2016 Christmas Market Tour: Flensburg

I would like to start off this tour with a story and a definition of the word punch. It happened at my cousin’s high school graduation reception in 1990 and I was 13. We had a large bowl of fruit punch that was based on a family recipe from my grandmother- basically, fruit juice with ginger ale and ice cream. I drained the lake and wanted more, but in response, my aunt (the proud mother of that high school graduate) decided to give me the punch I deserved, which went along the lines of this…..

You can imagine how I looked like minutes later, with a pair of Ozzy eyes (named after the famed rock singer Ozzy Osbourne)! ┬á­čśë

The English version of punch is translated into German as Bowle, and with the exception of Feuerzangenbowle (a hot red wine punch with a sugar cone soaked in rum lit above it), a Bowle is a large bowl of sweet non-alcoholic beverage, served with or without ice cream (a typical German gets by without this).  However, punch can also mean Punsch in German, and that has alcohol in there.

The Christmas market in Flensburg is centered around this theme, as I had an opportunity to steal a couple hours to have a look at it. And believe me, having sampled at least five different types while up there, I felt like this afterwards:

I highly doubt Flensburg’s Roter Strasse, which is laden with shops connecting two markets was like Dodge City, Kansas in the Hollywood western films starring John Wayne, however if one is not careful with the punch, one could end up getting sobered up in the icy cold water of the Fjorde, located only 200 meters away. ­čśë

Overview of the Christmas market at S├╝dermarkt with St. Nicolas Church in the background.

But getting to the real aspect here, Flensburg’s Christmas market is plotted out in a way that all of the ┬áhuts are located either in S├╝dermarkt, where the St. Nicolas Church is located, or along the Roter Strasse. Basically, as a friend of mine (who is a Flensburger) suggested in an inquiry: Start at the market and work your way up the huts along the street. ­čśë Normally, Flensburg has two markets- S├╝dermarkt and Nordermarkt (at Schiffbr├╝ckstrasse). The reason Nordermarkt does not have any Christmas market huts is not just because of space issues, but also because seven eateries are located there. Another open area not used for the Christmas market is the Kanalschuppen am Hafenspitze (will be named Hafenspitze in this article), at the tip of the harbor. Some carnevals and markets can be found there in the springtime, and the space is technically suitable for a few huts and some form of amusement at Christmas time. However, that remained empty during my visit in November before the first Advent. Having the market directly in the city center at S├╝dermarkt and along the main street definitely makes sense because of its location- with stores, museums and other public places lined up and down along the street, safety because of the high density of traffic encircling the city center via Norderhofenden, and convenience as people can shop and taste the punch, like going through revolving doors connecting the shopping center indoors and the huts and eateries outside at the market.

However, as mentioned at the beginning of the article, the theme of Flensburg’s Christmas market is the punch. One will see a booth for every three that sells this unique drink. The origin of Flensburg’s punch is from over 230 years of producing rum by as many as 20 refineries and distilleries owned by 13 different families; the most famous ones were Petersen, Hansen, Jensen, Braasch, Johannsen, Christiansen and Pott. One will see memorials, street names and businesses named after them today, while touring Flensburg. ┬áAnd while one can take the Rum-Sugar Mile Tour, like I did during my first visit in 2010, that combined with the taste of rum or any form of punch with the beverage in there, provides the tourist with a unique treat at Christmas time. The lone caveat based on my personal experience: no matter what kind of punch a person tries, each one may have a different flavor but they one common ground, which is the ability to pack a punch with every sip. So please, be careful when sampling. ­čśë

I tried five different types of punch while at the Flensburger Christmas market. They included the following:

Johannsen Rum Punch- I tried this at the Johannsen hut along the main street and it was so powerful, that not even a slap in the face from a furious fraulein would surpass it. It had a citrus, cinnamon and dry red wine taste to it, but with the Johannsen Rum, one sip is enough for a good buzz. The hut was selling bottles of their signature punch when I was there. One of which was bought as a Christmas gift for a family member, who is a rum fan. We’ll see if he gets the same impression as I had. ­čśë

Braasch Rum Punch- Tasted at the booth near S├╝dermarkt, this type of punch is a bit milder than the Johannsen as it had a taste of raisin, almonds and brown sugar in there. Still one does recognize the taste of rum when drinking it. For those who don’t like dried alcoholic beverage, like wine, this one is worth it because of its sweetness. This one is highly recommended. ­čÖé

Flensburg Special- This was purchased at a booth along the main street near Nordermarkt. Containing cinnamon schnaps and rum punch, this one has a very spicy but sweet taste to it, similar to cinnamon itself. If you have not tried cinnamon liquor, you don’t know what you’re missing. ­čśë

Fernw├Ąrme Punsch- Like the Flensburger Flotilla (a concoction featuring rum, Flensburger beer and apple juice), the Fernw├Ąrme Punsch, a.k.a. Hot Pipe Punch, features the signature products of Flensburg, minus the beer. In this case, Johannsen Rum with apple punch. The taste is sour as Granny Smith’s apples, but it is relatively mild.

Pott Rum Punch- Featuring a combination of der Gute Pott Rum, red wine and the spices that make up the spiced wine, this one is far different from the typical spiced wine because of its rum taste and its spiciness. Nevertheless, one will get a good dose of rum and Flensburg’s heritage with this sip, while trying this at the market.

But not everything is centered around rum at the Christmas market. Aside from the traditional German entr├ęes that can be found at a Christmas market, like the goulash, bratwurst and kabobs, there were several huts that served some delicacies from outside of Germany, including Italy, Scandanavia and Turkey. One of the places worth visiting is a Turkish hut that serves B├Ârek. B├Ârek is a pastry that is made of a flaky dough called phyllo and is filled with either meat or a combination vegetable and cheese- namely spinach and Feta cheese. It can also be served with fruit pending on the appetite. I had a chance to try one while at S├╝dermarkt and it tasted really delicious.

In spite of its fame in the rum industry and its multi-cultural foods the market offers, there are a couple of caveats about the market that the city government and organizers should take into consideration when planning the next Christmas market. One deals with the opening hours of the market, the other deals with spatial issues and possible expansion to make it more attractive.

The first oddity I found with the Christmas market were the hours. Flensburg’s Christmas market is one of a few in Germany that are open beyond Christmas- specifically, until the 31st of December. Most Christmas markets close before Christmas or even on Christmas Eve, thus sticking to the guidelines and observing the holidays, let alone families wishing to celebrate and then go on vacation. However, the opening hours of Flensburg’s market is even more odd. They are open until 10pm daily, even though most stores and shopping areas at and near the market close at 8:00pm sharp, unless some exceptions are noted. Aside from the fact that it was a perfect opportunity to visit during the evening of my visit in Schleswig-Holstein, there are some benefits and drawbacks to extended hours. The benefits include the possibility to eat and drink at the huts with friends, as well as buy any last minute gift items for Christmas, even if it was a bottle of a valuable rum, like Braasch or Johannsen. For many who work long hours or have to travel long distances, a brief stop at the market in Flensburg provides them with a chance to enjoy the view of the city center and harbor, while sipping one of their punches and eating a rare cuisine.

The drawbacks to having extended hours are two-fold. The first one is the conflict between the huts selling their goods, the retailers and the customers. While the market may be open until 10pm, many retailers may feel disadvantaged because of the loss of sales. In addition, many customers would like to do some nighttime shopping in addition to visiting the Christmas market and would see extended opening hours on weekdays as an advantage, especially as they do not have sufficient time to shop for Christmas. On the flip side, however, some huts I observed while touring Roter Strasse closed a half hour to an hour earlier because they didn’t have enough customers to keep their stores open. If a salesperson sees one or two customers stopping at a stand during the last two hours of the market in comparison with over 300 during peak times between 12:00 and 6:00pm, then the question remains if these two extra hours makes sense. ┬áRoter Strasse is known to Flensburgers and tourists alike as the district that never sleeps- not just because of the lighting, but also the bustling nightlife that goes on even after 10:00pm. This is speaking from personal experience after visiting the city for the fifth time since 2010. Even at midnight, one will see people walking around or see some action in one form or another. It is also one of the busiest pedestrian pathways in northern Germany as thousands roam the streets during the day when all stores and eateries are open. Keeping this in mind, businesses and planners need to work on having transparent opening hours at the market. If the stores wish to close at 8:00pm, then the Christmas market should also follow suit and close their shops just like the other markets. If the Christmas market wishes to remain open until 10pm, then at least the shopping centers and key businesses should remain open to encourage shoppers to buy their gifts AND eat or drink at the market. Only with these uniform guidelines will Flensburg win more customers and leave no one out in the cold.

View of the market at S├╝dermarkt and its pyramid from the steps of St. Nicolas Church.

Another critique point of the Flensburg market is the space. The market is concentrated at S├╝dermarkt with some huts lined along Roter Strasse. Despite the main street connecting both markets, there are no huts at Nordermarkt because of its proximity to the numerous eateries nearby, let alone its size as it is at least half the size of S├╝dermarkt. But as mentioned earlier, there is potential for expansion on the opposite end of S├╝derhofenden, the main highway passing through Flensburg. In the past, the highway was laden with traffic, and crossing the street to the Hafenspitze was dangerous. However, since the Deutsche Bahn has eliminated train service connecting the harbor with the train station a few years ago, plans are in the work to convert the rail tracks to a pedestrian path, thus encouraging more commerce around the harbor and possibly enlarging the Christmas market. Already in the works is the revitalizing of Angelburger Strasse from the former Comic/Bike Shop Bridge at S├╝derhofenden to Petersen’s Bike Shop at Bismarck Strasse by redesigning the businesses, renovating many of the historic buildings along the street to provide housing and new commerce and encouraging businesses and residents to move to the area, the city council, merchants and planners are working to attract more people and businesses and thus relieving the overcrowding that the business district has, especially at Christmas time. If successful, a row of huts and other forms of holiday entertainment, perhaps around a (cultural) theme could be provided to encourage people to visit there.

Former Restaurant Bellevue now called Heimathafen at Hafenspitze
View of Flensburg’s skyline from the Restaurant Heimathafen. This is the third picture at this site since my first visit in 2010. The Christmas tree is on the far left.

Another sign that an area of Flensburg is being revitalized came with the purchase and reopening of the former Bellevue Restaurant at Hafenspitze in June 2016. As the restaurant is fostering its growth in the number of customers, one could revitalize the area at Hafenspitze by adding an amusement section, like a theater or a few rides, and a few huts to provide food and drink for those interested. During my visit the area was completely empty and what was featured that constitutes a Christmas market was a lighted Christmas tree in the harbor. Great photo opportunity for a dedicated (night) photographer, but Flensburg can do better with utilizing and revitalizing the area, let alone a larger Christmas tree in the harbor. ┬áWith this development, the city can attract more businesses, especially from Denmark and parts of Scandanavia. There were only a couple stands selling goods from the region, despite its campaign of being the market with a Scandanavian flair. However, with some redeveloping of the aforementioned areas combined with some incentives, the city can bring in many businesses from up north- be it the ones in the north of the city, at the border in Pattburg or even in other parts of Denmark and beyond. Flensburg’s role as a border town, a multi-cultural community with the largest Danish minority in Germany and its great reputation in many fields makes it a magnet for more people, businesses, and in the end one of the most attractive Christmas markets ┬áin the region. ­čÖé

Night photo of Flensburg’s City Center and Christmas tree at Hafenspitze

Flensburg’s Christmas market can be best summed up in this way. The market centers around its rum industry and its many types of punch a person can try. It does complement the businesses and historic places the city has to offer and it definitely makes the city center a rather attractive place morning, noon and night. It is a small market with a potential for greater and bigger things, especially in light of recent developments at Hafenspitze and Angelburger Strasse, but it is definitely not small enough to be missed while travelling north to Scandanavia. One just needs to start at S├╝dermarkt and work their way along Roter Strasse. With a good punch in the hand, and a walk along the business strip, visiting each booth, one will not forget this trip. I personally didn’t. ­čÖé

 

Apart from this, more photos of Flensburg’s Christmas market, taken by the author, can be found on the Files’ facebook page. Just click here and you’ll be directed to the photo album.

 

  DO AGREE WITH THE AUTHOR? 

What things can be done to make Flensburg’s Christmas market more attractive? Do you agree with the author’s critique? Please feel free to share your thoughts and ideas in the Comment section below. But don’t forget, the city council, planners and merchants would also like to hear from you too. ­čÖé

Prost! Cheers! Salut! Mazeltov! From the two travel companions enjoying a good Flens beer: BamBam and CoCo (brown)