Cookie Policy Privacy Policy

What to do and what to eat at German Christmas Markets

What to do and what to eat at German Christmas Markets

Ah, I love a Weihnachtsmarkt, or German Christmas market. Such a lovely way to beat back those cold winter days and nights. Every city in Germany will have at least one market, and the bigger cities have many. Since the 17th century, Germans have been buying their gifts and festive sweets at special winter markets. Wandering around looking at wooden toys and ornaments, with a mug of Glühwein in hand, it’s nice to think of people doing this the same thing for hundreds of years, in these same Old Town market squares.

Check online for opening dates, but generally most markets open for the period of Advent, which begins in late November – in 2017, the lots of markets open the week before Advent begins on December 3rd, so Monday 27th November. There are a few things to know before you visit one of these famous markets.

Vintage carousels are a common feature of German Christmas Markets
Vintage carousels are a common feature of German Christmas Markets

What you will find at a German Christmas Market

Each market is different, but they generally all have food stalls, glühwein (mulled wine) stalls, toy stalls, and decorations stalls. There isn’t necessary a clear organizing structure, often some of the food stalls will be together, but not all of them. It’s worth doing a circuit around the market to get the lay of the land, as it were, and decide where you’d like to eat, and what you’d like to see. Often there will be at least one carousel for kids, if not several rides. Some markets even feature an ice rink. If you’re looking for a place to get Santa photos, you won’t find them – this isn’t a tradition in Germany.

Mini train at the Heidelberger Christmas Market
Mini train at the Heidelberger Christmas Market

 

What to wear

This sounds like odd advice, but visiting a Christmas market in Germany will mean a lot of walking in the cold. These are big places, and even when you eat, you will be standing around outside. Wear comfortable shoes or boots, and good warm socks. Gloves, scarves and hats are a must, because you will be spending several hours outside in the cold. It’s a shame to have to go early because your toes are about to fall off!

Carousels and gift stalls at a German Christmas Market
Carousels and gift stalls at a German Christmas Market

Pro tips

  • Bring a reusable shopping bag for your purchases. Many of the stallholders won’t have any bags, so to avoid wandering around all evening juggling ornaments and toys, bring your own bag.
  • Bring some paper napkins. For your dinner, because you never seem to be given enough to contain the overflow of ketchup or mustard from your average wurst. But also for cleaning out your glühwein mug in case you’d like to pack it home in your reusable shopping bag. If you do decide to keep it, it’s nice to be able to dry it instead of finding the inside of your purse smells like glühwein for weeks. As festive as that is.
  • Plan to arrive by transit. The Christmas markets close off streets and make regular routes challenging, as well as usually being located deep in the windiest, smallest streets of any given town. Do yourself a favour and arrive by bus or bike. Not only does it allow for a bit more glühwein consumption, it means you won’t spend ages trying to get in and out of the area, ruining the festive mood.
  • Buy a couple of brezeln (those big soft pretzels) when you first see them. That way, when your small people suddenly lose their minds/decide they won’t eat wurst/will die if they don’t go on the carousel RIGHT NOW/refuse to walk another step even though the food stalls are about 40 metres away… you are prepared.
Candy stalls are a regular feature at German Christmas Markets
Candy stalls are a regular feature at German Christmas Markets

Eating and drinking

You will definitely find grilled wurst (sausage) served on a bun, and sometimes grilled steak too. In southwestern Germany you will find flammkuchen (a thin flatbread with soft cheese, onions, and bacon as the traditionally toppings, though you can get other kinds too) for sure. Crêpe stalls are popular too with both sweet and savoury options. I’ve seen everything from Chinese noodles to Indian curries, so have a wander. Keep in mind that anything you buy you will be eating standing up, possibly with a table, but maybe not!

Glühwein and Flammkuchen are our favourite foods at the Christmas Market
Glühwein and Flammkuchen are our favourite foods at the Christmas Market

Glühwein, or mulled wine, will be in separate stalls. Be prepared to pay a deposit for your mug, usually €2-€3 which will be printed with a festive design. You’re welcome to bring it back when you order your next glühwein (which will be considerably cheaper now that you’ve paid your deposit), or just bring it home. You can also bring it back to the same stall you ordered from when you’re finished and ask for your ‘Pfand’ (deposit). If you’d like a bit more of a kick in your Glühwein, you can ask for it ‘mit Schuss’, which will net you a shot of rum or whisky in your mug too. If you’ve got kids with you, every Glühwein stall will have Kinderpunsch, which is a warm spiced fruit juice. Glühwein isn’t always made with red wine, so hunt around a bit to see if you can find some made with local wine, or rose or white versions. Be on the lookout for Feuerzangerbowle, a warm punch made with spices, sugar, and rum. You’ll be able to spot the stalls selling this drink by the cones of sugar on fire above a kettle of punch – traditionally this is the way they add the sugar to the drink, so it’s got an almost caramel taste to it.

Who can resist the Zuckerwatte (cotton candy)?!
Who can resist the Zuckerwatte (cotton candy)?!
Yum! You can smell these fire-grilled wurst stands all over the markets.
Yum! You can smell these fire-grilled wurst stands all over the markets.

Alongside hot food stalls, there are usually a few bakers selling their wares, both for eating straight away and packaged in little decorative bags for giving as gifts. My son’s favourite stalls are the giant candy ones, packed to the rafters with bulk candies, sweets, and loads of Lebkuchenherzen (gingerbread heart cookies) hanging on ribbons with cute sayings on them. The candy stalls also sell warm praline-covered almonds, handed over in a paper cone, which are one of our favourite market treats.

I love these lantern stalls, they are so beautiful.
I love these lantern stalls, they are so beautiful.

German Christmas ornaments

These are not the cheesy decorations you find at local church fairs. There are artisans that work all year just to sell their wares at the Christmas markets, and they are impressive. There are the intricate winter scenes cut out of thin wood, often backlit by a candle. If you have a mantle you’d like to decorate, the small houses to create a miniature village are everywhere, both with a little light inside and not. My favourite is the miniature versions of the Glühwein stands you see in the markets with the giant rotating pyramid. The miniature versions have tealight holders, so when lit, the heat from the candles will turn the pyramid. These are often quite expensive, but also very detailed. I have heard many stories from my German friends about the pyramids their families have had passed down for generations.

A traditional, and quite affordable, German Christmas ornament is the Christmas star lantern. Traditionally, homes hang these lighted star lanterns in their windows during Advent. I love finding the stalls selling these, as they are a riot of colour and light.

These wooden toy stalls are my son's favourites. This one is full of puzzles.
These wooden toy stalls are my son’s favourites. This one is full of puzzles.

Finding great gifts at German Christmas markets

Beautiful German Christmas ornaments make good gifts, but there’s more to find. There are often stalls full of gorgeous wooden toys at remarkably reasonable prices – everything from little puzzle games to swords to animals. Another traditional stall you’re likely to see is the sheepskin and wool products – keep an eye out for cozy sheepskin slippers. Wearing slippers inside is a major thing here in Germany, everyone takes their shoes off and changes into Hauschuhe as soon as they come inside. Proper sheepskin booties are on my list to buy for myself and my husband this year for sure! If you’re thinking about bringing things back for friends, I’ve also written about the best things to buy as souvenirs in Germany, and where to find them.

[WPSM_INFOBOX id=2616]

Follow:

Etsy Gift Guide

Etsy Gift Guide

Etsy can be a huge and overwhelming craft fair, and not everything is, er, to my taste. But there are some gems in there, if you have patience. I’ve collected up some of my recent favourites if you’re looking for some gifts to finish off your list.

terrarium

Glass terrarium, Waen

 

woden lids

Wooden jar lids, Cattails Woodwork

feather scarf

Feather print scarf, Shovava

succulent hair pin

Succulent hair pins, Floral Style

ceramic head planter

Ceramic head planter, Membil

paper airplane bag

Paper airplane tote, The Bold Banana

 

All images courtesy of Etsy shops mentioned

 

Follow:

How to make this centrepiece for $15 from IKEA bits

How to make this centrepiece for $15 from IKEA bits

DSC_0065

Standing in the As-Is department of IKEA, I came up with the idea for this centrepiece. I am a sucker for fake flowers. Real ones are beautiful, obviously, but I try to stick to things grown close by and in the end of November in Canada, there isn’t much around. So when I spotted branches of less-than-perfect white ones for 59¢, I dug around the garish pink blossoms to come up with three nice stems. If your As-Is department comes up empty, the regular stems run about $1.29 – $2.99 each, I used three here.

DSC_0063

 

DSC_0062

The vase is the bigger of the two ENSIDIG vase sizes ($2.99), and I filled the centre of it with two strands of the SÄRDAL LED light strings with the battery pack attached ($3.99/each). Cramming the artificial flower stems inside and pressed along the outside edge disguises the battery packs. Just pull some of the lights around so you’ve got some poking out the top and some illuminating flowers from behind.

Follow:

Lovely things: Holiday photo cards from Minted

Lovely things: Holiday photo cards from Minted

I know, how did it become the last week in November? I’m pretty sure it was October yesterday.

As we do the scrabbly and panicky slide down into the Christmas season, let me simplify one of your problems: Christmas cards.

When we lived in England and all our family was back in Canada, the Christmas cards were a critical part of the holidays. That’s also when I first discovered the photo card companies. It made everything much easier – there was no printing photos on expensive photo paper that I would waste because I never get on with my printer. Only to find out that the photos were about 2cm bigger than the card and envelopes I had bought, followed by rum and eggnog fuelled x-acto knife wielding.

I’ve had mixed success with photo cards. Some are beautiful but cost a small fortune if you get a small number. Others are affordable but show up on shiny, flimsy paper, or all the design options are terrible. However, I’ve been eyeing the Minted selection of holiday cards for a couple of weeks now, and it was serendipity that they emailed me about picking out my favourites. There are so many really lovely options, as well as some neat ones with fancy shapes. There are holiday postcards which has got to be one of the best ideas ever. Forget the envelopes, and why does a card have to fold anyway?

The shipping is $10 to Canada for 3-5 business days which is really quite reasonable. And incredibly, they will print your recipients’ addresses for free. No writing hand cramps. Or fighting with my printer to do the envelopes.

I have tried to confine myself to five of my favourites, you don’t even want to see my ‘maybe’ list.

2014 in a nutshell

2014 in a nutshell by Spotted Whale Designs

Merry little chalkboard by geeking design

falalala

Handlettered fa la la la la by linda and harriett

instant camera

Instant film by Olivia Kanaley

joy

Simply joyous by carly reed

This mini-book option is a bit more, but it would be a lovely gift for some relatives you don’t see as often.

Insta-book holiday by up up creative

So pull up your stockpile of family photos and pick your favourites.

 
Promo

Follow:

Making beeswax and honey lip balm

Making beeswax and honey lip balm

beeswaxlipbalm6

I am making my own lip balm this year as part of my homemade gift basket. This sounds much more insane Pinterest-mom than it is – I promise. I spend much more time sourcing appropriate containers than anything else, and that’s my favourite part. I mean, containers!

As a beekeeper, I also have access to a good chunk of beeswax, should I want to do the messy work of rendering it down.

beeswaxlipbalm2

beswaxlipbalm1

A word about beeswax: know your source. I know you can buy those beeswax pebbles on Amazon and Etsy, but please, go to your local beekeeping association and get your wax through an actual beekeeper, and ask them how they manage their bees. As you probably know, keeping honeybees is a difficult job these days for a number of reasons. Plenty of beekeepers choose to fight off the many diseases by giving their bees medicines and antibiotics every year. These substances build up in the wax, which you are then putting on your lips. You don’t need to ask for organic beeswax, just say you’d like beeswax from someone doing natural beekeeping without medications. Small-scale beekeepers are more likely to work like this. Beekeepers are a funny lot, but most are happy to help you out, especially if you come with cash in hand. This is a good time of year to get it, too. I didn’t know anything about this until I started beekeeping myself.

On to the rest of it!

beeswaxlipbalm5

I bought empty lip balm tubes as I don’t like sticking my dirty fingers into a lip balm pot while out and about, but if you prefer that kind of container, there are lots out there. For decanting into your container, try using a [amazon_link id=”B00MH7SDS0″ target=”_blank” ]children’s medicine syringe[/amazon_link]. You can find them at most pharmacies, and it makes things much less messy, especially for decanting into the tubes.

Basic lip balm recipe ratios
Makes about 15-17 lip balms in tubes

40g coconut oil

20g beeswax

1-2 tsp honey

  1. Melt the beeswax with the coconut oil. I do this in a mason jar sitting on a jar ring in a pot half-filled with water over medium-low heat. Whatever vessel you melt the wax in will become hopelessly covered in wax, so use something you can dedicate to the purpose. The pot will get a bit of wax scum on it too, fair warning!
  2. Once everything is melted, add the honey and stir to combine. Test the consistency of your lip balm by taking a small amount out on a spoon and letting it cool. Test it out! Too greasy? Add a bit more beeswax. Too stiff? Add a bit more coconut oil. If you add too much honey, it won’t mix in with the wax mixture.
  3. Get some tubes gathered together and standing upright. Whisk your wax mixture vigorously, and then pull some into your syringe and fill tubes madly to the top. Once the first round of tubes are filled, you will need to add a glob of balm to the top of each one. Pop on the lids and label them up.

A note on honey separation: I found that when I added too much honey to my mixture, when I filled the tubes, the honey would sink to the bottom. It’s easy to roll the lip balm out of the tubes and into your melting pot, and then wash the honey out of the tube (or, er, dip your finger in it and then wash it out with hot water…). You can remelt this lip balm as many times as you need to get the ratios right. The whisking before pulling up the melted balm helps distribute the honey as well, but some batches just wouldn’t come together for me.

Follow: