GERMANY, November 14, 2015 – 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 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 squares 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.
Thanks to Germany’s half-timbered houses, narrow cobblestone streets and 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.
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 that 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.
The tricky part is deciding which market to visit. On the other hand, since each is 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 6 o’clock.
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 preferable 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.
One particularly popular attraction is Baden-Baden’s “living crèche,” 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 that is the focal point of the market.
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 Neckar 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.
Heidelberg is a university town, which gives it a youthful flair amid its old 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 and a petting area.
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.
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About the Author: Bob Taylor is a veteran writer who has traveled throughout the world. Taylor was an award winning television producer/reporter/anchor before focusing on writing about international events, people and cultures around the globe.
He is founder of The Magellan Travel Club
His goal is to visit 100 countries or more during his lifetime.
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