GERMANY, December 10, 201: Wintertime is one of the best times to visit the traditional German Christmas markets that transform the landscape into a kaleidoscope of light, color, and sound. The cities of Lübeck, Bonn, Aachen, and Wiesbaden pull out all the stops, showcasing their history, culture, and, of course, mouth-watering street food.
German Christmas Markets at Lübeck
Known as the gateway to the Baltic, Queen of the Hanse, the northern German city of Lübeck was a major player in the Hanseatic League, a consortium of merchant guilds that banded together for the mutual protection of their economic and maritime interests in the late 12th century. You can explore the fascinating history of this league at the European Hansemuseum, the largest of its kind in the world.
The downtown area was afforded UNESCO World Heritage status in 1987 for its unique artwork, churches, and monuments such as the twin tower Holsten Gate. This imposing landmark was part of the western fortifications and today houses the city museum.
If you arrive here around November 29th, you can watch how locals celebrate the launch of their Christmas markets when Santa Claus makes his debut by rappelling down the side of the 400 foot tall St. Catherine’s Church.
The city skyline, much the same as it was in the Middle Ages, makes a beautiful backdrop to the Christmas market originally started here in 1648.
Colorful stalls, mulled wine, hot chocolate, sausage and more
Colorfully lit stalls are filled with locally made handicrafts, and vendors offer steaming cups of mulled wine, hot chocolate, bratwurst, and any number of confections.
Speaking of sweets, Lübeck has its own little secret in the form of marzipan. Yes, this almond delight seems to have been perfected here, and at Café Niederegger, they have been making this sweet temptation for more than 200 years. This wildly popular brightly lit shop has thousands of individually wrapped varieties, including the red foil chocolate marzipan. Don’t leave without taking a break from the markets to sample some of their delectable cakes, which look like works of art and are almost too pretty to eat.
There is also a maritime market at Koberg Square in the city center and a dimly lit medieval market featuring Old World food and goods.
While you are here, take time to meander through some of the 90 or so winding, cobblestoned streets and alleys. Along the way, you’ll see stiftshofe (almshouses) that once housed widows of merchants and many other historical buildings.
German Christmas Markets at Bonn
Located on the Rhine River, Bonn is best known as the 1770 birthplace of Beethoven. You can tour his residence in the town center, which houses the largest collection of the composer’s original scores and instruments. There is also a walking tour that highlights 16 points of interest that played a role in the life of Bonn’s favorite son.
Like many cities of its time, Bonn was founded as a Roman settlement in the first century. Through the years, it has amassed an impressive number of architectural styles including a Romanesque cathedral with a 900-year old cloister, the French Rococo Old Town Hall, and the University of Bonn (formerly the electoral palace) in baroque style.
The quaint little village of Bonn
When the weather turns cold and the first flakes of winter start to fall, Bonn city squares turn into quaint little villages, like something out of a children’s nursery rhyme. Starting in Münsterplatz and spreading to neighboring squares and streets, Bonn becomes a nighttime party for the whole family. Picture animated talking reindeer heads welcoming you, red and green-hued merry go rounds taking children on magical rides, musicians playing holiday music, and regional foods of every sort, and then you will get the idea.
With more than 130 stalls to visit, the crowds make their way through the corridors while sampling some of the best street food you will find in Germany. Kartoffelpuffer (German potato pancakes) are among the favorites and usually come three to a plate, right out of the fryer—crispy and delicious. Try them with applesauce.
Marktchampignons in knoblauchsosse (mushrooms in garlic sauce) are another delicacy. The sight of these being cooked in giant skillets is enough to get your taste buds popping.
To walk off those calories, spend time exploring the many shops in the old town area. Here, you will find bookstores, small boutiques, clothing outlets, and eateries. At Café-Konditorei Müller-Langhardt, you can sample some of the best traditional pastries in Bonn. Their Black Forest cake is a favorite during the holiday season and filled with chocolate sponge, whipped cream, cherries, and a hint of kirsch.
For a traditional dinner in a warm and cozy atmosphere, make a reservation at Bierhaus Machold. They have a large beer selection and seasonal dishes like their mouth-watering sauerbraten with red cabbage and dumplings.
German Christmas Markets at Aachen
Situated close to the border of Belgium, Aachen was once the seat of imperial power, and in 789 A.D., Charlemagne laid the cornerstone for the Aachen Cathedral, a major tourist attraction. Charlemagne came here for the natural spa’s thermal waters and to consolidate power. His marble throne (used mostly for ceremonial purposes) is still intact in the cathedral. Aachen is the first site in Germany to become a UNESCO World Heritage Site (1978).
One of the highlights of Aachen is the water. Volcanoes heat the water thought to be medicinal by the Celts and later the Romans. Today, these waters heat the Carolus Thermal Baths that is more like an indoor waterpark with various pools providing bubbly pleasures.
Locals drink the water at various points in the city and claim it helps them to remain healthy.
Printen – Gingerbread a staple of Aachen
The Christmas market in Aachen covers several areas surrounding the church and the town hall, the rear of which displays a gigantic inflatable Printen cookie. Printen is a gingerbread-like confection that comes in various sizes— from small bite-sized to large chewy rectangles, plain or coated with chocolate or nuts.
Printen originated in Aachen in 1820, and there are several shops offering their own version of this spicy lebkuchen pastry. One of the most prominent is Nobis Printen, a family-run operation with several stores in Aachen and a large booth at the Christmas market.
Here, you can watch them make the confections from scratch using ingredients like molasses, rock sugar (for a little crunch), cinnamon, coriander, anise, and cloves.
Once visitors try a sample, they usually end up bringing back gift bags for friends and family.
One of the best things about the 130 market stalls at the Aachen Christmas market is the variety of foods you can try. From simple sausages with mustard to steaming chestnuts, there is something for everyone.
Hexenhof wine and sauerbraten
At the Hexenhof, you can enjoy local German wines and any number of regional specialties for dinner. But, the hands-down favorite is their version of sauerbraten made with, what else, printen. The rich brown sauce is sweet and delicious, giving the veal a wonderful, tangy taste. As this is a very popular spot and advance reservations are necessary.
German Christmas Markets at Wiesbaden
Wiesbaden should be on your Christmas list for the last city to visit. The Romans loved the 26 hot springs here, making it one of the oldest spa towns in Europe. Wiesbaden is still popular for its spas. It is a sought-after destination for its health resorts, parks and gardens, musical concerts, and wine festivals.
You can’t help but be in awe of the sheer beauty of their Twinkling Star Christmas Market (Sternschnuppenmarket). Scores of large illuminated lilies (from the city’s coat of arms) frame the market, providing a warm glow as an accompaniment to the festivities. The market location by the Hessian State Parliament, City Hall, and Market Church make it sublime.
The blue and gold colors of Wiesbaden adorn many of the booths offering decorations, handicrafts, wine, and street food.
The old quarter of the town is in the shape of a pentagon. The Old Town Hall construction was from 1608-1610. On the northern side of the square is the palace of the Dukes of Nassau, which was oncethe residence of Kaiser Wilhelm II.
Located on Kaiser Frederick Square is one of the most unusual curiosities you will find in Wiesbaden— the world’s largest cuckoo clock. The façade is indeed a cuckoo clock, and the story is that the owner wanted more business after the war, so in 1946, he constructed the façade to bring in American GIs who had plenty of dough to spend.
While the holidays and German Christmas markets are some of the best times to visit, this certainly shouldn’t keep you from coming at any time of the year. In addition to fabulous Christmas markets, these four historic cities are magical places that you may have thought only existed in fairy tales.
Where to Stay:
Lubeck: Hotel Hanseatischer Hof
Bonn: Hotel Deutsches Haus
Aachen: Novatel Aachen City
Wiesbaden: Oranien Hotel & Residences
FTC Disclosure: This was a sponsored visit, however, all opinions herein are the authors