Visiting Christmas Markets Where They Began: Germany
Wintertime is one of the best times to visit Germany. The traditional Christmas markets transform the landscape into a kaleidoscope of light, color, and sound. The cities of Lübeck, Bonn, Aachen, and Wiesbaden pull out all the stops, showcasing their history, culture, and, of course, mouthwatering street food.
Known as the Gateway to the Baltic, the northern German city of Lübeck was a major player in the Hanseatic League, a consortium of merchant guilds that banded together for the mutual protection of their economic and maritime interests in the late 12th century. You can explore the fascinating history of this league at the European Hansemuseum, the largest of its kind in the world.
The downtown area became a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1987 for its unique artwork, churches, and monuments such as the twin tower Holsten Gate. This imposing landmark was part of the western fortifications and today houses the city museum.
If you arrive around the end of November, you can watch how locals launch of their Christmas markets when Santa Claus makes his debut by rappelling down the side of the 400-foot St. Catherine’s Church.
The city skyline, much the same as it was in the Middle Ages, makes a beautiful backdrop to the Christmas market, which started here in 1648. Colorfully lit stalls are filled with locally made handicrafts, and vendors offer steaming cups of mulled wine and hot chocolate as well as bratwurst and any number of confections.
Speaking of sweets, Lübeck has its own little secret in the form of marzipan. This almond delight seems to have been perfected here, and at Café Niederegger, they have been making this sweet temptation for more than 200 years. This wildly popular shop has thousands of individually wrapped varieties, including the red foil chocolate marzipan. Don’t leave the city without sampling some of their delectable cakes, which look like works of art and are almost too pretty to eat.
There is also a maritime market at Koberg Square in the city center and a dimly lit medieval market featuring Old World food and goods.
While you are here, take time to meander through some of the 90 or so winding, cobblestoned streets and alleys. Along the way, you’ll see stiftshofe (almshouses) that once housed widows of merchants and many other historical buildings.
Located on the Rhine River, Bonn is best known as the 1770 birthplace of Beethoven. You can tour his residence in the town center, which houses the largest collection of the composer’s original scores and instruments. A walking tour highlights 16 points of interest that played a role in the life of Bonn’s favorite son.
Like many cities of its time, Bonn was founded as a Roman settlement in the first century. Through the years, it has amassed an impressive number of architectural styles including a Romanesque cathedral with a 900-year-old cloister, the French Rococo Old Town Hall, and the University of Bonn (formerly the electoral palace) in baroque style.
When the weather turns cold and the first flakes of winter start to fall, Bonn city squares turn into quaint little villages, like something out of a children’s nursery rhyme. Starting in Münsterplatz and spreading to neighboring squares and streets, Bonn becomes a nighttime party for the whole family. Picture animated talking reindeer heads welcoming you, red-and-green-hued merry-go-rounds taking children on magical rides, musicians playing holiday music, and regional foods of every sort.
With more than 130 stalls to visit, the crowds make their way through the corridors while sampling some of the best street food you will find in Germany. Kartoffelpuffer (German potato pancakes) are among the favorites and usually come three to a plate, right out of the fryer —crispy and delicious. Try them with applesauce. Marktchampignons in knoblauchsosse (mushrooms in garlic sauce) are another delicacy, cooked in giant skillets on display.
Walk off those calories by exploring the many shops in the old town area. Here, you will find bookstores, small boutiques, clothing outlets, and eateries. At Café-Konditorei Müller-Langhardt, you can sample some of the best traditional pastries in Bonn. The Black Forest cake is a favorite during the holiday season and filled with chocolate sponge, whipped cream, cherries, and a hint of kirsch.
For a traditional dinner in a warm and cozy atmosphere, make a reservation at Bierhaus Machold. It has a large beer selection and seasonal dishes like the mouthwatering sauerbraten with red cabbage and dumplings.