How to Create Your Own Christmas Market

German Christmas markets are one of a kind. They feature unique architecture in the form of Christmas huts, the Christmas pyramid, lighted arches (Lichterbogen), some historic buildings as a backdrop (like the city hall, stores and even churches), murals, a giant Christmas tree and a stage for performances.  The theme of the Christmas markets depend on the planning by local governments and residents, although most Christmas markets follow the models presented by the ones in Nuremberg and Dresden.

 

Yet despite large cities in Germany (and parts of Europe) and the US having the Christmas markets going on during the Advent period, the question that many smaller towns and villages have is can a person create a Christmas market in their community?  When looking at the German-named villages in Minnesota alone, not one of them exists. Not even in New Ulm, which is the most German of these communities.  Yet New Ulm’s population, topography and size is comparable to the Christmas market I visited in Glauchau (Saxony), which justifies the need for a Christmas market to complement the German businesses that exist in the town of 14,000 inhabitants, such as Schell’s Brewery, Veigel’s Kaiserhoff and Domeier’s German Store.

Then again, when looking at a village like Heilsberg in Thuringia, which is only a fraction of the population size of Glauchau and New Ulm, one can see that it is possible to have a Christmas market, if members of the community are willing to cooperate and sell typical items while using the money collected for a good purpose.

 

Located 13 kilometers north of Rudostadt and 25 kilometers east of Stadtilm in the Thuringian Forest, Heilsberg has only 200 inhabitants and has belonged to the community cluster of Remda-Teichel since 1997. However, its existence dates back to the 820s AD, when the city was first mentioned in the record books. The lone attraction of Heilsberg is the St. Boniface’s Church, which was built in 1718, with extensions in 1764. Despite thorough renovations during the 1990s, the church still holds service for the congregation, most of whom are from the village.

 

Since 2011, the village has hosted the Christmas Market, which is held on one Saturday during the holiday season. From three in the afternoon until ten at night, residents of the town, including family members and guests would gather, drink a spiced wine, try a local, family specialty and listen to carols from the church choir. The set-up of the market is rather simple, especially when everyone helps. The venue of the Christmas market is usually the bus stop, which consists of a loop-like parking lot that is not only enough for busses and cars to park but also for adding a half dozen huts, a stage and some entertainment.

The arrangement of the Christmas market is very simple: On the morning of the market, a team of volunteers would arrange the market, where the bus stop is converted into a combination of a stage for performances and a bar which sells spiced wine (Glühwein) and mead (Heisser Met). Next to the bus stop (on the right for this year’s market) would be the Christmas tree, consisting of a pine tree cut down in the nearby forest and hauled into the village, a day or two before. In the middle of the bus stop in front of the tree and stage would be the fire pits, where wood and charcoal are burned in steel barrels and people can warm-up in the evening. Next to them are the picnic areas, where people can sit, eat and converse. And surrounding them and the fire pits are the booths, where eateries and goods are sold.  Arranging them in a horseshoe format, a total of eight booths were arranged, each of which were built from scratch or improvised out of trailers and/or parts of trucks. Each of them is equipped with electricity which is provided through generators and extension cords from nearby houses.  The lone exception is a ninth booth, which is the blacksmith. His is located behind the picnic area opposite the stage and Christmas tree and is also equipped with two fire pits of his own- one of which is of course for the metalwork, making swords, shields, necklaces and figures out of steel.

But the production of metal goods is not the only homemade items one can find in a local Christmas market. Each booth has its own set of products to sell, but it has to be agreed upon between the coordinator and the rest of the community that is involved in setting up the market to avoid any overlapping and competition.   Apart from the booth selling hot drinks, there is one that sells meat products- namely bratwursts, steaks, kabobs and burgers. Another one sells homemade Eierlikör (in English, Advocaat) with original, chocolate and chili flavors. Another booth sells Bratapfel (baked apples with or without stuffing), again homemade and available with almond paste, chocolate, cookie and nuts, as well as with spices. The same applies to another booth that sells Christmas cookies and other candies. There is a booth that sells potatoes in a form of baked, fried in chips or fried French style- homemade and served with mustard, ketchup or even mayonaise. There is one that sells fish products- raw, baked, pulled (like Flammlachs) or smoked. Then there are two booths- one selling used goods and one selling handcrafted items, such as windlights made of glass bottles. There is one selling crepes, which is the French version of pancakes, and lastly, the market is not complete without a booth selling beer and other beverages. In Heilsberg’s case, there was no handcrafted beer, yet with this hobby becoming the norm in American households, one should put that into consideration if the beer crafted in the past has been embraced by those who enjoy a mug or two. Products are sold at a relatively affordable price, and proceeds go to the cause of choice.  While in the case of Heilsberg, the money collected goes to their church for the renovation of the church bell (which is expected to be completed by the end of next year), other Christmas markets in nearby villages have donated money to charity helping the children in need, school or church programs that foster the child’s growth, local sports teams for new equipment. In one case, a nearby village collects money for a children’s hospice care facility in the north of Thuringia in Nordhausen, located west of Leipzig.

And while markets like the one in Glauchau feature a pair of modern pyramids, an Adventskalendar, an ice skating rink, some lighted arches (Lichterbogen) for sale or decoration pending on the size and preference, and Räuchermänner, they are not really a necessity if one compensates these with musical performances from local groups. In the case of Heilsberg, a local church choir singing carols is enough because of its population size. Even a little Christmas comedy and story-telling about the birth of Jesus and miracles at Christmas time are enough to bring in crowds from both inside as well as from surrounding areas.  This is what makes a local Christmas market like this one really special. 🙂 Just don’t forget to invite Santa Claus. 😉

After all the drinking, eating, singing and conversing, the market is taken down the next morning, most likely after the church service, with the Christmas tree being taken to the church for use during the Christmas masses on Christmas Eve and the 1st Day of Christmas. In Germany, we have three days of Christmas from the 24th to the 26th, in comparison to only two in many countries like America. The tree remains there until the Day of Epiphany, when it is taken down. As for the booths, they are converted back to their original uses, the leftovers eaten up or given away to the poor, the unsold goods donated, and the ideas back to the drawing table to see how they can better the market for this time next year.

The advocaat stand, selling homemade liquor

As small as the Christmas market is in Heilsberg, a day for a few hours will do. However the bigger the community the more likely it is necessary to extend the market by a day, another weekend or even more. It depends on how seriously a community takes its Christmas markets. As mentioned in my column about my last Christmas market in Glauchau, as big as the city is and with as much history as it has (read more about it here), one Advent weekend is not enough, especially because of its predominance of Lutheranism. But there may be some reasons behind that. Werdau, located 10 kilometers west of Glauchau, has a three-hour Christmas market that takes place on one Sunday and that’s it. Too short to German standards, but one that best attracts people to this community of 18,000. Having a Christmas market takes a lot of planning, which includes where to have the venue, when to host it, who is ready to sell goods, how many people will come and esp. what will the money collected from the sales be used for. That alone is the core of the market.

 

While only a few Christmas markets can be found in the US- namely in large cities, like Chicago, Minneapolis, Philadelphia and Atlanta, as well as areas strong in German heritage, such as in Wisconsin and Ohio, plus Amana Colonies in Iowa, it doesn’t mean it is impossible to host one in your community. Especially in the German-named villages, like the ones in Minnesota, people will profit from having one, even if it is on a weekend. All it takes is looking at this success story of Heilsberg, look at the recipes for the products typically sold at the markets below, collaborate as to where to have it- be it in the business district, at a park or church, put some booths together, and make it as typically European as possible. With the last one, one might want to look to German communities as references- not necessarily Nuremberg or Dresden, but others that have held these markets for many years in smaller communities to collect some ideas before starting this adventure. There are enough examples to go around, especially when looking at the markets visited and profiled by the Files since 2010. Then it is off to the races.

 

Can you imagine a market in front of a church or at a bar and grill restaurant in Bergen? Or what about Marktplatz in New Ulm? In front of the Catholic Church overlooking the lake in Fulda would be a traditional smash hit. Or at a ski resort near Luxembourg, in front of Heimey’s Bar and Grill in New Germany, in the parking lot of Flensburg’s Bar and Grill- all one hot spots.  Add this to New Trier’s Snow Days and that would really attract a crowd. But then again, other non-German named communities should try the concept as well. All is possible. It’s just a matter of interest, planning and making it happen.

 

Here are some recipes worth trying:

Glühwein (Spiced Wine)

Mead (Heisse Met)

Advocaat (Eierlikör)

Hot Granny (Heisse Oma)

Dresdner Landbrot

Langosch

Homemade Bratwurst

Crepes

Roasted Nuts

Dresdner Stollen

 

All photos and the map are courtesy of Michael Fox, who also provided some information on the Christmas market in Heilsberg. A special thanks for his work and the homemade advocaat that will be tasted over Christmas.  A guide on the Christmas markets including the ones visited this year (so far) is available here. It also has a list of German-named villages in Minnesota worth visiting.

 

German Christmas Market Holiday Pics 3: Nuremberg

Frauenkirche view of the Main Market Photo taken in 2010

After enjoying some music over a Glühwein and listening to people talking about how Carl Zeiss Jena and Erfurt are struggling to make a name for themselves in the 3rd League of the German professional soccer league (DFB), the next stop on the Christmas market tour is Nuremberg (Germ.:  Nürnberg).  A brief overview of the city itself, the city of over 500,000 is the second largest city in Bavaria, behind Munich, and is the capital of Franconia. The city has a colorful history both positive as well as bad (and I believe we all know about the bad part, so I will not mention it here). It is the birthplace of the railroad in Germany, where the first rail line was created in 1835, and it is home to the German railroad museum. Furthermore, the FC Nürnberg from the German Premier League (1st Bundesliga) is a regional favorite as despite the fact that it does some league hopping between the 1st and 2nd leagues, it can be a royal pain in the butt to some of the elite teams, like Munich, Bremen, and Berlin, just to name a few.

But the Nürnberger Christkindlsmarkt is perhaps the most popular and one of the largest Christmas markets in all of Germany. Located in the heart of the city in the old town, the Christmas market ties together tradition, multiculture, and fun for the more than 5 million people who visit the place in the 1 ½ months that it is open, ending on Christmas Eve. The Christmas market is divided up into four parts. There is the main market, where every square meter of over 300 booths fill up the 350+ square meter market square, located in front of  Frauenkirche (a catholic church). To the right of the main market is the Kindermarkt, located behind the church on the east side, where all the children’s rides and booths are located. There is the food market, located along Maximilianplatz, parallel to the Pegnitz River, where different varieties of food are served. And finally there is the Markt der Partnerstädte located in front of City Hall at Rathausplatz, where each of Nürnberg’s 16 sister cities from around the world display their own products for sale. This includes some from Greece, Romania, France, Turkey, Sri Lanka, and Cuba. There is also one from Cordoba (Spain), Edinburgh (Scotland), and Atlanta (USA). Even Gera, which is located in eastern Thuringia (about two hours east of Erfurt), is a sister city to Nuremberg and offers its local specialties at the market every year, including the typical Thuringian Bratwurst.

Children's section of the Christmas market

But there is more to the Nürnberger Christkindlsmarkt than just the types of markets that are worth seeing. Since its first inception in 1610, the Christmas market in Nürnberg offers a wide array of  homemade products which one will not find elsewhere, except at some of the other Christmas markets in Germany. In particular, handcraft products made of wood are very popular as Christmas decorations, Räucherhäuser (incense houses), and even mini toy products for the doll house, such as furniture, appliances, and mini-food products can be bought at the stands. Even alphabet trains are common to pick up and even  my daughter has a set which resembles her name plus the locomotive and caboose. Another tradition that you will find in Nürnberg is the famous “Lebkuchen”, which are gingerbread cookies covered with a coating and whose bottom side is covered with a disk-like white sugar covering. All assortments of Lebkuchen can be found here as well as the other Christmas markets in Germany, at the booths throughout the Christmas market. However, if you want something rather warm and hearty, then the two products you should definitely try at the Nuremberg Christmas market are the Pfannkuchen and the Glühwein. The Pfannkuchen is a dough resembling a cross between a pizza and a tortilla but is filled with toppings at your request, and baked in the oven so that in the end, you can have it hot and crispy. Most of them consist of vegetables, cheese, and meat slices, but there are some with fruit and chocolate should you have a sweet tooth but want to forego the Lebkuchen and another specialty well-known to the Christmas market, the fruitcake. The Glühwein (a.k.a. spiced or mulled wine) from Nuremberg is the most popular throughout all of Germany and parts of Europe. There are different types of Glühwein that one can try, whether it is homemade, or if it is combined with other forms of liquour. This includes one with a shot of tequilla, which I tried at the stand representing one of Nuremberg’s sister cities, Cordoba, Spain. This is probably the most lethal as despite the taste (which was really good), it can put you out until the next week, even if you don’t feel the effects of it at first. This was the case with yours truly, as he suffered a hangover for a couple days, although admittedly, it was well worth the experiment.

Mini-toy pieces for the doll house
Nürnberger Pfannkuchen

Finally, one has to look at the origin of the Nürnberger Christkindlsmarkt. Christkind, when translated into English means Christ Child, and every two years, a girl is nominated to represent the Christ Child at the Christmas market. The girl must be between the ages of 16 and 19 years and must have a “clean record,” meaning the girl must be pure and rid of all the giddiness. She is responsible for opening the Christmas market with a processional, which attracts thousands of people, plus other events throughout the season, which usually starts at the end of November and ends on Christmas Eve.

Despite all this excitement involving the Christmas Market in Nuremberg, it does have an Achilles heel which may be fatal if the issue is not settled in the future. Despite the fact that over 5 million people visit the market every year, there is the problem of overcrowding , as many people push and shove their way through the markets, making the experience of visiting one of the most famous markets in Germany (and to a certain degree, Europe) rather uncomfortable. The worst time is during the weekend and especially on a Saturday, when people don’t work over the weekend and use this time to do the Christmas shopping. Whenever there is crowding in a public place, it is almost certain that there will be tempers flying from those who are impatient and sometimes inconsiderate towards others.  It is worse after a few rounds of Glühwein or other warm drinks, because that is when most of the mischiefs happen. While we will never have the incident like we had with the Love Parade Dance in Duisburg (east of Cologne), where overcrowding resulted in a stampede and the deaths of 144 people and hundreds of injuries in July of this year, the overcrowding may have a potential of becoming dangerous in the future unless the city of Nuremberg either controls the flow of people going through the market through entrance fees, or enlarges the market to include other areas even outside the old town. However, until this problem is resolved, the author here can offer you some tips to make sure that your experience at the Nürnberger Christkindlsmarkt is a wonderful one and not a nightmare. These tips are based in my experiences visiting the market twice within a span of a year and whether they are useful or not will all depend on when you visit it and how you like it.

Overcrowding at the Main Market. Note: The Lorenz Church is in the background

So without further ado, here are some useful tips to consider:

1. The best time to visit the Christmas market in Nuremberg is either on a weekday or weeknight, as this is when the activity is lightest.

2. The worst time to visit the Christmas market is on a Saturday; especially because many department stores and other permanent shops are open at the same time, many people like to push their way through to get to their goods they want. Plus one has to be aware of the overcrowding that is involved.

3. If you insist on visiting the Christmas market on a Saturday, you may want to consider lodging the night before so that you have enough time to spend the next day.

4. Always make sure you have enough money in your possession so that you don’t come up short and have to fight through the crowd just to get to an ATM machine

5. Make sure you be polite to others when getting through and show an example to the rest of the bunch so that it is known that pushing and shoving are just simply not allowed.

6. If it is too crowded and you cannot get through, always remember: the Christmas market is not going anywhere. It’ll be there the next time you visit Nuremberg.

7. Never rush through the Christmas market. Take your time, enjoy the booths, buy some things for your loved ones, and have some fun, and lastly,

8. Never try Glühwein with tequila unless you are man enough to take it and the hangover that accompanies it.

Keeping those points in mind and after trying some goodies, my next trip is north to another Christmas market, where I have friends waiting for me. Until next time folks and friends, enjoy the flicks provided by the author of the Files.