From local Florentine fairs to Prague’s Old Town Square market, Europe has proved its unparalleled Christmas charm since the Middle Ages, with Germany’s popular network of markets standing out among the masses. Particularly in Munich, the long standing folk traditions can be seen complimenting a lively modern city.
With roots dating back to the 14th century, the Munich Christmas market is considered one of the most grandiose holiday bazaars in Europe. Held from Nov. 30 to Dec. 24, it is located in the heart of the city centre, the Marienplatz. In the Middle Ages, the square was used as a market place as well as an area for festivities and tournaments.
The famous square acts as one of the city’s year round attractions but is transformed into a mystical atmosphere, mimicking film scenes of picture perfect Christmas villages; countless lights strung from stall to stall accent the towering Christmas tree overlooking years of tradition. Over 150 wooden stalls line the streets full of handicrafts, decorations and palate pleasing delicacies.
The Christmas market, called the “Nicholas Market” in town records, first began in 1642 and was much like the modern fair offering traditional Bavarian gifts and unique Christmas ornaments. Bavarian Forest glassware, Oberammergau wood carvings and Nuremberg gingerbread continue to line merchant stalls full of other distinctive gifts such as bee wax candles and chimney sweeps made of plums and almonds.
The town hall also joins the seasonal celebration with a daily alpine Christmas Market concert, while Santa visits each afternoon to converse with children and adults and pose for a photo.
In addition to the main affair in Marienplatz, Munich hosts another 20 diverse markets. Among these are a Medieval Christmas Market with gospel singing at the Wittelsbacher Platz, a gay pink Christmas Market at Stephansplatz and the spectacular Tollwood Christmas Market, one of the city’s most fascinating ethnic festivals. Located at the official ground of Oktoberfest, Theresienwiese, the festival offers international cuisine and handicrafts. Tents also house live music and performances, international musicians and drama groups as well as art and cultural displays.
Since the middle of the 18th century, Kripperlmarkt has also been part of the traditional Christmas markets. A short walk from the Marienplatz to the Rindermarkt square, it is one of the largest German markets specializing in nativity accessories and cribs to complete a genuine manger. Nativity scenes and Christmas managers have been a staple of Munich tradition since 1597 when a manger was first set up in St Michael’s church by the Jesuits.
While crossing off Christmas lists at any of the city’s markets, the variety of food and drink is a not to be missed. Wurst and Dampfnudeln are among the many authentic foods. Wurst, or sausages, are available in all shapes and flavors, from classic bratwurst to spicy Feuerteufel. Dampfnudeln are vanilla custard coated steamed dumplings that can be eaten plain or filled with berries.
Among the many sweets suitable for taking away or gifting are Plätzchen, baked Christmas cookies, Lebkucken and Magenbrot gingerbread varieties and chocolate covered fruit. Arguably the most important delicacy of the Munich markets for its simplicity and deliciously overpowering smell is Gebrannte Mandeln or Roasted chestnuts. Coated with spices, sugar or chocolate they are a signature Christmas treat.
Complimenting the many foods is the famous Glühwein, a warm mulled wine known well by market patrons. The spicy red wine is not only a delectable holiday beverage, but a great way to warm up during the outdoor celebration.
Strolling through the snow dusted stalls with hot chocolate or a hot mug full of Glühwein is the highlight of Europe’s many treasured Christmas festivities. Munich offers a swap from commercialized Christmas shopping to the enchantment of a centuries old tradition.