Hands up all you Brits who think Germans are a fun-loving lot? Harrumph. Can you imagine them rockin’ around the Christmas tree – or producing sub-standard Friday afternoon BMWs… just for the hell of it?
Thought not. You think they’re a bit more Prussian than that, all self-discipline and deferred enjoyment. But you’d be wrong. The Germans can in fact be quite jolly. And if you wanted proof, take a look at their wonderful Christmas markets (aka ‘Christkindlmarkt’ or ‘Weinachtsmarkt’).
Don’t be fooled by those early-morning towels around the pool in Turkey. Think more along the lines of the boozy Oktoberfest. Don’t be deceived by Wagner’s Ring – and be prepared to embrace your average Oberammergau-goer as one of your own!
You see: national stereotypes are exactly that. Don’t believe everything you read in The Sun. Mrs Merkel has a husband – we recently discovered – so that must make Angela somewhat less than the Greek-eating dragon we’d been led to believe she was. And Audis do break down – occasionally!
Traditional Christmas fun
Christmas markets have been around for many centuries in the German-speaking parts of Europe. They were also very popular in England right up to the 17th century when the puritanical Oliver Cromwell put the brakes on ‘frivolous’ Christmas celebrations.
In Germany today, you will find thriving Christmas markets in towns and cities across the country, opening for business for the four weeks of Advent in the annual run-up to Christmas. So what exactly is a traditional German market?
They usually comprise dozens, if not hundreds, of stalls set up in town squares, with a real or artificial Christmas tree and nativity scene providing memorable focal points.
In the cold December air, you simply follow the crowds – and your nose – to the delicious aromas of sizzling Bratwurst sausages, gingerbread, gluhwein, hot chestnuts and Stollen cake… to name just a few Christmas-time treats. The stalls are also great places to buy authentic Christmas gifts such as toys, wood carvings, candles, embroideries and Christmas tree decorations.
Many of the German markets are held in beautiful historic parts of the towns, lit up with thousands of twinkling fairy lights which lend further enchantment to the overall festive experience.
Small wonder that the German Christmas market ‘concept’ has generated a mini tourism boom. Germany is only a few hours from the UK, with a growing number of tours available by coach, train and even boat trips to various market towns on the Rhine!
Go for the big cities such as Berlin, Cologne or Munich if you want a full-on shopping experience. For something more romantic, the markets in smaller towns (such as Bernkastel, Trier, Worms or Speyer) will provide you with an unforgettable experience.
Meanwhile, back in Blighty…
It wasn’t until 1982 that we saw a revival of the Christmas market in England – in the charming city of Lincoln to be precise where their four-day market currently attracts over 100,00 visitors every year.
A joint initiative with Frankfurt in 1997 saw German-style Christmas markets introduced to the cities of Birmingham, Edinburgh, Leeds and Manchester with great success. Since then, German markets have sprung up in many other British towns.
Visiting Germany before Christmas is obviously the best way to drink-in the true German market experience – but worry not! Anyone who’s been to a home-grown Christmas market will know that you can enjoy a real treat, here on your doorstep!
What could be better than strolling with friends or family around your local Christmas market on a chilly December afternoon – wrapped up against the elements, taking in seasonal sustenance in the shape of mulled wine and assorted Germanic victuals! Magical.