Are you one of the many people who have trouble finding original Christmas presents year after year? Are you fed up with the same old shops selling the same old goods? If so, you're sure to discover some really unique gifts at one of many German Christmas Markets.
Colourful Christmas Market stalls are usually set out in the town or city centre. Most stalls, who are not selling Glühwein or food, will display a huge range of traditional Christmas gifts and decorations, including wooden toys, glass, ceramic and porcelain articles. Gifts which your friends and family are sure to remember forever! Listed below are just a few of the traditional and most popular items which you can expect to find at any Christmas Market in Germany.
Each Christmas Pyramid is hand-crafted out of wood. The top fan blade revolves from the heat of burning candles.
The Origin of the Christmas Pyramid goes all the way back to the 16th century. In the 18th century German Miners created Lichtergestelle (light-racks). They tied several wooden sticks together at the top and decorated them with candles. This was the forerunner of the Christmas tree and the elaborate Pyramids of today.
In the 18th century Christmas pyramids became part of Christmas decorations in most churches.
The Nutcracker was first developed around 1870. It is a famous symbol of the Erzgebirge, an area south of Dresden. The traditional handcrafted Nutcracker is probably one of German Christmas Market's most popular and sought after gift.
Nutcrackers have a long and very interesting past. The Thuringian forest were once populated by highly skilled craftsmen who made utensils, using wood from the local forest.
Being artists, the craftsmen believed it wasn't enough for the utensils to just do a job, it had to look an be beautiful.
Often Nutcrackers were made from the image of authorities, especially kings, soldiers and gendarmes, they were used to mock their leaders and to express some protest against them.
The first smoker was developed around 1850 in Heidelberg, close to Seiffen.
Later on Smokers, or Raeuchermännchen as they are called in German, were traditionally manufactured in the Erzgebirge mountains.
Tradition has it that the incense they burn reminds the owner of the incense the Three Wise Men brought to Jesus on Epiphany day, January 6th.
An incense cone is placed inside, lit, and the smoker smokes out of its mouth, or sometimes out of a chimney or cooking pot.
Music Boxes & Figures
Carefully hand-made out of wood and delicately hand-enamelled. Each piece is a masterpiece.
The invention of the Music Box goes back to 18th Century. At first it was a simple toy, which was turned by hand and sounded quite wooden. Around 1930s the Music Box developed into what it is today.
Inside each Music Box is a delicate set of clockwork mechanics, able to play Christmas tunes. Music Boxes usually have different designs displaying a variety of themes such as angels, the Holy Story, nativity scenes, scenes from everyday life and fairy tale motifs.
Candles play an important role in evoking the true spirit of Christmas. Candles are ideal to illuminate those dark winter months, they radiate warmth and they create a beautiful Christmas atmosphere.
For that truly authentic feeling most German Christmas Markets will have beekeepers selling the finest handmade beeswax candles. Beautifully crafted beeswax burn with a bright golden halo and exude a slight fragrance of honey.
Besides the Christmas tree itself, Germany's contributions to Christmas ornaments include blown glass baubles and tinsel.
The first decorated trees were adorned with apples, white candy canes and pastries in the shapes of stars, hearts and flowers. Glass baubles were first made in the Erzgebirge around 400 years ago.
Today Christmas Market vendors compete for the biggest and best hand blown and hand decorated designs.
German Glühwein Stand
One of the most popular stand at any Christmas Market is the Glühwein Stand, serving a variety of mulled wines and many other hot drinks, they are a vital part of socializing and keeping visitors nice and warm.
Originally mulled wine was made from red wine only combined with spices such as cinnamon sticks, vanilla pods, cloves, citrus and sugar, later on white and rosè varieties also became popular. Optional is Glühwein with a "Schuss" which means rum or liqueur is added, giving it a distinctive extra kick. Other varieties of Glühwein are made from blueberry or cherry wine.
Some Glühwein Stands also offer a choice of other hot drinks like hot chocolate, punch or for children hot alcohol free fruit punch.
An other hugely popular drink is the Feuerzangenbowle, a traditional German alcoholic drink prepared in a bowl and suspended over a small burner, similar to a fondue set. The Feuerzangenbowle it self is filled with heated red wine, spiced with cinnamon sticks, cloves and orange peel. Held by a special kind of tool a lump of sugar, around seven inches long, is mounted on top of the Feuerzangenbowle, the sugar is then soaked with strong rum and set alight and more rum is poured over with a ladle until all the sugar has melted, caramelized and mixed in with the wine.
Many regions also have their own variety of hot alcoholic drinks, one classic example is the "Rüdesheimer Kaffee". From an old age recipe, the "Rüdesheimer Kaffee" is made with locally produced brandy, flamed sugar, fresh cream, strong coffee and served in an extraordinarily attractive mug, it is certainly a drink no one can resist.
Glühwein and other hot drinks are usually served in mugs which have been especially printed as a trademark with attractive town motifs, the current year and the name of the Christmas Market, for tourists they are often popular souvenirs or collector items. The cost of Glühwein at a Christmas Market can vary through out Germany but on average expect to pay €3 per cup plus a deposit of €3 for the mug.
No Christmas Market in Germany would be complete without a real "German Bratwurst Sausage". Simple and delicious they are served in a baguette type roll with optional ketchup and mustard.
From the standard German Bratwurst there are also forty different regional variations. In Berlin, now also available nationwide, the Bratwurst is cut up into small pieces and served on a plate with curry sauce. To try this fantastic dish just ask for a "Currywurst".
One of the oldest known Bratwurst comes from Thuringia, grilled over a charcoal fire, the Thüringer Bratwurst has a spicy flavour.
In northern Bavaria, including Nuernberg, Regensburg and Bamberg you will find Germany's smallest Bratwurst. The Bratwurst is traditionally grilled on beech wood and served with horseradish and sauerkraut or potato salad.
The Rote Wurst is a favourite of the Black Forest region. Made from finely ground pork and bacon it has a slightly spicy taste and it is similar to the Bockwurst. To prevent splitting during grilling an X is cut into the both ends of the sausage. The ends open during cooking, but the rest of the sausage remains intact, giving it its traditional shape.
The latest craze to hit the German Christmas Markets are the "½ Meter Bratwurst" sausages, designed for good photo opportunities or anyone with a healthy appetite.
The Stollen or German Christmas Cake is probably one of the oldest and longest culinary traditions in German history.
The Stollen was first mentioned in Naumburg, way back in 1329, when a Stollen was given, as a Christmas gift, to Bishop Heinrich. According to legends, the shape and looks of a Stollen suppose to remind people of baby Jesus, wrapped in a white blanket. Of course, during 14th century, sugar was too expensive to be used in a cake and at that time a Stollen was merely made from flour, yeast and water only.
Today there are many different varieties of Christmas Stollen, some of the classics, available at most German Christmas Markets, are the; Poppy Seed Stollen, Nut Stollen, Creamy Quark Stollen, Champagne Stollen, Marzipan Stollen, Almond Stollen and amazingly, in some parts of Germany, even a Red Wine Stollen.
The most famous and most popular of the Stollen family is the Dresdener Stollen, legally it can only be baked and sold by a registered baker who is established in or around Dresden.
The basic ingredients of a Stollen are; lots of butter, raisins (sometimes soaked in rum), candied lemon and orange peels, flour, sugar and fresh yeast.
Traditionally, almost every German household will either buy or bake their own Christmas Stollen for the Advent and Christmas Season.
Lebkuchen is a traditional German baked Christmas treat, similar to gingerbread, which is generally served around Christmas time with a cup of tea or coffee.
There are many regional variations to Lebkuchen, but the most well-known is the Nürnberger Lebkuchen.
Lebkuchen was first invented around the 13th century by Medieval Franconian monks. They became famous in 1487 when emperor Friedrich III held a Reichstag. He invited the children of Nürnberg to a special event where he presented Lebkuchen, bearing his printed portrait, to almost four thousand children.
Historically, Lebkuchen is also known as a honey cake or pepper cake. These cookies are either rectangular or round, they have a sweet, lightly nutty taste, and their aromas are spicy, a bit like nutmeg and allspice. They are usually soft with a slight crunch from chopped nuts.
Sometimes Lebkuchen is packaged in highly decorated tins, chests, and boxes which have often become nostalgic collector’s items.
The ingredients of Lebkuchen usually include honey (instead of sugar), spices such as aniseed, coriander, cloves, ginger, cardamom and allspice, plus nuts, including, almonds, hazelnuts, and walnuts, or candied fruit. Typically, they are glazed or covered with very dark chocolate, but some are left uncoated.
In 1808, a new variety of Nürnberg Lebkuchen was invented, called Elisenlebkuchen, after Elise, the daughter of a gingerbread baker. Soft and fluffy, made with no flour it is a much more distinguished version of Lebkuchen. The Elisenlebkuchen is now associated with most of Nürnberg’s finest Lebkuchen and the world renowned Lebkuchen guild.
Since 1996, the Nürnberg Lebkuchen became a “Protected Designation of Origin” and can only be produced within the boundaries of the city.
Often popular, as a romantic gift, at fun fairs and Christmas Markets are Lebkuchen Hearts. Lebkuchen Hearts are made from a crunchier, harder version of Lebkuchen, they are decorated with coloured icing inscriptions and a personal message; “I love you” is usually the most favoured choice.
Modelled after the story of Hänsel and Gretel and a favourite Christmas activity for children is to buy Lebkuchen rectangles and build them into a “Witch House”. Witch Houses can also be purchased fully made up. They are highly decorated with sweets, marzipan and lots of icing sugar.