An American′s first Christkindlesmarkt | DW Travel | DW | 17.12.2018
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An American's first Christkindlesmarkt

The Christkindlesmarkt in Nuremberg is one of Germany's oldest and most famous Christmas markets. DW's Hallie Rawlinson reports on her first visit there.

Since I was a child, Christmas was synonymous with twinkling lights, the nostalgic sound of Bing Crosby carols, and of course, winter snow. Actually, the weather in my hometown of Cleveland, Ohio was cold enough to encourage us to enjoy our holiday traditions indoors. So naturally, I had a hard time understanding Christmas markets when I first moved to Germany. Everyone goes to a festival OUTSIDE in December? Are Germans just built to stay warmer than the rest of us poor souls? Or do they simply enjoy frostbite? But that was all before I understood the simple solution: Glühwein (hot mulled wine).

Deutsche Tradition: Weihnachtsmarkt (DW/ H. Rawlinson)

Hallie Rawlinson gets a medieval hat during her visit to Nuremberg

After attending my first "Christkindlesmarkt" in the historical market square of Nuremberg this year, I've come to appreciate Glühwein and a few more reasons that Germans will brave the cold each year for the "Weihnachtsmärkte".

A market marked in history

In order to appreciate the Christkindlesmarkt, I had to dig into the rich history of Germany's famous market. In the 16th century, German protestant reformer Martin Luther began telling his children that "Holy Christ" had brought them presents, instead of Saint Nicholas. This idea to turn away from the reverence of Catholic saints would eventually become common in Lutheran families, with the gift-bearing character developing into a feminine angel figure. This was the birth of the character now central to Nuremberg's Christmas season: the Christkind.

BdT Deutschland | Kostümprobe Nürnberger Christkind (picture-alliance/dpa/D. Karmann)

The outfit of the Christkind consists of a long golden robe and golden crown

Every year it's the same ritual: the Christkind stands high on the balcony of the Frauenkirche church and delivers her prologue to start the Christmas season and open the market to all. Her blond curly hair, golden robes and tall crown give her the angelic appearance which captivates people both young and old. Since 1969, the city of Nuremberg has elected a young woman from the local community to play the role of the Christkind - a competitive process, and a true honor for a young Nuremberger. 

BdT Nürnberger Christkindlesmarkt (picture-alliance/dpa/D. Karmann)

In the background the illuminated Imperial Castle of Nuremberg

"Little town of wooden stalls"

Just walking into the market, it is clear that the city of Nuremberg truly is proud of its world-famous market. I walked among the more than 180 stalls filled with all sorts of gifts and sweets. These charming little tents give Nuremberg one of its famous nicknames: "little town of wood and cloth." Between the twinkling glass Christmas tree ornaments, the sweet smell of candy roasted almonds, and the live singer belting out carols, the Christmas spirit seemed to be swirling in the air. But even with all of that spirit, the air is still quite cold on a winter day in Germany, so hot food and drinks are very welcomed.

Deutsche Tradition: Weihnachtsmarkt (DW/ H. Rawlinson)

We enjoyed Glühwein from mugs shaped like Father Christmas' boots

For a full, warm belly

As I mentioned, the real star of every Christmas market (and the secret to staying out in the cold long enough to enjoy it) is the Glühwein. The hot mulled wine is served to eager market-goers in themed mugs shaped like winter boots, and some even read "Mogsd nou an...?" which means, "Would you like another?" in the local German dialect. Those who wish to stay extra warm can even opt to add a shot of rum or amaretto. My own personal favorite was the Heidelbeere - a type of European blueberry. What I perhaps enjoyed even more than the Glühwein (don't tell my German friends... it seems like not loving Glühwein is a serious offense here) was a drink called a "Lumumba". It's basically a deliciously thick hot cocoa with a dollop of whipped cream on top...oh yeah, and a shot of rum. Sensing a theme here?

Deutsche Tradition: Weihnachtsmarkt (DW/ H. Rawlinson)

The "Drei im Weckla" is a bread roll filled with three Nuremberger sausages

As far as food goes, there is no shortage of sweets to try. Any visitor to the Christkindlesmarkt must try Nuremberg's famous Lebkuchen. This German version of gingerbread is often seen in cookie form, coated in sugar, or dipped in chocolate with almonds on top. The Nuremburg Lebkuchen are even trademarked by their geographic location under European law. If you'd like to try something else "Typisch für Nürnberg" (typical for Nuremberg), find a stand selling "Drei im Weggla/Weckla". This traditional Franconian sandwich includes three small Nuremberger sausages inside a tasty roll - hence the name, which translates to "three in a bun". I've also since learned that only this region is authorized to call the sausages "Nürnberger". It seems that Germans are very protective of their regional dishes.

Deutschland Nürnberger Christkindlesmarkt (picture-alliance/dpa/D. Kalker)

The Frauenkirche ("Church of Our Lady") stands on the eastern side of the main market

A new view

Once I'd filled my belly with delicious food, I decided to explore the beautiful Gothic brick "Frauenkirche" church from which the Christkind delivers her prologue. This 14th century building not only offers some stunning architecture, but once inside, visitors can pay 3.50 Euros (3.98 US $) to climb the spiral stone stairway to the top. The view of the candy-striped market tents and of the city is totally worthwhile. While you're up there, take a look at the official costume of the Christkind and her companions, which is displayed in the loft area of the church.

Deutschland Nuernberger Christkindlesmarkt 2015 (picture-alliance/dpa/D. Karmann)

Nuremberg has been a production center for Lebkuchen since the 14th century

Another unique aspect of the Christkindlesmarkt is the Sister Cities Market, located just north of the main market. These stalls represent each of Nuremberg's sister cities around the world. Perhaps you'd like to buy a genuine Scottish kilt? Or maybe some Nicaraguan coffee from San Carlos? I must admit, I did giggle at the fact that the stall representing Atlanta was selling Kool-Aid. But I found it quite charming that Nurembergers care not only about their traditions, but also about supporting those of their partner cities.

Deutschland Christkindlesmarkt Nürnberg (Stadt Nürnberg/S.-O. Riese)

The fairytale atmosphere appeals to young and old visitors alike

Christmas magic

Germany is arguably one of the most magical places during the Christmas season, and after visiting the Christkindlesmarkt, my feelings were confirmed. There's just something about watching people from all over the world come to enjoy the season together in such a fairytale-like atmosphere. It filled me with childlike awe, and reminded me to take a little time to enjoy the season with those I care about. I wholeheartedly recommend you experience the magic yourself.

Author’s note:

I am deeply saddened to hear about the events that unfolded at the Strasbourg Christmas Market on December 11. I hope that this will not stop anyone from going to and enjoying Christmas markets.