Enjoy the best of Germany's Christmas markets and festive cheer

The scent of Glühwein, roasted chestnuts and laughter in the air. Avril-Ann Braganza shares her early dose of Christmas in Germany, this year

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Enjoy the best of Germany's Christmas markets and festive cheer
The Christmas Market at Römerberg, Frankfurt. All images by


The excitement of witnessing my first Christkindlmarkt (Christmas Market) in Germany overpowers the fatigue of our 12-hour journey. We'd been talking about a trip to see Germany's famous Christmas markets for a while, and my eyeballs pop, in awe, as I walk past wooden stalls decorated in red, green and white. At Neuhauser Strasse, the Kripperlmarkt–one of Germany’s largest manger markets–has stalls selling hand-crafted articles from the nativity scene such as ready-made cribs, statues of Mary, Joseph, Jesus and the shepherds, three kings, fodder for the ox and donkey, little lanterns and more. A few steps away is the main market at Marienplatz, Munich’s central square. The aroma of Glühwein (hot mulled wine) and cinnamon pastries fill the air. It’s dark by 4pm and all the lights come on; it’s soooo Christmassy! People walk around with steaming cups of Glühwein, and O Tannenbaum (O Christmas Tree) blares from a stall’s speakers. Carols sound so much better in German! We stop at a stall selling hand-painted baubles and hanging lamps, and suddenly hear a band striking up. The sound is emanating from the neo-Gothic New Town Hall, where the Mayor of Munich is delivering a speech at the opening ceremony. Once it’s over, a 100-feet-tall Christmas tree is lit with 2,500 lights! It's quite a task for tiny me to see anything beyond the heads of the tall Germans, let alone click a picture. But I wriggle my way in front for a good enough view. Music lovers can enjoy festive tunes here everyday, till Christmas Eve. As the crowd disperses, we stop at a stall selling stollen–a traditional German Christmas cake with dried fruit and marzipan, covered in powdered sugar. We buy some to try too. 

Traditional lighting of the Christmas tree at the opening ceremony

Glühwein stalls are the most crowded; people stand around tables, sipping their favourite flavours. For someone coming from a place where 21° C is considered cool, ambling along in 2° C results in a nose that feels like it’s competing with Rudolph’s. But a few sips of apple Glühwein and I am cozy and happy. A cup costs approximately €2, but it's normal to pay double as the other half is for the refundable deposit. We choose to keep the mug; they make for great souvenirs. For teetotalers, there’s Kinderpunsch (Children’s punch). 
We browse through stalls selling tree ornaments, wooden decorations, candles shaped like Christmas trees, wooden toys, lebkuchen (gingerbread cookies) and more. Chris Schoettl, owner of a family-run stall shares, “On the last day of the market, 24th December, stalls are pulled down and the wood is stored till next year. We’ve been coming back every year, for the past 11 years”. This year saw around 159 tradesmen; stalls are assigned on a point-based system, which has criteria such as attractiveness of stalls and organic food. 

Stalls at the Christmas Market at Marienplatz

While the markets are open all day, it’s best to visit at night, when it's freezing and lit up. Next evening, we head to the Christmas village at Residenz Palace. It’s smaller, but has more food (cakes, steaks, sweets, candy, sausages) and Glühwein stalls than the one at Marienplatz. The decorations continue to amaze me; kids click pictures with reindeer and everyone is thrilled to watch the little tableaux with animated displays. The devout stop to say a short prayer at a stall has life-size statues depicting the nativity scene. We try the stronger tasting sloe berry mulled wine and I can’t believe we didn’t try it earlier. It goes perfectly with our packet of roasted chestnuts. 

Candied apples at Römerberg, Frankfurt

A few days later we’re in Frankfurt. At the Weihnachtsmarkt (Christmas Market) in Römerberg, the heart of the Old Town, the nativity scene is recreated with wooden statues, again life size. Prettily decorated stalls sell decorations, gingerbread, candied apples, stollen, chocolate-coated marshmallows on sticks as well as chocolate-coated bananas, strawberries, cherries and peaches. The marshmallows covered in white chocolate are so yummy, I forget the cold, momentarily. Later on our walking tour, the guide Elisabeth Lucre tells me that the Christmas Market dates back to the 14th century, “But in those days it wasn’t so commercial. They sold basic winter requirements–warm clothes and food. It was never about entertainment, presents and fun. That started around the 18th century”. I see a merry-go-round and understand the change they have undergone. My fingers ache in the cold, so we stop for a quick bite at a little tavern. It surprises me how in the middle of a Christmas market they’ve managed to set up small warm and comfortable pubs, where you can relish a plate of schnitzel or bratwurst. The Glühwein cups at Römerberg are all the same and this year’s cups have a picture of St. Paul’s Church and the colours of the German flag to mark the 25th anniversary of the reunification of Germany, to be celebrated next year”.

Representation of the Christmas Story at Mainz

The next night, we head to the market in Mainz. At its heart is a brightly lit lamp, from which strings of fairy lights stretch out. Against the imposing backdrop of the old Cathedral of St. Martin, you can buy jewellery, Turkish lamps, crockery besides your Christmas decor. In front of St Gotthard’s chapel, is a vivid representation of the Christmas story and in the centre of the square is the 11-meter-high Christmas pyramid from the Ore Mountains in East Germany. I can’t find chocolate-coated marshmallows, but as I sip on my cherry-flavoured Glühwein, an elderly German couple starts chatting with us. “We’ve been in Mainz for 36 years and visit the market every year. I really enjoy it,” says 78-year-old Bridget. It’s our last night in Germany and I wish I could come back every year like Bridget. Perhaps, I’ll be back one day! 

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