Since the 14th century, beginning on the fourth Sunday before Christmas, Munich’s landscape has been transformed into a sprawling sea of Christmas Markets called Christkindlmarkt, where holiday shoppers stroll through festive, scent-filled streets, eating, drinking, shopping, and socializing.
The capital of the State of Bavaria, Munich’s primary market, one of the over 20 scattered throughout the city, (including a Medieval Christmas Market, Wittelsbacher Platz, and a gay pink Christmas Market, Stephansplatz,) is located in Marienplatz and is home to more than 140 colorful stalls or wooden huts offering an unending selection of traditional Bavarian gifts, such as wooden toys, crafts, wood carvings, ornaments, manger figurines, candles, and angels.
The pleasure of eating and drinking is easily satisfied as a vast selection of mouth-watering traditional foods are readily available such as baked apples, roasted almonds, ginger nuts, sausages, roast pork with dumplings, spicy gingerbread, ginger nuts, plum figurines, potato pancakes, chimney sweep figures carved from prunes and almonds, barbecued pork on a stick, or knockwurst wrapped in pastry, which goes well with a stein of beer or mulled wine (gluewein.)
A short walk from Marienplatz is one of Germany’s largest manger markets, offering everything you need to create an authentic manger. The Rindermarkt products include lanterns, the ox and donkey, cherubs, and gifts of the Magi. Enhancing the Yuletide spirit, music lovers are treated to an alpine concert performed every day from the balcony of Munich’s town hall. It is also the site of the “Heavenly Workshop,” where children between the ages of six and twelve have fun with arts and crafts or baking and decorating cookies.
For an non-shopping experience, pristine Berchtesgaden located at the foot of Germany’s second highest mountain, the Watzmann, is great for strolls along snow-packed hiking trails, or if you prefer, you can ice skate, ski, or take a romantic horse and sleigh ride. Instead of traditional ornaments, Christmas trees are decorated with small handmade, hand painted wooden toys, angels, and real candles. A charming custom is the ringing of all the church bells for 30 minutes at 3 p.m. every afternoon.
Although a bit scary, not to be missed is the traditional 500-year old custom “Krampus Run,” which recalls the legend of St. Nicholas. Twelve young people dressed as “Buttnmandl” or “Kramperl”, in straw or fur costumes and frightening fur masks through which long, red tongues protrude, run through the villages clanging cowbells attached to their waists and flicking birch switches, which is said to chase away evil spirits. But beware, they are known to swat young girls on the knees as a sign of fertility.
If it’s time for a sweet treat, head over to Paul Reber GmbH, which has been family owned for over 140 years and manufactures its famous genuine Reber Mozart-Kugein. A luscious treat, they are filled with pistachio marzipan made from pistachio nuts, almonds, and hazelnut praline and then covered with milk or dark chocolate.
For another non-shopping experience, take an electric boat ride on the crystal-clear, emerald green Lake Konigssee. As you glide silently on this narrow, fjord-like protected lake, said to be the cleanest in Germany, the picture postcard winter landscape will beguile you with imposing rock faces, one of which is a gigantic sleeping witch. Konigssee’s landmark is the chapel of St. Bartholomew, dating back to the 12th century, along with the adjacent house, formerly a hunting castle to Bavarian kings.
A unique market experience is Fraueninsel, which is located on the island of Frauenchiemsee, in the heart of the Bavarian Alps on Lake Chiemsee, the biggest lake in Bavaria, also known as the Bavarian Sea. The only Christmas market in Germany held on an island, the stalls are elaborately decorated and offer handmade crafts and culinary delicacies. Here you can find Kaiserschmarrn – sugared pancakes with raisins, and the kinder (children) can play in the fairytale tent where they decorate Lebkuchen – traditional German Christmas biscuits, which are crisp on the outside and filled with a soft, spicy gingerbread stuffing.
There is a saying in Bavaria that “eating and drinking keeps body and soul together” and a Yuletide adventure will bear testament to that old saw.