It’s fair to say that I got my first taste of a German Christmas with a bite of bratwurst in my adopted hometown of Manchester – nowhere near Germany! But although Manchester’s seasonal stalls are now far from just German, the city’s first Christmas market came courtesy of Frankfurt back in 1999, and spending time in Manchester city centre over the Christmas period became a December must for me, my pals, and my man. Mulled wine and magic and some very merry times.
But over the years, it got me thinking. If I loved this little pocket of German tradition that planted itself in Manchester’s historic streets and squares once a year, what would I make of the real deal? I had to find out. So in 2012, a new ritual was born – our Christmas jaunt of joy to Germany.
We skipped a year when Holiday Baby was just a month old (I was still nursing more than a small child at the time – and undergoing frequent trips to the local hospital), but we promised ourselves we’d be back with a bang when he had turned one.
Unfortunately, given that my mister is a teacher, this year the schools don’t break up with enough pre-Christmas days for me to arrange something meaningful enough that will still leave me with time to prep for the big day dinner I’ll be cooking, so for 2016 we’re making do with home. Nevertheless, we’ve hit up three German cities now, and we plan to visit many more in the years to come.
Here’s where we’ve been so far:
The main square of Marienplatz is home to Munich’s main Christmas market offering and is pretty spectacular in its setting with Munich’s new town hall as a backdrop (complete with the city’s famed glockenspiel). However, the festivities are spread across the city.
My personal favourite spot was the market at Haidhausener, near the Roshenheimer Platz stop on the S-Bahn train. It was near the Hilton where we stayed, and was a lovely local affair. It was where I really fell in love with Christmas market culture, and where I realised that in truth, although I love our adopted UK versions, they can feel a bit gimicky. I think it’s because they’re just that – adopted. And this felt like the real deal in comparison. No crazy crowds, just families and friends.
Details: Munich Tourist Board
The Altstadt (old town) of Dusseldorf is lovely at Christmas and its nightlife is enough to keep you buzzing once the markets have stopped dishing out the gluhwein – it’s home to what’s known as the “longest bar in the world”. I enjoyed the atmosphere here that spilled outside into al fresco heated seating areas, still full of festive punters even in December. No sign of a chill in mood despite the weather! And when you move on from the mulled wine, make sure you try the local altbier.
In terms of its markets, you’ll find the centre stage at Marktplatz, but the snowy vibe in the wonderland at Schadowplatz will get you wishing for a white Christmas. Oh and don’t forget to much some dampfnudel with vanilla sauce!
Details: Official Dusseldorf Tourism
A visit to Bremen’s main market means ticking off two UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The market square is a beautiful setting, but in my opinion, for something really special you should get to the Schlachte river embankment. With stall holders and craftsmen all in costume, this market will take you right back to the middle ages – and it really does have something for all ages.
Away from the markets, make sure you also take time to explore the Schnoor neighbourhood, where Bremen’s medieval character has been beautifully preserved. Stop for lunch and fill your boots with something hearty and local – kale with sausage should do the trick!
Details: Bremen Tourism
I’ve had such lovely times in Germany over Christmas, but both Dusseldorf and Bremen were made all the more special by meeting up with my friend Julika who writes over at Sateless Suitcase (and takes infinitely better photos than me, check her out on Instagram to see what I mean). I hope for more German festive fun and feuerzangenbowle (you’ve not lived until you’ve tried it) in my future.
Now if I can’t go this year, is too early to start thinking about 2018?