When moving to Germany it is impossible to not find yourself mid-Christmas market at some point in December. They are everywhere, even in our little village out in the countryside. There is one right in the main square, between the shops and the train station, in Erlangen. And of course there is the most famous one of all, covering most of Nürnberg (Nuremberg) city centre, the Christkindlesmarkt. As per Life`s special ability to generate coincidences, I currently live only half an hour away from it. No extra effort required. And extra efforts are made: there are whole tours organised to visit this event. Busses, trains, hotels, everything.
Of course I cannot get into details without painting the background picture. The exact origins of the market are unknown (surprise, surprise), but inserting some general market knowledge makes sense here: odds are that this was a general market, because town have always held, and still hold, markets – which then developed into a more independent or themed sort of thing ca. 17th century CE. A 1737 list indicates that nearly all of Nürnberg´s craftsmen were represented in the “little town of wooden stalls”. It used to open on the 4th of December, but because the market proved so popular, it begins at the start of advent now (November 27th this year). And it ends December 24th.
Christkind? Ok so this concept ties in with the Dutch celebration of St. Nicholas (Sinterklaas, December 5/6), which I will write about in much more detail later. St. Nicholas brings gifts for children, but since the protestants were opposed to the veneration of Saints, Martin Luther (and I suspect some others before and after him to be honest), changed the day of gift-giving to Christmas Eve. And said that the gifts came from Christ instead. This new figure needed an an appearance of course, and became associated with the Angel of Annunciation, which was popular in German Christmas plays. And with a great twist of historic, this became a female angel. Sorry Sinterklaas and Santa Claus. Whereas Holland is still going strong on the skin-colour debate I would like to introduce the gender discussion now. In any case, every year a girl from Nürnberg is chosen to represent the Christmas Angel / Christkind.
Anyway, the crowds attracted to the market were present already on the train to Nürnberg – only to increase as we made our way up to the Medieval city wall of course. We decided to start off with a Glühwein (mulled wine, glögg, whichever wording you prefer). If you pay a pfand (guarantee) on the cup, you can wander around the market with it, and usually it is allowed to return it at any other Glühwein stall and get your pfand back there. Other traditional treats included an overwhelming variety of very expensive Lebkuchen (a type of soft German gingerbread) and strangely… giant Mohrenkopfen (politically correct English translation: chocolate-coated marshmallow treats). We sampled a whiskey-flavoured one, which I can recommend!
Whereas the little market in Erlangen included a lot of traditional stalls with craftwork – wooden figurines, wooden spoons, those kinds of things – we could not find this in Nürnberg. Odds are we just missed it because the market is so incredibly big. Either way, to me it seemed like the main part of the market was Glühwein – Pretzels/Sausages – Sweets – Baubles – Nativity Figurines – Baby Socks – Baubles – Hats – Sweets – Nativity Figurines – repeat. So many fantastic, hideous, decorations. Things you would buy because they hurt your eyes and are therefore amusing: and things you would simply never buy because they are truly an insult to the senses. Needless to say I did not purchase a single gift for my family to bring home – but it was possibly the most fun ‘window shopping’ experience of all time. When I stroll around the Bazar in Istanbul I actually want to buy half the things, and then panic about what to do with it, who to give it to, how to bring it home, whether I can afford it. There is something very satisfying about have no desire to own anything on display. In any case, I guess you could say the market does what it says on the tin: it sells Christmas-sy things. If you need a tree decorated, this is the place to be. (Side-note: my family does not actually celebrate Christmas so this may affect my excitement levels a little, one way or another.)
Last but not least (and I had to Google ‘German drink fire’ to remember the name), we finished with Feuerzangenbowle. Basically, the Germans set a rum-soaked sugarloaf on fire, which then drips into Glühwein. There was a movie dedicated to this in 1944 (so I am told, I have not yet seen it), which boosted its popularity a fair bit, and often they screen the movie while making the drink. Watch the little video below to see the drink made! It is pretty powerful, so consider it an achievement we managed to find our train back home in the end.