My Grandfather was originally from Berlin, so our family Christmas traditions had some German influence.
Every year on Christmas Eve, we’d get together with the extended family for an evening of gift giving and a festive meal. Sharing sweets such as Pfeffernüsse (little spiced cookies) and Dominostein (small dark choc marzipan squares – admittedly not my favourite!) was part of this tradition. These elements of a German Christmas made it feel extra special.
This year, Rob and I decided to spend most of our December abroad in Germany. Even though we spent the winter of 2013/2014 in Europe, I was incredibly excited for a repeat experience of German Christmas culture and to visit the well-known Christmas markets that my grandparents would have attended during their winters in Berlin before they moved to Australia.
Christmas markets can be found in every major city as well as small towns all over Germany – there are actually hundreds of markets scattered throughout the country. Their purpose is to give people a way to embrace the seasonal festivities with opportunities to shop, eat, drink, and socialise with friends around a roaring firepit while the crisp air is lit by thousands of sparkling Christmas lights.
So far I’ve visited some markets in Berlin, Hamburg, Munich, Leipzig, and Heidelberg. From my experience, each market has a slightly different theme or charm, but most are fairly similar in their food and drink offerings. I ended up sampling many of the popular vegetarian market treats and undoubtedly put on a ton of weight in the process! Here are all of my favourite snacks, sweets, and drinks to get at the German Christmas markets.
How to visit the German Christmas markets:
I did an independent trip through Germany to visit the Christmas markets, but there are actually a few tour operators that offer excursions which stop at some of the popular markets around the country. I think the one of the best value tours would be this 10-day German Christmas Markets tour from Munich to Berlin!
Kartoffelpuffer (Potato Hash Browns)
While the pronounciation of the name is obviously loads of fun to say, these potato hash browns also taste incredibly good (I mean, carb-heavy spuds fried in oil is always going to taste amazing, right?). Kartoffelpuffer are sometimes flavoured with garlic or onion, and are usually served with a side of sweet applesauce. This snack was definitely my favourite!
Champignons (Roasted Mushrooms)
I am a huge fan of mushrooms (and Rob hates them!) so I gladly took the opportunity to order a plate of champignons while exploring the winter festivals in Hamburg. Hot and steamy, these champignons are usually served with a dollop of sour cream or garlic sauce on top. Mmmm so delicious!
Flammkuchen (German Pizza)
Flammkucken is kind of like a German twist on a flatbread pizza. The base is super thin and is topped with a layer of creme fraiche. I ordered this tasty one in Hamburg with beetroot, cheese, and candied walnuts on top. This one was huge but Flammkucken at the Christmas markets is usually served in a smaller snack size.
There’s nothing better than a freshly baked pretzel. The large chunks of salt can be a bit much for me so I brush some off, but Rob loves the extra-salty ones! German pretzels can also come with seeds or cheese baked on top. Either way, these snacks are a cheap and easy way to keep your stomach satisfied while you explore the markets.
It’s possible that you’ll come across some vegetarian/vegan versions of the popular meaty snacks at the Christmas markets. Rob discovered a stall at the main Hamburg market with a vegan grill selling Bratwurst and Currywurst, so we ordered some veggie sausages here. They tasted just as good as the real thing!
There’s no way you can go to a Christmas market in Germany without trying some gingerbread! Lebkuchen is very popular, so you’ll find plenty of stalls selling gingerbread hearts (always with a sweet iced message on the front) or gingerbread cookies. I will confess to buying one of the largest gingerbread hearts that I could find… it was bigger than my head!
Schmalzkuchen (Little Donuts)
These little donuts are made with yeast dough that is cut up into squares before being fried. I was surprised that the dough itself wasn’t very sweet like a regular donut, but they still tasted good – Schmalzkuchen are served in a paper bag with a huge helping of icing sugar which is meant to sweeten them up!
Schokofrüchte (Chocolate Fruit)
Fruits that have been skewered and then doused in chocolate are a slightly healthier treat that is easy to find at the markets. You can usually find grapes, strawberries, bananas, or apples with your choice of white, milk, or dark chocolate. I chose a strawberry-banana combo coated in my fave… dark chocolate!
Gebrannte Mandeln (Roasted Almonds)
I’ve gotta say, these treats are definitely the ones that smell the best! Market stalls offering roasted nuts always have a sweet scent wafting through the air in front of them. I tried a small portion (100g) of these sugar-coated almonds at the Leipzig Weinachtsmarkt and they tasted just as good as I expected.
Glühwein (Mulled Wine)
The first drink you should get in the German Christmas Markets is a classic Glühwein! This warm drink is made by warming up red wine (or sometimes white wine) with sugar and cinnamon sticks and other Christmas spices in a giant pot. Glühwein is often served in super cute little cups that are decorated with pictures from the specific town or location that you buy it from.
Feuerzangenbowle (Red Wine Punch)
This drink is similar to mulled wine, but it has an interesting addition. The mulled wine is made in a large pot, then sugar cubes that have been soaked in rum are placed above the drink and set on fire so that the rum-sugar drips into the wine as it melts! Feuerzangenbowle is usually served in a small ceramic cup and is guaranteed to warm you up very quickly.
Eierpunsch (Egg Punch)
Kind of similar to eggnog, this drink is made with white wine, sugar, vanilla and egg yolks, and sometimes citrus juice and rum are mixed in. It’s also topped with whipped cream, so every sip is like a liquid dessert. I found the drink to be slightly too sugary, but I believe the Germans love their hot drinks to be extra-sweet.
Heiße Schokolade (Hot Chocolate)
As if a regular hot cocoa isn’t already good, Heiße Schokolade at German Christmas Markets is sometimes spiked with Baileys or rum to add some extra punch! The whipped cream on top makes it truly the coziest drink that you can find at the Christmas markets. I thoroughly enjoyed my boozy hot choc drink at Winterdom in Hamburg.
Note: Some drink stalls charge an additional fee of 1-3 Euros called a ‘Pfand’. This deposit is used an incentive for you to remember to take the cups back to the bar when you’ve finished your drink. Once you’re ready to leave, you can ask for the Pfand back when you return your cups.