There are many cities and towns that are guilded and overrated- full of glanz and glamour on the outside but full of corruption and disappointment on the inside. But there are cities and towns that are diamonds in the rough- ugly on the outside but on the inside, beauty in terms of history, culture, architecture, environmental surroundings and the friendliness of the people prevail. Halle in Saxony-Anhalt, located 35 kilometers west of Leipzig, is one that falls clearly into the latter category. When getting off the train at Halle (Saale) Central Station, the first impressions of the city are bleak- old and bland high-rise buildings built in the Communist era with a freeway running parallel to the railway track, empty and derelict antique buildings, and fewer people on the streets. Yet as you walk towards the city center, 10 minutes later, the city presents an image opposite of the one next to the train station.
There are many features that make the largest city in Saxony-Anhalt unique. First and foremost, it is the the birthplace of famous musician of the Baroque period, George Friedrich Handel, who also grew up in Halle, graduating with a degree in music at the University of Halle (now the largest university of the state), before eventually settling down in England. His birthplace has been converted into a museum, where you can see all the relicts from his time. Halle is famous for its salt, which is harvested from the Saale River. The salt works is still in operation today and produces the finest bathing salt in the region, one of many products that uses this important mineral. Halle counters Flensburg with regards to its brewery, although the city’s beer cannot compete with the Flens in terms of the various brands- at least not yet. It also counters Magdeburg in terms of its architecture for the city has architecture dating back to the Medeival period, including the Giebichstein Castle (overlooking the Saale in the northern edge of the city), the Red Tower and Cathedral (standing next to each other in the city center) and the Opera House, among others. Even its parks and bridges belong to the places that should be visited while in Halle. (The Bridges of Halle (Saale) will be featured in the sister column The Bridgehunter’s Chronicles in the near future). It is also the center for trade and commerce as the city lies at the crossroads between agriculture in the north, industry in the south, forestry in the southwest and industry to the east in the vicinity of Leipzig. The city also shares an international airport with Leipzig. The soccer team Halle FC has been moving up the rankings, going from the state league in 2002 to national league at present, competing in the third tier of the Bundesliga, with a potential to counter another rising star, 1899 Hoffenheim, which is playing in the top flight section of the Bundesliga.
But in terms of the Christmas market, Halle (Saale) ranks in the top tier, with the likes of Dresden, Nuremberg, Frankfurt(Main) and others in terms of its popularity. Popularity in this case not because of the masses of people who visit the Christmas market but in terms of its appearance and what it offers for people, when passing through. Using the reindeer as its mascot (which can be found on any merchandise, Christmas cups included), Halle’s Christmas market mixes Arctic culture with fairy tales, making it a grand place for people of all ages.
Much of the city’s Christmas market is situated in the city center at Marktplatz, dividing it up into two segments, using the street car tracks as the dividing point. Much of the eateries and places of amusement are found east of the street car tracks, where one can try the Heisse Heidi (Blueberry mulled wine) or cherry Gluewein with real cherries or allow the kids to ride the train around the Christmas tree. A lot of handcrafted goods can also be found on the eastern end of the market, where one will see Rauchermaenner (incense men) made of wood from the Ore Mountain region, including those resembling the reindeer blowing incense out through the nostrils, or people making animals out of special forms of clay.
On the western side of the track, one will see the more cultural side of the market, where many products originating from the northern ends of Earth can be found. While one can indulge in Russian goodies and Swedish Gloegg (an alcoholic beverage featuring berries, spices and vodka), the Finnish represent a third of the western side of the market, as booths selling specialities from the region are easy to find. One can try chili and creme, cloudberry and other liquours at one stand, eat reindeer meat with potatoes at another stand resembling a large tipi tent, and try pulla and cloudberry pastry at another stand. Yet one of the key attractions at the Christmas market in 2012 was paying homage to a pair of reindeer, Rudi (short for Rudolph) and Filli, who made their visits every afternoon for a couple hours, unless you were one of those who ate the meat of one of their relatives and are looking for a way to justify your reason. Yet Rudi and Filli were not always around, as the people responsible for them, namely the Halle Zoo, had other reindeer that paid the people a visit.
Arctic specialties are not the only ones that can be found on the western side of the market. In front of the Cathedral, one can find both the Manger booth and the Fairy Tale Tower on the south end and the Library stand on the north end. While the Manger booth features a display of the Birth of Jesus Christ (all handcrafted and lit to make it look real), it is also the site of Father Christmas’ visit with the kids. Fairy Tower features scenes from as many as 10 children’s fairy tales, such as Little Red Ridinghood, Rumpelstiltzchen, and Puss in Boots. The Library booth is where you can donate any books you do not want anymore, while at the same time take one that you want to read. And while the booth was rather plain and features a temporary building, the collection of books donated are huge, a sign that the interest in print media is more important than ever.
Halle was not a nice city during the Communist era because of the decay of the historic buildings and the rise of Communist high-rise buildings. Up until five years ago, Halle was associated with an industry that was run down, a town that is dying off because of younger people flocking to the western part of Germany for better opportunities. Yet the town has made vast improvements over the past five years, making the city a magnet for people wanting a better life instead of the hectic life of Urbania as one would see in Berlin, Hamburg and Munich, just to name a few. And more is yet to come, as it will benefit from an improved infrastructure, thanks to its access to the ICE-rail lines, the Autobahnen and the Leipzig-Halle Airport. In terms of its fine arts and architecture, Halle ranks among the best in Germany, as many people are taking advantage of the opportunities to study and work in these two fields.
The Christmas market is a must-see when either staying in Halle or passing through. While it may be smaller than Dresden, it presents a colorful scene where people can see anything handmade and/or multicultural. For the photographer, the Christmas market is a lover’s paradise because of the surroundings; with Handel staring at the Red Tower and the Cathedral with pride, it makes a person wonder how he would judge the Christmas market in his hometown if he was alive today. It is clear, as you will see in the photos below, that Halle is like a book, it should not be judged based on its cover, but based on the pages you read from start to finish. Halle’s Christmas market is one full of surprises and will make your stay a wonderful experience.
Here are links to other images of the Halle Christmas Market that you should see: