It's December and Christmas is just around the corner! Weihnachtsmarkt season has just begun in Germany, with little wooden markets popping up all around town, selling roasted walnuts, gingerbread hearts, Kakao and of course, bratwurst.
Since I only get one year here to experience the magic of German Christmas, which is considered to have some of the most beautiful and festive Christmas celebrations in the world, I wanted to see as many of the Weihnachtsmärkte as possible. So, I made it my mission to explore the Christmas markets with my friends, and learning a few new tricks along the way...
My very first Weihnachtsmarkt experience was in Bonn, where I roamed around alone before taking the train to meet up with my host dad's parents for dinner. This was my first time seeing Bonn and it was the first Christmas market in two years (because of COVID-19), so it was packed full of people. The markets were spread all over the shopping district, with tons of rides for children and places to eat. I was automatically put in a the holiday mood when strolling past the markets, hearing the Christmas music blaring and embracing the cold weather. Bonn had a ton to offer, including the typical shops; ornaments, leather works, woodworking, bratwurst, Glühwein, nutcrackers, homemade scarves and mittens, glass works, candy shops, and so, so much more! I was walking around finding things to send back home to my family, and I made sure to get the classic German gingerbread Christmas heart to send back - but I made sure to tell them it's only for decoration.
My second experience at a Weihnachtsmarkt was a spontaneous decision after canceled classes for my friend Tasha and my friend Darren and I getting out of school early one day. We decided to meet up in Düsseldorf and see what the Weihnachtsmarkts there have to offer. In comparison, the Düsseldorf one wasn't near as good as Bonn's or the future ones, but the main event of this day was going ice skating. Tasha's from Minnesota so she was incredible at ice skating and Darren goes once every year so he was also amazing, although he did enjoy falling for the camera ;). This was my first time ice skating, so I was a bit nervous but more so excited because I've always wanted to try it. I started out using the little kid orange whale that's supposed to help you get the hang of it, but then Darren took it away from me and him and Tasha just started holding my hand and skating with me - which was actually pretty helpful. I was better than most beginners and found it similar to roller skating, except with more balance. By the end of our skating time I was able to skate by myself and didn't fall at all during the duration of our time there. Then we went to the other Weihnachtsmarkt in the Altstadt where Tasha and Darren bought Kinderpunch and I got the best cinnamon roll of my life. Another thing that's not Christmas related but is German related - after taking Tasha to the Hauptbahnhof, Darren and I went to eat at Dominos, and on our way back to the train station a ton of cars whizzed past us, honking their horns and waving Moroccan flags out their windows. Darren and I were confused but once we looked inside a döner shop at the T.V., we found out Morocco won against Portugal in a World Cup game, and people in Düsseldorf were celebrating the win. It's just a culture thing, soccer is life in Europe, I've found that out quick...
On a weekend, Tasha, Darren and I decided to meet up again but go to three Christmas markets in one day: Duisburg, Essen and Dortmund. We all met up at the Duisburg Hauptbahnhof at 9:30 and went to the mall to do some Christmas shopping for our host families before the Weihnachtsmarkts opened at 11. We all shared a Kartoffeltwister (a whole fried potato spun around on a long stick), and then ate bratwurst. We also took a postcard photo at one of the Christmas market booths, and though it was expensive, we treasure that postcard. Then around noon we hopped on the train to Essen, which was maybe 12 minutes from Duisburg. In Essen the first thing we did was get a Kakao, which was incredible in the 30 degree weather. Once we finished drinking we gave our cups back and asked for clean ones (since you can keep the mug if you pay Pfand), and got a cute sovenier mug to take back home. Essen was my favorite market of all the ones I went to, because it was super organized and though there were a ton of people and we were kinda getting lost in the crowd, it was just beautiful and everyone of the venders was nice. I also bought a scarf at one of the shops here because it was so freezing outside. Around 14:00 we got on train to Dortmund, which was 20-30 minutes away from Essen. There we all got another sovenier mug, saw the tallest Christmas tree in Germany, visited the amll and got the best ice cream (Gelato 49 - the Kind of Spain is right about how good it is), saw pigeons fighting over a churro, had the best bratwurst of my life and visited my favorite store, Søstrene Grene. We also had to run Tasha to her train because we took too long in the Weihnachtsmarkt, and then Darren and I took the train to Düsseldorf and departed to our host cities. We all enjoyed ourselves, laughing and making new memories, and this day will definitly stick with me.
My final Christmas market adventures were in my home town, Krefeld, with my host family to the Krefeld-Linn Weihnachtsmarket, and with Gabby (mentioned in my 'Bringing Thanksgiving to Germany' post) and our friend Becci to the main Krefeld market. At the Linn market my host sisters (13 and 8), my host mom and I went around buying small things and mostly food - I got popcorn and another mug to send home. The Linn market was the cutest out of all the ones I've seen. It was small but had everything you usually experience at a Weihnachtsmarkt. Then at 18:00 Gabby and I took the tram into the city to meet up with Becci. There we had Kinderpunch and we had some dinner. We talked while drinking our Kinderpunch in a tent and then took some polaroid photos. This was my seventh Christmas market I visited (so far)...
If you come to Germany, whether for an exchange year or just visiting, a must-see are the Christmas markets. I think Bonn, Essen and Dortmund were the best I've seen, and of course, while you're there, try new things. Try the churros, bratwurst, chocolate covered marshmallows, gingerbread hearts, Glühwein, Kinderpunch, Kakao, Kartoffeltwister, etc. Get a mug, buy something to send or take home, and just enjoy the Christmas vibes. Maybe go ice skating for the first time, or skiing, try something new! Invite some friends from CBYX or have your German friends show you around, it's fun and sets up for the lack of Halloween and Thanksgiving. Christmas comes right around the corner and surprises you so visiting one keeps you on track!
These adventures where I went with my friends/host family and explored new places will forever stick with me, and I love experiencing new cultural things about Germany, and the Weihnachtsmarkts are one of the ways to do that.
Merry early Christmas and an early happy New Year! If you have any questions or would like to contact me, I'm alway avaiable and a click away!
One of the most festive times of the year in Germany is Karneval. The highlight of Karneval, Rosenmontag, is a day filled with dancers, marching bands, and float parades. My host sister were able to go together and take part in the festivities!
Last month, fifty Americans from Experiment traveled to the charming town of Oberwesel for our midyear seminar. Amidst the chaos of fifty American teenagers in one youth hostel, we played a short game of hide-and-seek.