Thursday, November 12, 2015

Christmas markets in Germany are Wunderbar!

Wooden soldier guards the entrance to the Baden-Baden Christmas market  (Taylor)
GERMANY  If ever there was a country ideally suited for celebrating the Christmas season, it would have to be Germany.

European Christmas markets are rapidly becoming destinations all their own and, if over the years you have lost your Yuletide spirit, Europe will rekindle those youthful joys of yore at any of its hundreds of marketplaces.

Christmas markets appeal to all ages  (Taylor)
Christmas markets trace their roots to the German-speaking regions of Europe in the late Middle Ages. In Germany the markets are known as Christkindelsmarkt which literally means “Christ child market.”

Though it may sound like an oxymoron, the markets are generally the same, yet somehow, each is also unique with its own character and personality.
And then there are the lights.

Most markets are held in the town square and adjacent pedestrian zones. They can be compact or they may spread throughout a city or town, but they all sell food, drink and seasonal items from open-air stalls, accompanied by singing and dancing.
A snowy day only adds to the atmosphere  (Taylor)
Thanks to Germany’s half-timbered houses and narrow cobblestone streets with glowing streetlamps, all made so familiar to Americans in Walt Disney’s films, it is this atmosphere that captures even the most curmudgeonly heart.

Oddly enough, this is the one traveling season of the year when foul weather is a plus. Let it snow or sleet or rain. It doesn’t matter. That only adds to the fun.

Hot mulled gluhwein is the drink of choice  (Taylor)
Every market features hot spiced mulled wine. In Germany, gluhwein as it is called, will chase away a chill and make you forget about the elements within seconds. Stop by a stall for a hot pretzel or a sausage with mustard and a hard roll and you have officially chased away the Christmas blues forever.

The best part is that the marketplaces are usually so compact, it is also easy to duck into a cozy pub or café if the wet stuff becomes too much to handle.  

The magic of Germany’s Christmas markets, along with her European sisters, is how they recreate Christmas as it once was. For travelers weary of Christmas commercialism, a Christmas market is the perfect place to get away from it all and experience crafts, wood carvings, puppets, candles and gingerbread all enhanced by a myriad of seasonal aromas.
Many manger scenes feature live animals and petting areas  (Taylor)
The tricky part is deciding which market to visit. On the other hand, since each unique, just pick two or three places you want to experience and let yourself explore. Absorb the atmosphere through your pores and Christmas will wash over you as never before.

Most markets start the last week of November and run to Christmas Eve or a couple of days before. Usually they are open from 10 in the morning until about 8 or 9 pm. If you want to mingle with locals, perhaps the best time to go is in the early evening around six o’clock.
Nothing like a giant pretzel on a cold night  (Taylor)

In Germany there are close to 70 Christmas markets from which to choose. Here are a few just to whet your appetite, but they are by no means necessarily preferential to others.

Baden-Baden: This ancient spa and festival city nestles in the hills of the legendary Black Forest. The market always features a multitude of choirs, orchestras and bands that perform daily in front of the Kurhaus with its colonnades lit by thousands of lights.

Lights and decorations are part of the festive atmospher at the Christmas markets  (Taylor)
One particularly popular attraction is Baden-Baden’s “living crèche” which is a manger scene complete with bleating sheep and other animals amid the smell of freshly cut hay.

Start early and stroll through the Old Town of this 2,000 year old city past its two famous spas before wandering into the market for a Christmas you will never forget.

Freiburg: Also situated at the edge of the Black Forest, Freiburg’s most famous monument is the Minster of Our Lady, a masterpiece of Gothic architecture which is the focal point of the market.
The market in Freiburg centers around its Old Town and Gothic minster  (wikipedia)
Freibug’s Old Town is the gateway to several squares that are surrounded by historic buildings and its famous channels that gurgle their way through the narrow streets of the city. Once used for a variety of purposes, Freiburg’s tiny canals add their own special flair to its market.

Heidelberg: Nestled high on a hill overlooking the Nekar River, Heidelberg’s market encompasses five historic market squares. With more than 140 stalls, Christmas market connoisseurs say that Heidelberg is an absolute “must see” destination.

Away in a manger  (Taylor)
Heidelberg is a university town which gives it a youthful flair amid its oldy worldy wooden huts that blend with the historic squares of the Old City.

Europe’s longest pedestrian shopping street, the Haupstrasse, is filled with illuminations that give it a charming fairy tale presence.

Just beneath Heidelberg’s famed castle is an attraction known as “Christmas on Ice” which is situated on the Karlsplatz. Many people say this is the Germany’s loveliest setting during the Yuletide season.

Here, as in Baden-Baden and many other markets, there is a manger with live animals including a petting area.
Christmas in Europe is the way Christmas used to be  (Taylor)
If you, like many of us, have been seeking to regain the spirit of Christmas, consider the Christmas markets of Germany and Europe. They will capture your heart and energize your soul to a simpler day we thought could never return.