It’s one of the best times of year to be in Germany: Christmas Market season!
For the four weeks of Advent (generally the end of November up to Christmas Eve), nearly every city and town in Germany will have a Christmas Market, or Weihnachtsmarkt.
A cozy collection of wooden huts brimming with wooden toys, sheepskin slippers, star-shaped lanterns, steaming cauldrons of Glühwein (mulled wine), and hanging grills groaning under the weight of sausages and steaks. It is impossible not to feel a little warm inside!
Glühwein… to keep warm, of course!
Christmas Markets are generally free to visit and wander around, enjoying a warming mug of Glühwein in a real proper mug. You pay a deposit, or Pfand, for your mug and you can get it refilled throughout the market. Each market has their own mug, often printed with the year and a festive design.
It’s the unofficial rule that everyone has a Glühwein mug or two at the back of their cupboard, for use when you have an unusual number of guests.
You can of course return your mug at the end of the evening for a refund. Meeting friends and enjoying a drink (or two) at a Christmas Market can also be a frugal yet festive night out in a season full of expenditures.
What to eat at German Christmas Markets
Christmas Markets are generally open from lunchtime until after dinner, so you can plan your visit around a meal.
Start with a Bratwurst from one of the huts with the hanging grill over a fire pit. It’s an ideal place to warm up as well, as the heat coming off that giant fire pit will defrost your hands for awhile.
Order your Bratwurst ‘mit Brötchen’, to be handed a comically small bun with your sausage. Then you are free to add your mustard and ketchup yourself at the side.
Often there will be a few tables nearby where you can stand to eat, or a shelf along the side of the hut.
Remember to grab napkins, because invariably the mustard comes shooting out all over your hand. Most people seem to be able to eat Brötchen without getting flakes and crumbs in their scarf and down the front of their coat. Lingodies have yet to master this German skill!
Kartoffelpuffer encompasses all the best things about salty deep-fried crispy potato.
Consequently it has many different names in different regions including Reibekuchen and Baggers. Cooked to order, these crisp ovals of shredded potato are handed to you on a paper plate while blistering hot.
You can have them served with garlic sauce, Apfelmus (apple sauce), or just plain with a bit of ketchup. It is glorious in the way only freshly deep-fried potatoes can be.
For sweetness, you can pick up a cone of candied almonds. Or choose a Nutella-filled crêpe, or a bag full of Quarkbällchen or Schmalzkuchen to satisfy that desire for hot deep-fried dough coated in sugar.
Glühwein is the standard, but if you nose around a bit, you might be able to find the white wine version of Glühwein.
Keep your eyes out of a burst of blue flame and follow the smell of sugar on fire. You will be rewarded with Feuerzangenbowle. A large rum-soaked sugar cone is set on fire above a cauldron of Glühwein, and the melty sugary rum drops into it.
With all your warm wine drinks, you can choose to order it ‘mit Schuss’. This means you’d like a shot of Jägermeister, Amaretto, rum or another liquor in your drink. Jägermeister is surprisingly good in the sweet mulled wine.
Handy phrases for visiting German Christmas markets
’Entschuldigung’ – ‘Excuse me’ This is a key phrase you will find yourself saying as you edge through the crowds in a busy market.
‘Ist dieser Platz frei?’ – ‘Is this place free?’ It’s always nice to ask before rubbing elbows with someone at the same table.
‘Frohe Weihnachten!’ – ‘Merry Christmas’ A pleasant way to end your transaction at the Christmas market.
‘Pfand’ – ‘Deposit’ Gesture with your empty Glühwein mug and this will get you your 2€ (or more!) back.
‘Wo sind die Toiletten?’ – ‘Where are the toilets?’ A critical question to ask after a few mugs of aforementioned Glühwein! But don’t forget your 50 Euro cent coin, as you’ll probably have to pay to use them.