Christmas Markets in Germany are a huge hit with tourists and locals alike, but the tourist and the local experience can be quite different.
Tourists tend to flock to the larger, well known Christmas Markets while locals prefer the smaller lesser-known ones. Last weekend I attended the Nuremberg Christmas Market, the largest one in Germany that attracts over two million visitors each year. I heard just as much English being spoken as German and while it was nice, I don’t think it deserves the honor of being Germany’s most famous Christmas Market. Despite being just an hour and a half drive from Munich, many of my German friends living in Munich have never been and have no desire to go since they think it’s too touristy. Many of these friends also favor the smaller Christmas Markets in Munich such as the one at the Munich Residenz over the touristy one at Marienplatz. My personal favorite Christmas Market is the medieval one in Esslingen, near Stuttgart. It is not well known outside of the local area, but is very unique.Many tourists go to Christmas Markets to shop, while locals go to socialize. If locals are going to shop at Christmas markets they try and do it during the day and during the week when the Christmas Markets are not as busy. Evenings, when Christmas Markets are at their finest with all the lights, are reserved for meeting friends over a mug of Glühwein (mulled wine) and Kinderpunch (a sweet non-alcoholic drink that tastes like hot Kool-Aid) for the kids. During the Christmas Market season it’s not uncommon for locals to have a very full social calendar of catching up with friends at the varying Christmas Markets in the area. The Christmas Market season just started last week and I’ve already met five different groups of friends.
Since locals tend to socialize at Christmas Markets they also visit more than one Christmas Market providing variety and also debates over which Christmas Market has the best Glühwein, since not all Glühwein is created equal. Each time I’ve met friends so far it’s been at a different Christmas Market. Tourists shouldn’t fall into the trap of thinking every Christmas Market is just like the other. While there are similarities, each one has a different feel and sometimes even a different theme. There are medieval Christmas Markets (both in Munich and Esslingen that I’m aware of) and baroque Christmas Markets (Ludwigsburg) and even an island Christmas Market on Frauen Insel that is Germany’s only island Christmas market.
Besides going to socialize, locals go to eat and drink. Varying types of Glühwein may be served including blueberry or cherry, but as any local will tell you, these aren’t really Glühwein. Real Glühwein is regular wine and can’t be flavored. Locals also take the opportunity to eat seasonal treats such as Lebkuchen(gingerbread), and Schneeballs (large balls of dough covered in icing sugar or sprinkles). Christmas markets are also a good place to sample regional specialties such as Nuremberger sausage, which is served as three small sausages in a bun with mustard. No tourist should make it through a Christmas Market without at least one mug of Glühwein, a staple at all German Christmas Markets.
I may not be a local, but this expat is having no trouble following in the eating and drinking footsteps of locals when it comes to Christmas Markets. Happy Holidays!
Laurel Robbins is a freelance writer and the author of the popular travel blog Expat in Germany where she writes about exploring Germany and the rest of Europe's most interesting hiking trails, festivals, off-beat locations and local cuisine. You can also follow her European adventures on Twitter.