Spicy mulled wine, fresh gingerbread, roasted almonds and chocolate-dipped fruits…
All these wonderful treats are ready and waiting for you to indulge in when you visit one of the many winter markets in Germany.
They belong to the pre-Christmas season the same way falling leaves belong to autumn.
There is something to enjoy for every taste, with traditional, historic, popular, extravagant, modern and romantic venues.
The history of Christmas markets
Their origin dates back to late medieval trade fairs and markets. At these fairs, the people were given the opportunity to stock up with foods for the cold winter.
Later on, bakers and craftsmen began selling their products, too.
Since these events became a regular aspect of the pre-Christmas season in the first part of the twentieth century, no one in Germany could imagine this time of year without these wonderful, versatile markets. They are often still set in the historical center of the city, or the market square.
Most of them are free of charge, however, special events at castles, palaces or cloisters sometimes charge an entry fee to help finance the building’s preservation, or to support charitable projects.
The number of Christmas markets in Germany is almost unimaginable, as even small towns often have their very own events. More than 2000 locations all over the country are waiting to be explored.
The oldest one is the Striezelmarkt in Dresden, while one of the most popular markets internationally would be the Christkindlesmarkt in Nuremberg.
Most events start at the end of November, so you have lots of time to take part in festivities. These fairs are great places to meet with friends or colleagues and, of course, enjoy some quality time with your family.
Things to buy and things to see
If you haven’t found the perfect gift already, Christmas markets offer a wide range of high-quality items. Some of the typical goods include:
- Wooden toys
- Fragrance lamps or oils
- Candles (especially those made of beeswax)
- Bags, belts, hats, scarfs and gloves made of wool, leather or other high-quality materials
- Arts and crafts, jewelry, and products made of glass, clay, tin, porcelain, wood, etc.
Seasonal products like ornaments, tree lights, wooden cribs, Christmas arches, nutcrackers or smoking figurines or räuchermännchen are popular souvenirs, too.
The räuchermännchen, from the Ore Mountain region, are used to burn incense, and the smoke comes out of the mouths of the figurines, typically foresters, peddlers, miners or soldiers.
Christmas arches, also from the Ore Mountain region, are decorative archways depicting Christmas or forest scenes, with candles or electric lights to illuminate them.
Some markets offer a nice program of holiday entertainment as well, which can artistic or cultural in nature. This might include choirs singing Christmas carols, Christmas plays for children or performed by children, musicians and storytellers.
Theatre groups may perform Christmas plays, choirs sing seasonal songs, and sometimes Santa even stops by and distributes small presents to the young visitors.
But there is much more to do than just buying gifts and strolling around.
Grab a bite to eat
If you ever get the chance to visit a German Christmas market, or if one is organized where you live, be on the lookout for all the wonderful things to eat and drink.
And believe you me, with all the smells of the delicious and unique foods, you will soon become hungry if you’re not already.
Once the aroma of fresh farmhouse bread from the wood-fired oven reaches your nose, there is no resisting it.
Or, you might choose a classic hearty meal like fried vegetables, bratwurst, batter-fried fish, grilled meat or potato pancakes.
After that savory dish, you’ll need a proper drink.
Have a warm drink
Even more fittingly: a cup of chestnut hot chocolate?
Mulled wine, or Glühwein as it’s called here, is a traditional drink you can get on every market corner. It’s made of red wine, winter spices, and sometimes additional juices or liqueurs.
Alcohol-free options are also available, as well as fancy varieties made with white wine.
Another special market drink is burnt punch, or Feuerzangenbowle. To make it, tongs are used to hold a liqueur-soaked sugar loaf that’s set on fire.
Drinking it has become a nice tradition, that to an old movie from 1944 that first made it popular, a comedy called Die Feuerzangenbowle.
Don’t forget dessert
After all that eating and drinking, it’s time for something sweet. The list of products on offer is as longer than you could imagine:
Have a crêpe or waffles with lots of heavenly fillings to choose from, baked apples with marzipan, Krapfen (fried dough balls), or a slice of Christmas stollen.
Or would you rather try a smaller snack for that time “in between”? I have to recommend the chocolate marshmallows or chocolate-dipped fruits like bananas and strawberries, glazed apples and grapes, cotton candy, or roasted chestnuts.
If you’re about to leave the market, don’t forget to take something home with you. You’ll find flavored roasted almonds and other nuts, coconut macaroons, or beautiful decorated gingerbread hearts.
And if you’re lucky enough to find yourself in one of the cities that feature regional delicacies, you should definitely try some of those, too. Have you heard of:
- Printen-cookies from the city of Aachen?
- Nuremberger Lebkuchen?
- Frankfurter Bethmännchen, made of marzipan?
- The famous Spekulatius almond biscuits with butter and spices?
Traditional Mulled Wine (Glühwein)
Spicy Apple Punch
Sparkling Cinnamon Stars
These sweet stars look great. They have a light crisp surface, with a bright and sweet topping of powdered sugar.
Underneath you’ll find a soft dough made with ground almonds and a dash of cinnamon.
One of the advantages of these cookies is that they don’t require any flour, so they can be enjoyed by anyone with a gluten intolerance or celiac disease.
Sweet and Spicy Candied Nuts
Crunchy, nutty and sweet, sugar-roasted almonds with a vanilla flair are an iconic treat at Christmas markets, festive events or fairs.
They often require lots of sugar to make, but this recipe calls for less than what’s usually used. Almonds, walnuts, and pecans all make delicious options. And you can make them with or without the spicy cayenne pepper.
Easy Coconut Macaroons
This recipe is fantastic, because it is so easy and quick to prepare.
Since you’ll only need the egg whites, use the yolks for scrambled eggs or another recipe like homemade omelets. It’d be a pity to waste them.
Would you like your coconut heaps to have a fancier appearance? Use a piping bag for a nice shape, drizzle with chocolate, or dip the bottoms into some chocolate for a more decorative look.
Bring the Christmas Market Home
Which of these delightful treats will you choose to make and enjoy with your loved ones? And where are some of your favorite holiday markets? Share your stories with us in the comments below!
And don’t forget to check out our full archive of Christmas recipes and ideas here.
Photos by Meghan Yager and Nikki Cervone, © Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details. Uncredited photos: Shutterstock. Originally published on December 19, 2015. Last updated: January 1, 2020 at 5:13 am.
About Nina-Kristin Isensee
Nina lives in Iserlohn, Germany and holds an MA in Art History (Medieval and Renaissance Studies). She is currently working as a freelance writer in various fields. She enjoys travel, photography, cooking, and baking. Nina tries to cook from scratch every day when she has the time and enjoys trying out new spices and ingredients, as well as surprising her family with new cake creations.