There is something quite quintessential about German Christmas markets. The fact that they were invented in this very country, yet exported everywhere around the world for the enjoyment of German expats and foreigners alike makes this experience a bucket-list worthy one, and one that doesn’t disappoint. Some experiences are meant to be enjoyed in their birthplace. Christmas markets are to Germany what maple syrup is to Canada, and what coffee is to Melbourne. Often imitated, but never duplicated.
German Christmas markets: Berlin
I was lucky enough to land in Berlin in the midst of a raging snowstorm — while some people would be completely deterred by the idea of snow, I, for one, was ecstatic. December and Christmas without snow just aren’t the same, and seeing the city covered in a fresh new coat of snow made me very happy. As the Norwegians say: “There is no such thing as bad weather; just bad clothing”.
And I can’t help but agree.
There are many Christmas markets in Berlin, so much that it is in fact impossible to visit them all. But I wanted to get a good feel so I opted to visit 5 extremely different ones, from the royal one at Charlottenburg Palace, to the iconic one in Gendarmenmarkt and the hipster-approved, Swedish-themed one in Prenzlauer Berg, as well as a few others in Mitte. Although I loved all of them, I have to admit that seeing Charlottenburg’s Palace all decked out and lit up in different colors was quite spectacular.
German Christmas markets: Dresden
I had only heard great things about Dresden’s markets, especially the medieval one — it is, supposedly, the oldest one in Germany, dating all the way back from 1434. Traditionally called Striezelmarkt, a name derived from Hefestriezel, a sweet delicacy now known as Dresden Christstollen, or German Christmas Cake. And as if being the oldest Christmas market wasn’t enough to convince visitors, Dresden is also home to the world’s tallest Christmas pyramid, standing at 14 metres tall, as well as the world’s biggest nut cracker. Hello, bucket list. When one is on a Christmas Market assignment, one must visit the place where it all started. And it was every bit as enjoyable as I’d predicted.
German Christmas markets: Stuttgart
I hadn’t really planned to visit Stuttgart, because most travelers heading in that direction usually are big car fans — the city’s nickname is “the cradle of automobile”, and both the Mercedes and Porsche museum are in Stuttgart. What ultimately convinced me was a photo of a nearby village, Esslingen. It is one of the most picturesque places I have ever seen in my life, with a surprisingly well preserved historic center that was thankfully spared from the bombings of World War II.
Pretty much the entire city is taken over by Christmas markets — it seems as though everywhere you look, there is a different Christmas market. I visited a medieval one, a circus-like one and a more traditional one, all in the space of 24 hours! Esslingen is worth a visit for its sheer beauty and exceptional architecture — it is after all part of the famous German timber-frame road – especially at Christmas time, where the half-timbered houses and medieval atmosphere make for a memorable backdrop.
German Christmas markets: Munich
While Munich is often considered to be a relatively boring, bourgeois city, I really don’t think this pejorative description applies to the city in December. Munich has some of the most elaborate Christmas ornaments I’ve seen on this trip, and has a whopping amount of markets to visit, including Kripperlmarkt, which specializes in nativity items, a gay one in Stephansplatz, a gospel one in Wittelsbacher Platz and many, many more.
The first so-called “Nicholas Market” was first recorded near the Frauenkirche in 1642, making Munich’s tradition not quite as old as Dresden’s but equally impressive nonetheless.
Marianplatz is definitely the place to be, partly because of the highly whimsical alpine concert and partly because of the bustling and highly festive ambiance.
Merry Christmas everyone!
Have you visited Christmas markets in Germany? Which was your favorite, and why? Do you prefer traditional markets or alternative ones?