Christmas in Germany is nothing short of magical, especially to someone whose Decembers have always been hot and sunny. I never quite understood the whole “festive Christmas spirit” until I visited a real Christmas market for the first time, wrapped up in a huge calf-length winter jacket, thermal hat and gloves, and a cup of Glühwein in hand. I actually got excited, whereas back home our plastic Christmas tree, carols about snowmen, and steaming hot Christmas meals simply made no sense in the 30° C beach weather. I still adore summer Christmases back home, with chilled rosé wine, family, and a lekker fish braai by the pool, but European Christmases are extra-special to me due to their novelty.
I feel like a kid again during Christmastime in Germany, with all the sweet treats, dazzling lights, and the lovely festive atmosphere as people meet in the dark, cold evenings to celebrate the holiday season at the local Christmas markets. Be prepared to go shopping at the markets, especially if you love Christmas decorations! There are so many exquisite decorations for sale – gorgeous colourful glass baubles, laser-cut wooden stars, tiny hand-crafted nativity scenes, candle carousels, miniature ceramic animals and houses, Christmas wreaths and garlands of red berries, Advent candles – the list goes on! It’s best to take your time and check out each stall, as you are bound to find something unique and special that you never knew you needed. 😉
Although I am a pescatarian and don’t eat much dairy, which cuts out about 90% of traditional German food, I can definitely say that GERMAN SWEETS ARE AMAZING – truly worth writing home about. Lebkuchenherzen (the famous Bavarian gingerbread hearts), roasted chestnuts and almonds, marzipan, sweet Bretzeln (huge braided bread pretzels covered in chocolate), waffles and pancakes, kaffee und kuchen (coffee and cake, a Northern German 4 pm ritual), and many more regional treats are the perfect indulgence.
Look out for:
- Zimtsterne (cinnamon stars) – these little gingerbread biscuits are cute, fragrant, and delicious!
- Glühwein – spiced, mulled wine that hits the spot when it’s chilly out
- Mandeln – almonds! Roasted and candied, buy them in paper cones and munch on them as you walk around
- Dominosteine – little square chocolate blocks with layers of fruit liqueur, lebkuchen, and marzipan for a sugar rush!
- Stollen – a buttery, fruity, rich Christmas cake that is divine with coffee
- Pfeffernüsse – spicy Christmas biscuits, literally “pepper nuts”
- Spritzgebäck – piped butter cookies usually dipped in chocolate
- Magenbrot – similar to gingerbread, but glazed. Believed to be good for digestion!
Frankfurt has several Christmas markets, the most popular being the one am Römer (at Römerplatz). The giant Christmas tree is one of the highlights, as is the huge carousel and many special Frankfurt Christmas treats, such as Heisser Apfelwein (hot apple cider). Predictably, this Christmas market can get exceptionally busy as tourists flock to the historic square to experience the “real German Christmas markets”. There are certainly some wonderful stalls at the Römer market, but I find the smaller markets more charming and peaceful.
A smaller, more local Christmas market in Frankfurt is the one in Sachsenhausen, at the Goetheturm. Situated on a wooded hill, the market sits below the huge Goethe Tower (which is unfortunately closed for climbing during winter). It’s a great break from the glass and concrete jungle of Frankfurt city centre, and it has a lovely welcoming, friendly neighbourhood feeling to it.
Finally, two other Christmas market hotspots I can personally recommend are those in Mainz and Wiesbaden. Mainz has a Christmas market held right beside the beautiful St. Martin’s Dom (Cathedral). Wiesbaden is very beautiful in winter, especially in the snow! We visited both cities quite on the spur of the moment, so it’s something I’d love to experience again with more time to spare.
A winter wonderland! Wiesbaden in the snow.