Christmas in Bavaria

Eight Ph.D. applications submitted, and now I’m ready for the holidays… on January 1.

I’ve definitely been staying busy with my applications, German class, visitors, holiday events, and Daniel being home during a two-week vacation, but this has been an amazing Christmas season. Southern Germany is known for its Christmas markets (Munich has six!), and Daniel wanted to see as many as possible.


The markets generally open a month before Christmas and last until the day before Christmas Eve. Each stand is a formidable wooden structure that is built just for the one-month selling period. In theory there are inspectors walking around to ensure that the items for sale are all hand-made or at least not factory-made, but I’m not confident that all the snow globes I saw came from the Black Forest. Although the markets draw a huge tourist crowd, the locals are also out in large numbers to meet friends after work, drink mulled wine, and enjoy the atmosphere. The fact that the temperature hovers around freezing is irrelevant.

The biggest market is in Marienplatz, the central town square, and most of the others are so close, that it could be difficult to distinguish them. Just a few blocks north was the Mittelalterlicher Markt, the Medieval Market.

The stands here were all designed to look Medieval . In addition to the handmade ornaments, knitted items, and ceramic wares, one could also buy furs, bows and arrows, and swords. Many of the food stalls listed prices in “Gulden” (it’s all the details).

While all the markets serve mulled wine, the biggest seller at the Mittelalterlicher Markt has to be the Feuerzangebowle: Imagine a large ceramic goblet, with a small nook jutting out from one side. A sugar cube rests in the nook and the goblet is filled with mulled wine. Rum is poured over the top and the drink is lit on fire so that the sugar slowly melts into the drink. Feuerzangebowle is delicious and an impressive display, but unfortunately not so photogenic at night.

The market inside a courtyard of the Residenz, the resdential palace of the Wittelsbach family, is small but festive. Neon lights shine on the inner walls, and a Christmas pyramid stands tall in the center. Tucked away at the back is a small area dedicated to German fairytale scenes.


Nuremberg’s central Christmas market is probably the most famous in Germany. It was first mentioned in 1628 and known for retaining its traditional charm better than other cities. We made the mistake of visiting on a Sunday (Bavarian law prevents stores from opening on Sunday, and when it’s cold outside, there are very few options in finding something to do) and found the market to be so crowded that it wasn’t really enjoyable.

Nuremberg is famous for its prune people, little characters made of prunes and raisins, and probably twenty percent of the stands were selling these guys.

Although it was crowded, Nuremberg had the best Glühwein of any of the markets I visited. Just as we were ready to call it a day, we saw a children’s market down a side street. I would recommend going to Nuremberg just to see this. The stands were each topped with animatronic Christmas and winter scenes, there were several classic-looking carnival rides, and the kids could decorate ornaments. Everything was a bit more spread out, and it just felt nicer.


Augsburg’s main Christmas market is held in the square in front of the town hall. Because the front of the building is flat and has windows on a grid, it is treated like a huge Advent calendar. Every weekend evening, the lights in the square go down, and spotlights shine on twenty four windows. Women in angel costumes approach the windows holding instruments and “play” Christmas music, and the square is filled with organ music.

Augsburg is a small town with a nice market. The quality and variety of goods at the stands seemed better than Nuremburg or Munich, and the atmosphere was more relaxed.


The best excursion, however, was to Tegernsee, a lake at the base of the Alps. I’ve only seen real snow in Munich twice this year, and there was no accumulation, so it was nice to see snowy fields and mountaintops.

I had my first ox sandwich at a small market in front of the main church, where Daniel and I sat to enjoy the view. After exploring the stands and their offerings, we walked around the lake to the large market on the other side.

By that time, the sun was setting. We were in the valley and watched the sun set behind the mountains. The market was tucked away from the commercial center of town and lies along the water front, and there are mountains all around so it feels a secluded. There were a lot of families at this market, and we saw a Christmas play. As the temperature dropped, many gathered around the central fire to warm up while drinking their Glühwein. Then there was Christmas music, played in long somber tones on Alp horns.

When we’d had enough Glühwein and soup, we took a ferry back across the water to catch the train home.


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