Last December, I had the opportunity to visit the German Christmas Markets for the first time. As a tour and travel planner and director for Sky Vacations, I’ve sent many friends as well as planned numerous trips for our clients there over the years. That being said, I’d never had the pleasure of experiencing them for myself until this trip.
A small group of us took a six-day familiarization trip in Bavaria, sponsored by the German and Bavarian Tourist offices. On this trip we were able to see some of the most famous as well as some of the lesser-known Christmas Markets. Our merry band of six fellow travel planners (plus a representative from the Bavarian Tourist office) traveled by bus to a different city each day, where a local guide would take us to the markets and show us the local attractions, most of which were accessible on foot. In addition to the markets themselves, our culinary experiences extended to the local eating establishments. Our itinerary gave us time to savor the ambiance of each city and each market, as unique as the style of beer and sausages of each locale.
There are over 2,500 Christmas Markets throughout Germany alone, and countless more throughout the rest of Europe. I only had a chance to visit a few of them, but they were well researched and therefore should be a good sampling.
The markets are much more than a shopping opportunity, but a part of the social fabric of each city where they can be found. Although they are popular among tourists, the real uniqueness of the markets is that they are social gathering places for the local townspeople every day. They are popular places to eat, meet, talk, and enjoy the Christmas festivities.
Of course, they are also filled with beautifully decorated stalls containing all of the trappings of Christmas, from ornaments and decorations to gifts of all kinds for friends and family. But food and drink, and the socializing and festivities that go with them, stand out. Available to satisfy the appetite are sausages of unlimited shapes and sizes, each particular to the city you are in at the time, as well as all types of dishes and platters for on-site consumption. And few can avoid the temptation of the baked goods. Gingerbreads, Stollen cakes, baked apples, marzipan biscuits and Schneeballs (made from fried dough strips covered with powdered sugar and chocolates) are just a few of the culinary delights that await you.
All of this is to be washed down with numerous beers and Glüwein, an elixir of local wine, herbs and spices, heated in mugs and served in mass quantities. The smells and aromas intermingle and waft through the chilly winter air to stimulate the appetite. The tastes are outstanding and guaranteed to be good, because all of the locals are eating here.
Beginning with a morning landing in Munich, each member of our tour group arrived on any of various Lufthansa flights. Before leaving the airport, we already partook of the holiday spirit by meeting at the only airport brewery in the world, where a complete German breakfast was served, including various meats, pretzels, pastries, coffee, and of course beer. (This is, after all, Germany.) After everyone arrived, we took a quick stroll through the airport’s own Christmas Market and began our ride to Rothenburg ob der Tauber for our first evening in Germany. By the time we reached the famous walled city, the snow started, and we stepped into the winter fairytale of a German Christmas scene. The snow would continue, as if on cue, at appropriate times throughout the trip.
We left the hotel that evening to mingle with the local townsfolk and tourists who ritualistically immerse themselves into the Christmas Market scene every day. This was true of every city we went to. Somehow, you really don’t notice the tourists because you can’t help but notice the locals. Everyone mingled together while drinking and eating and discussing the day’s events — all to the background of Christmas music, children singing, much laughter, and vendors plying their wares.
We repeated the process in each city, touring the city by day and the Christmas markets in the evening. Here are some of the things you should now about the various markets we were able to see — every one of them worth the trip.
Rothenburg ob der Tauber — As if out of a fairy tale, this walled city is home to probably one of the most romantic of the markets to be found in Germany. The setting was even more enhanced by the perfect snowfall. Outside of the walls, it looked like huge winter wonderland. Be sure to see the Kathe Wohlfahrt Christmas Store and Museum, of which this is the original and largest location. They carry tens of thousands of Christmas ornaments; choosing among them is the difficult part.
Bamburg — A UNESCO World Heritage site, this city has two markets, one in the main square and a medieval one up by the castle. The town is built on both sides of the Mosel River, so you are always near the water. The central market is plentiful in terms of stalls and food, but of special interest is the Medieval Christmas Market, where everyone is in period dress and candles rule over electricity in the stalls, creating a surreal atmosphere.
Coburg — A charming market in the town square features live chamber music played from an outdoor balcony by an orchestra. If you have time, visit the doll museum and the local palace. The market is sprinkled with craftspeople, glass blowers, artisans and more. There are fewer tourists here, giving it an even more authentic touch.
Nuremburg — The market is set in the old quarter and is one of the largest of the markets. Take a carriage ride through the old city area, then browse to your heart’s content. There is also a Children’s Christmas market here with its own unique fare as well as a carousel, Ferris wheel and steam train. During the day, take some time to see the World War II museum — it’s definitely worth the trip.
Munich — The traditional Christmas Market on Marienplatz Square sits in the shadow of the old town hall, with live music from the balcony every day to add to the flavor. There is also a Christmas Market in the Schwabing district, run by craftsmen and artists; the surrounding cultural district dates back more than 1,200 years. If you are only given the chance to fly through Munich to get somewhere else, you can always drop by for a teaser at the airport’s Christmas Market.
For a taste of culture and cuisine, gorgeous environments, and a huge dose of holiday cheer, it is hard to imagine anything more appropriate and enjoyable than these Christmas markets.
FOR MORE INFORMATION on Group and FIT programs in Europe, including Christmas Markets, contact Sky Vacations (a division of Sky Bird Travel and Tours) at 877-666-3113, ext. 2649, or visit www.skyvacations.net.