this fancy, but of course the Germans thought otherwise! Ironically, I’ve loved nutcrackers since I was little, and collected a few over the years. Upon learning this, Sebastian’s Oma gave me her nutcracker, an oldie but a goodie, who is our star performer here. He was even given an extra frisking during the Frankfurt airport security. Chemical swabs and everything. Who knows what secrets he possesses that prompted suspicion! He was approved, and flew home with us. He’s guarding our kitchen this year. Nutcrackers, like the smoking men, can also be found in all sorts of occupations and forms.
To generalize, I’d say if you buy something wooden at the Christmas market..you’re already winning. There’s so many wonderful handmade gifts at the market, these are just three that are my favorite, which we’ve also collected ourselves, and I know are quintessentially German in origin.
If you missed Sebastian's post about Christmas Markets, you can catch it by clicking here.
Sebastian and I wish you a very, very Merry Christmas! Enjoy it! Hug your loved ones and spread the love! Also check your smoke detectors:-) Ho ho ho! Can you spy all three souvenirs in our kitchen?
Living in Florida is not a coincidence, I hate being cold. During my favorite holiday, Christmas, it is frigid in Germany. During the winters I lived in Germany, I’d watch Home Alone 1 & 2 over and over again and avoid leaving the house at all costs. But, there is one thing that could get me to voluntarily venture out into the cold, and that’s a German Christmas Market.
Originating in the middle ages, the Christkindlesmarkt, which translates to ‘christ child market’, is essentially a gift and food festival with a heavy dose of Christmas spirit. Most large towns have these markets, and are held i the town square. My home town would host the market for a single weekend, while big cities, like Frankfurt, would run the market for the majority of December.