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 1: The Erfurt Christmas Market

The Main Christmas Market at Domplatz at sundown.

Well here I am, on the road again, this time to hunt down the finest Christmas Markets in Germany, and the first one on my to visit happens to be the one not far from my backyard, in the state capital of Thuringia, Erfurt. There are a lot of interesting points of interest which makes Erfurt one of the most preferred places to live. It has the oldest bridge in the state and the last of its kind in Europe with the Krämerbrücke; it has one of the largest cathedrals in Germany the Erfurter Dom, and it has two universities each located on opposite poles of the city with 250,000 inhabitants (minus the suburbs). But when it comes to Christmas time, all of the city is wild and crazy in its Christmas market. For those who have never visited the eastern part of the country, apart from trying its regional specialties, like Vita Cola (equivalent to Coca Cola) and Born mustard, one should take at least a half day to visit the Christmas market in Erfurt. Basically, the Christmas market is divided up into three different segments. There is one in the city center known as Anger. This is strategically located next to the shopping center Anger 1 and it is easily accessible by street car as the two main lines meet here. Going a bit further to the north, one will see another segment of the Christmas market at Wenigermarkt, which is located next to the Krämerbrücke at the east entrance to the structure. There and on the bridge itself, one will find the local specialties in terms of beverages and food, including a local chocolate store, which makes Brückentruffels (thimble-like chocolate lazmoges which melts in your mouth and not in your hand) by hand. But the main attraction is 10 minutes by foot to the west, where the Erfurter Dom is located. 250 square meters of food, folks, and fun are all located right in front of the steps going up to the doors of the cathedral. One can try almost everything at the booths, from Langos (a Hungarian specialty), to Eierpunsch (heated egg nog with whipped cream), to the local Glühwein (mulled or spiced wine). My favorite of these specialties are the Erfurter Domino Steine. To understand what a Domino Stein is, it is a chocolate covered pastry cube with a spread of filling inside it. Germany is famous for its western kind of Domino Stein, made in Lübeck (which is east of Hamburg and Flensburg) and Aachen (which is west of Cologne and Düsseldorf near the border to France). This is made with a thick layer of marmalade sandwiched with pastry on the bottom and marzipan (an almond-flavored paste) on top. However despite the fact that this type of Domino Stein was part of the East German culture and was deemed irrelevant in the eyes of many who just wanted to see a reunited Germany without the socialist mentality, the Erfurter version of Domino Stein exists at the Christmas market in Erfurt! The pastry is not so sweet and there is only a thin layer of marmalade sandwiched between two layers of pasty and covered in chocolate made locally! When I first tried it back in 2001, I fell in love with it right away. Recently, while having an Erfurt English Roundtable at the Christmas market, there were many students who had never tried this specialty before. Therefore, it was my duty to take them there so that they can taste it. Many of them really liked it and some wanted to buy them to take it home with them to share with their families. I usually take 3-4 bags of them to the US when I spend Christmas with my family in Minnesota as they too relish at trying something that is not common over there and can rarely be found in Germany.

But even if you don’t want to try the Erfurt Domino Stein or any of the specialties there, the landscape at Christmas time in Erfurt, and the holiday joy that goes along with that is something that you must see. One can get a picturesque view of the main Christmas market at Erfurter Dom at any hour of the day. Even when the Christmas market closes at 9:00pm at night and the booths are closed up waiting to be opened again the next day, there are still many people who celebrate over Glühwein and another Thuringian specialty that is very common, the Thuringian bratwurst, as the lights on the huts and the Christmas tree keeps shining through the night, the steam from the chestnut locomotive continues to emit the smell of holiday incense, and the cathedral is lit up to a point where one can see it from the plane when taking off or landing at the airport in Bindersleben (a suburb to the north and west of Erfurt). Going through the Christmas market at any time of the day, one will hear the bartender of the Glühwein booth holler at the top of his lungs “Ich habe Trinkgeld bekommen!” (I got a tip) every five minutes, or listen to local musicians play on the streets or in the shopping center Anger 1. Going into the cathedral, one can pay their respects to their loved ones by lighting a candle or see an annual Christmas tree display in the church cellar.  And lastly, one can also see friends and family gathering at the tables of the booths, drinking a Glühwein and reminiscing about the past, talking about the present, and thinking about the future; especially when it comes to children and grandchildren. In either case, if there is an unwritten rule when it comes to visiting the eastern part of Germany, never forget to visit Erfurt; especially at Christmas time, because that is where the Fs are: food, family, friends and especially, fun!

Entrance to the Wenigermarkt part of the Christmas Market from Krämerbrücke
Stores and huts lining up towards the Anger 1 Shopping Center in the city center
Christmas tree overshadowing the huts at the Main Christmas Market at Domplatz
The Christmas tree and the chestnut locomotive oven in the middle of the Main Market at Domplatz