Germany’s cities are among the leading places in the world for modern retail, with stunning glass shopping centres offering the latest fashion designs. But the country is also rightly famous for its traditional winter markets, which have been providing seasonal delights for centuries – it is thought that the first market was held in Saxony in the 1300s.
Modern Berlin, with its cutting-edge credentials, turns into a winter wonderland towards the end of the year, with an impressive selection of markets. Some, such as those at Gendarmenmarkt and Potsdamer Platz, are situated in key shopping areas while others are more intimate and focus on handicrafts and home-made food.
The charming Nostalgischer Weihnachsmarkt (Nostalgic Christmas Market) at the Opernpalais boasts a range of pretty craft items, from cosy scarves to painted baubles and other decorations, while brandy punch and roasted almonds will help keep visitors warm. Here, the hectic mood of modern Berlin seems to melt away. A short distance from the centre of the city, a similarly welcoming atmosphere can be experienced at the Aventsökomarkt (Advent Eco Market) at Kollwitzplatz in Prenzlauer Berg.
From huts illuminated with fairy lights, a wide range of goods can be selected including gingerbread and seasonal decorations. As carolers sing, and perhaps as snow dusts the stalls’ roofs, enjoy a cup of hot rum and a baked apple with vanilla sauce.
A dash of Scandinavian culture comes to Berlin at the charming Lucia Weihnachtsmarkt (Lucia Christmas Market), also in the Prenzlauer Berg area. Named after the Nordic goddess of light, the market features Scandinavian and German food, drink and gifts.
While the capital has its wintry charms, it is another German city, Nuremberg, that boasts one of the best-known winter markets in Europe, attracting two million visitors each year. Under the watchful eye of the Frauenkirche (Church of Our Lady) –which, for the occasion, is lit up in radiant light – the revelry unfolds in the central square of the Old Town, adding to the authentic charm of the experience.
Nuremberg winter market, which is likely to have started in the 1600s, launches with a spectacular opening ceremony featuring trumpeters and carol singing. A golden angel has been a symbol of the market since the very earliest days and replicas in an array of colours are available to buy. Behind the city wall is the Handwerkerhof (Craftsmen’s Courtyard), where visitors can watch artisans at work in their timber houses, whether creating stunning glass items or making intricate metalwork. Stay warm with a cup of hot chocolate from the Schoggladn Hoisla (Chocolate House) in the courtyard, and before you leave, look out for the zwetschgenmännla. Dating back to the 18th century, these figurines are skilfully made from wire covered with (rather unusually) prunes and walnuts, which are then painted by hand.
Germany’s business powerhouse, Düsseldorf, is also keeping the winter market tradition alive. For artisanal items, head to the sprawling markets on Schadowstrasse where you’ll find handmade wooden figurines and miniature houses. At the Engelchenmark (Angel’s Market) in the city’s Old Town, art nouveau-style stalls sell stunning wax candles in spiralling shapes, hand-painted tree decorations and wreaths made out of holly and pine interspersed with ribbons in the rosiest red.
Whether visiting Berlin, Düsseldorf or Nuremberg, even those who are cynical about the season’s festivities will be seduced by Germany’s joyful winter markets.