Off The Beaten Path: Christkindlemarkt
This travel post takes us a little bit farther (okay - a lot farther) than we usually go, but we still wanted to share with you to help get everyone in the Christmas spirit. This past Christmas, some of us got to take the trip of a lifetime and spend the Christmas/New Year’s holidays in Germany and Austria. Aside from the obvious differences from home in weather and language, we found the Christmas markets, known as a Christkindlemarkt, in every city we visited to be a new and exciting experience.
Nearly every city of any considerable size in a German-speaking country will have a Christmas market somewhere. The bigger cities that most tourists visit have numerous markets, and they all have their own character. Some are driven by the setting; for instance, the Munich market we visited at Marienplatz is surrounded by year-round retail shopping and the iconic Glockenspiel. Others, such as the big market in Salzburg, are flanked by centuries-old cathedrals. The Rathausplatz market in Vienna even has an ice skating path, something we were amazed to see as native Southerners.
Vendors set up beneath the Rathaus in Munich, Germany
There are a few things you’ll find to be common at a Christmas market, and nearly every description you’ll read will start off with glϋwhein. This spiced, mulled wine, served steaming hot, is ubiquitous. Every third or fourth stand you come to seems to be offering a standard glϋwhein or some variation, such as the non-alcoholic kinderpunsch that our toddlers began asking for by name fairly quickly. Groups of friends and family of all ages can be found standing around tables huddled over their mugs. A cup of glϋwhein usually costs 3-4 euros, with a 2 euro deposit for the mug. Each of these mugs is unique to that particular market, and we managed to create a memorable, eclectic collection of Christmas mugs for very little money by forfeiting the deposit and bringing some of them home.
Enjoying a mug of Kinderpunsch
You’ll always find food at these markets, though what you’ll get may depend on the specialties of the people running a stand. You’ll find giant pretzels everywhere, and we certainly ate our fair share. We challenge you to find a better tasting pretzel! You’ll see numerous varieties of sausage (go for the kaisekrainer, but don’t tell your cardiologist), sometimes on a bun, sometimes by itself. You’ll also see things that you won’t even be able to describe; be adventurous and try them. You’ll have fun trying to describe “the waffle-like pastry thing” you ate in Germany to your friends.
The pretzels were a hit!
To us, the community atmosphere and abundance of street food were the highlight of the Christmas markets, but their primary design is for shopping. You’ll see all sorts of things for sale at various markets, but you need to think “Christmas” to understand what you’ll see the most. Traditional gifts such as wooden toys are abundant. Personalized items like cutting boards or homefront signs may also be available. Handmade ornaments and decorations are everywhere...we enjoyed placing some of ours on the tree this year and remembering our Germanic Christmas.
Handmade toys for sale in Salzburg, Austria
If you plan to visit Germany, Austria, or Switzerland and want to visit a Christmas market, be sure to arrive BEFORE Christmas. Most of the markets will start opening in mid-November, but nearly all of them close on the afternoon of Christmas Eve. A few will reopen for the subsequent weeks as Wintermarkt, but for obvious reasons the magic just isn’t the same. If you’ll be hitting a lot of cities over this period, we would suggest that you don’t need to make an effort to see every market. Pick one or two biggies that you want to visit early on (the Salzburg Christmas Market and the Rathausplatz Market in Vienna were our favorites) and you’ll quickly get a feel for them. After that, just wander through with a cup of glϋwhein on your way to your next destination. As we said, most of the big cities have markets spread throughout and you’re likely to stumble into them whether you plan it or not.
We hope this post might inspire you to book a trip next year, but if you prefer to stay closer to home we've got a follow-up coming next week about a local Christmas Market!