Jingle Your Way to Christmas in Germany

In Life & Travel by Jackie Cruz

After visiting the Erfurt Christmas Markets last week, I would like to share with you this fascinating, European tradition. In case you need a rundown of this gorgeous, beautifully preserved city, here is my first blog touring the streets and sights of Erfurt.

Originating in Germany in the 1300s, the first official Christmas markets were actually used to stock up on supplies for the winter. After awhile, people started selling handmade crafts for gifts during the holidays. Now, almost every German city and larger European city have a Christmas market. Some of the best that I have had the pleasure of visiting are Vienna, Berlin, Paris, Strasbourg, Munich, Essen, Rothenburg and Colmar (close to the first Christmas tree in Alsace).

Turning on Spotify’s Michael Bublé Christmas Playlist, I was quickly filled with a joyous holiday spirit and began decorating the tree. For a unique twist, this year I bought 3, 5-pound bunches of tree trimmings and hung them upside down on the wall. The trick is to layout your tree on the ground, starting with the longest branches down the middle of the tree. Beginning at the bottom of the tree, take at least 1-inch long nails and hammer the trimmings onto the wall at the fork in the branches. Gradually building up at a narrower angle, it will start looking like a beautiful tree! I opted for a 25-day advent calendar this year for my boyfriend, which he loved! So far, he has not received any coal, but smaller gifts like a pair of Minion socks, a portable ping pong net, a portable cell phone charger and an inflatable crown (his “king for a day” gift). Needless to say – he has loved every present!

After hearing enough jingle bell and snowflake songs, my boyfriend, teammate and I decided to partake in some German Christmas traditions. I have heard about the Erfurt Christmas Markets before, but did not expect such a city-wide holiday celebration. We live across the street from the Altstadt (the ancient city) and saw the glowing holiday lights lining the city ring, so I knew we were in for a wonderful, holiday experience! I was pleasantly surprised to see about 20 stands as you enter the Altstadt on the Anger – the main shopping street. We walked past the children’s carousel, gingerbread stands and handmade crafts. By 4:30pm it was already dark, but the sparkling white lights hanging from building to building above the crowds of people kept the street perfectly illuminated.

I thought I could not feel more Christmas cheer. However, turning the corner and walking a few minutes (and after a slight detour for vegan cupcakes), I looked up in the sky and saw the glistening 50-foot sign for the “Erfurter Weihnachtsmarkt” (Erfurt Christmas Markets). My eyes lit up as bright as the lights on the Christmas tree standing in the middle of the market. The 100 stands filled with holiday treats had the most picturesque backdrop of the Ferris wheel and Cathedral outlined by a midnight sky. Even seeing the market in the distance, I could smell a wide variety of yummy sweet and savory foods. I was so excited my boyfriend had to tell me to slow down because I was walking so fast to get there!

The first stand offered various types of Glühwein – a hot wine drink specific to Christmas time in Germany. It can be served alone, with alcohol (usually rum or Amaretto), or other flavors (like vanilla or blueberry). It warms you up in more ways than one! After peering into a beautiful stand with wine barrels as Glühwein dispensers, I recently discovered my must-have Christmas market drink – a frothy, white chocolate with a few shots of Licor 43. It’s warm, it’s creamy, it’s chocolatey and it tastes like a milkshake – an extremely dangerous combination.

After inspecting every gift and food stand for hours outside in 35-degree weather (2 degrees Celsius), my teammate and I stopped at the first café we saw. She is from Florida and I am from California, so our sunny souls needed some warming up. The café ceiling had hanging hand carved angels, wings and moons. I ordered a doughy, chocolate crepe and an Irish coffee, which tasted more like whiskey than coffee, but did the job nonetheless.

Being able to feel our fingers and toes again, we decided to brave the cold and meet up with some friends at the Feuerzangbowle stand (for English speakers: foy-er-tzang-bowl-a). It sounds like a tongue twister, but it is Glühwein served with a small cone of burning sugar (literally) on top of a cup. You can see in the picture, the server lights the rum-soaked sugar on fire and you can dunk the sugar for some extra sweetness! It was awesome!

Making our way through the city in freezing weather, a crowd gathered to watch a fire performer. The air was full of lamp oil and was burning my eyes, but it was cool to see for a few minutes. We finally crossed the Krämerbrücke and stumbled onto the Medieval Christmas Market! We were welcomed by musicians playing tunes from the 1400s with a German bagpipe, bells attached to ankle bands and a drum. It was surreal! I must admit, though – I really wanted to learn how to play that bagpipe!

Aside from the historical bridge and musicians, there were merchants selling hand-carved wooden sculptures, bread and cheese rolls cooked in stone ovens and other handmade jewelry. Even the sellers had old clothing and spoke with accents to add to the 1400s, “medieval” effect. The stands were decorated with pine trimmings and tiny hidden accents, and the menus were hand painted or carved in wood. The funniest decoration was a small, troll-looking figurine holding up the middle finger! Classic.

Judging the entire city atmosphere, Erfurt’s holiday season is definitely one of my favorites! Erfurt has 5 markets all within 10-minute walks of each other and offers everything you need. You might miss the traditional fried mushroom and cauliflower plate with a side of creamy garlic sauce, but you will certainly find other scrumptious tastes around the markets. Garlic bread, potato pancakes with applesauce, meat skewers and all sorts of gingerbread treats await you!