Unlike Ryan, I didn’t grow up with wintry Christmases that smelled of cinnamon and apples. I was used to a roasting pig in the yard and A LOT of papaya in syrup with gouda. So while Ryan felt right at home with the sights and smells of the Christmas markets in Leipzig and Berlin, I was like a starry-eyed little kid in a magical land. Berlin has around 80 Christmas markets so we only had enough time and good weather to see a few of them. The Baby Jesus aspect of Christmas takes a backseat to the evergreen boughs and fried foods.
Our first real stop in Germany was Leipzig. We probably got a skewed view of Leipzig because we arrived at that special holiday time where everyone is kind and full of Christmas cheer (and by “cheer” I mean mulled wine). The big outdoor christmas market focused mainly in front of the Old Town Hall with its tall christmas tree, pretty much drew me in every day. There were a couple hundred dark wooden stalls selling everything from gloves to bratwurst and each one had a friendly vendor behind the counter (even though I had no idea what they were saying). Each small stall usually had a Christmas-themed diorama on top, which were sometimes beautiful and sometimes looked like scary leftovers from the sixties. I loved all of it. It felt cozy even when it was incredibly crowded and had a village feel to it while being in the middle of a city. Aside from vendors there was a live Nativity scene (also new to me), a mini Christmas village displaying scenes from various stories, and a ferris wheel.
My favorite part was the food, obviously. Ryan and I would share because there was a lot of bread and cheese and meat involved, but most people didn’t. Of course, we also had a few mustard-covered bratwurst (not all on the same day). We washed our food down with our first taste of glüwein (mulled wine) which was surprisingly delicious and not too strong. There is a deposit for the reusable mugs, but we decided to keep ours. For a lighter meal, we went over to the Finnish section of the market where several wooden smokers were setup to smoke giant pieces of salmon. The line there got really long, but it was so worth it. It made it easy to forget that my face was slowly freezing.
Berlin has christmas markets on lock. They are all over town and while most of them are free, the one at WeihnachtsZauber at the Gendarmenmarkt costs 1 Euro to get in. We went there briefly since it’s one of the most popular markets and therefore must be one of the best, but it was almost too curated with it’s uniform tents and large stage for performances. Preferring a more “small town” feel we slowly walked back to Berliner Weihnachtszeit to grab some lunch and share a mug of hot glüwien. This market had the same stuff for sale as most of the others in addition to an ice skating rink and ferris wheel (every city gets one!). After having some bratwursts we grabbed some wine and shared some Quarkbällchen. There seems to be an infinite number of ways Germans fry dough and I am doing my best to try them all.
Even if you don’t celebrate the holiday, the winter markets in Germany are a sight to behold. If you get a chance, I highly recommend spending some time here in December. I think our favorite will always be Leipzig, but overall, its hard to go wrong here.