There is something magical about German Christmas markets. They are vibrant and bustling, yet hold a certain warm, relaxed old-time charm that so often seems to be missing from many current Christmas events. I was recently heading to Hamburg for a long weekend convinced my timing was slightly off and I would just miss the city’s Weihnachtsmarkt. True enough, strolling towards our apartment hotel on a Saturday afternoon, hubby and I saw plenty of stalls in various parts of the city being prepared for the festivities but none of them seemed to be ready to open yet. (Sigh!) Although we had plenty of other plans for our stay in this extremely chilled out city, I couldn’t help feeling just a little bit disappointed. Therefore, imagine my happy internal glow when I realised the markets would be opening the day before we were due to fly home. Sometimes it really is the little things in life!
Hamburg hosts 16 Christmas markets in the city centre, all within a walking distance from each other as the central area is quite compact. Since we only had one night to explore, I thought we had better get some extra energy from a Glühwein stall at a quiet little market close to our hotel before heading towards the bustle and crowds. Instead of having the traditional mulled drink, I opted for a Glühkirsch with quite a few tasty cherries simmering at the bottom of the mug. The stalls operate a very functional deposit system for mugs, which minimises waste and stops you burning your fingers as there are no thin disposable plastic cups in sight. You usually pay an extra 2-3 euros per drink as a deposit to start with and get it back when you return the mug. If you decide to keep the mug, you have got a practical souvenir or a gift for 2-3 euros.
Having got some real festive spirit inside us – pun intended! – we ventured to the historic and very lively Christmas market on Rathausmarkt by the beautiful City Hall. The area was lit with thousands of fairy lights, traditional but cheerful Christmas carols were playing, and numerous stalls offering ginger breads, sausages, dumplings, soaps, candles, ornaments, jewellery, ceramics, woodcarvings…were tempting the visitors. We even got to see Father Christmas riding his sledge on a high wire above the square. The buzzing market full of jolly people managed to have the same kind of relaxed atmosphere as the rest of the city, despite the place getting really packed at times. Just what I had hoped for!
16 fairs might have been too many to visit on one evening but we couldn’t return to the hotel without first checking out the Jungfernstieg market by the Alster Lake. With its beautifully lit white pavilions, it looked inviting even from the other side of the lake and understatedly elegant close up. These stalls offered specialty gifts and specialty foods, and although German cuisine can be meat-heavy, we found vegetarian-friendly goodies to sample too. The next day we even had a’snack lunch’ from one of the markets before our flight home. Even at day time the food stalls were busy and the atmosphere, although more subdued, was still relaxed and festive. I might just have to plan another trip to Germany in late November next year; these markets are just too much fun to miss!