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Filling and Festive

Rachel RyanNovember 15, 2006

For those visiting the German Christmas markets, the traditional mulled wine, cookies and sweets certainly provide for a fulfilling and festive experience.

A man cleans two large santa statues
Its time again for the start of the Christmas market season in GermanyImage: dpa

Ranging from huge markets held in the major German cities, with hundred of stalls and displays of lights and ornaments only heard of in fairytales, to the small rural festivities, the Christmas markets (Christkindlmarkt) in Germany are certainly worth visiting.

What is the Christkindlmarkt?

Dating back to the 15th century, the German Christmas markets were once only a one to two-day event with a few stalls in the area around the main church of the town or village. Now, the markets have become a near month-long event filled with feasting, shopping and winter fun.

The different Christmas markets throughout Germany have their own unique aspects, depending which part of Germany you're in.

Nowadays, the Christmas markets usually start before the first weekend of Advent, which is around the end of November and go on until about Christmas Eve. Markets are put on in the big cities, but also the smaller towns, which can be just as impressive.

A man pours glasses of warm mulled wine
Glühwein, or mulled wine, is a feature of Christmas marketsImage: dpa

A nativity scene is usually on display and often musicians, singers and dance clubs offer entertainment from a central stage. The food selection can include reindeer meat and the traditional German wurst, specialty sweets like Lebkuchen (spiced cookies) and sugared almonds. Most important is the Glühwein, which is a spiced, warm wine.

The markets sell a huge selection of everything Christmas, including: candles, tree decorations, sweets, biscuits, baking tins and toys.

Christmas markets around Germany:

Augsburg (Nov. 27 to Dec. 24): The market has been held for about the last 500 years. It is are known for one of the "loveliest" settings at the Renaissance town hall, which is turned into a huge Advent calendar. The highlight is the Angel Play, where angels appear and play music above the markets.

Christmas markets in Augsburg at night time
The market in Augsburg, lit-up at nightImage: Illuscope

Berlin (Nov. 27 to Dec. 23) has a huge variety of markets, in all different sizes, each with its very own atmosphere. The most significant market will be held at Gendarmenmarkt square.

In Bremen (Nov. 30 to Dec.23), the historical city center with town hall and Roland statues are occupied with over 170 colorful stalls.

Dortmund (Nov. 23 to Dec. 23.): The Christmas market has over 300 stalls. Its hallmark is a gigantic Christmas tree, which, stands 45 meters tall and is adorned with 13,000 lights. It is the biggest in the world.

Dresden (Nov. 29 to Dec 24) has the oldest market in Germany, held at the Striezelmarkt and dating back to 1434. Highlights include: the Stollen Festival on the Saturday before the second Sunday in Advent and the Pyramid Festival on the Saturday before the third Sunday in Advent.

Düsseldorf (Nov. 23 to Dec. 23): The Christmas market is held at Königsallee. Until Jan. 5, Corneliusplatz has a large outdoor ice rink with free skating.

Frankfurt (Nov.23. to Dec.21): Running for over 600 years, Frankfurt markets are some of the oldest and popular. Markets are located throughout the city-center at Römerberg, Paulsplatz, Liebfrauenberg, Fahrtor, and Mainkai.

In Hamburg (Nov. 27 to Dec. 23), the markets are held at the town hall, where about one hundred stalls are set up on Hamburg's largest urban square. New this year is "Nordic Lane," a tribute to Hamburg's traditionally close ties to the countries of Scandinavia and the Baltic region.

In Leipzig (Nov. 24 to Dec. 22), the traditional Christmas markets are held in the old market square in front of the old town hall. In addition to the stalls, Leipzig has the biggest Advent calendar in the world, which is 857 square meters, City on Ice which is a 500 square meter ice rink on Augustusplatz, and the old town hall trumpeters.

Munich (Dec. 1 to Dec. 24): Market stalls are on at on Marienplatz, which is in the city center. The Kripperlmarkt specializes in cribs and other Nativity accessories and is near the Rindermarkt. There is alpine Christmas music live from the town hall balcony every day. The "heaven workshop" has free activities for kids.

Christmas markets in Nürnberg
Nuremberg's Christmas market is the world's most famous oneImage: DW

In Nuremberg (Dec. 1. to Dec. 23), the main market square -- Hauptmarkt, in the heart of the old quarter -- is the setting for the annual ceremony at which the Christkindl (Christ Child) opens Nuremberg's Christkindlesmarkt, the most famous Christmas market in the world.

Rüdesheim (until Dec. 23) has 120 stands from 12 states in the romantic old town.

Rothenburg ob der Tauber (Dec.1 to Dec. 23) is said to have one of the most romantic Christmas markets in Germany. Rothenburg is a walled city that has been preserved to its near original state. The Christmas markets, known as "Reiterlesmarkt," were named after a local Teutonic legend, which began during pre-Christian times as the story of a horrid rider who carried the souls of the dead. The local specialty is the "Schneeball" or snow ball, made from strips of sweet dough fried and covered with powdered sugar or chocolate. Rothenburg is also home to the German Christmas Museum.

Stuttgart (Nov.30.to Dec.23): Also one of the oldest, Stuttgart Christmas market has impressive illuminations and a "fairy tale land" on Schlossplatz. There is an open-air, 500 square meter skating area, in front of the New Palace.

Weimar (Nov. 27. to Dec. 22): The market is held at Schillerstrasse and Theaterplatz. Special features include: artisans and glass blowers, hand-made toys and carvings from the Erzgebirge Mountains, Christmas tree decorations from the Thuringian Forest and Thuringian specialties such as renowned grilled sausages.

Wiesbaden (Nov. 28 to Dec. 23): The Sternschnuppenmarkt (Shooting stars) Christmas market is held at Schlossplatz. Visitors enter through four lily gates decorated with stars. For children, there are Nativity plays, story time and ice skating.