30 Dec 2015
Once a year Frankfurt’s historic centre transforms into a visual delight for the young and ripe alike.
Christmas markets all over Europe are an age old tradition. Originating in Germany, Austria, eastern France and northern Italy around Tyrol, first records date back to the years between the late 1200’s and 1400’s.
If you’ve never been to the christmas markets in Eurpoe, you should add it to your bucket list. In the northern hemisphere they have been adopted in many European cities, although arguably Germany still does it best. I may be slightly biased due to my German roots.
‘The Frankfurter Weihnachtsmarkt’, as it’s known in German, is a personal favourite for several reasons. It’s one of Germany’s largest christmas markets watched over by one of the largest decorated christmas trees in the whole country. It’s set around Frankfurt’s picturesque main square, the Römerberg. The main feature is ‘Der Römer’, a building that has served as Frankfurt’s town hall for over 600 years. The multi storey timber frame houses that front the remaining square sides make for a perfect backdrop. They also give it that gingerbread house feel generally associated with christmas markets.
Fairy lights illuminate the Römerberg square
The first thing you need to do upon walking into the christmas market is to get yourself a mug of Glühwein. Everything else is secondary. You will need to pay a deposit of around 3 Euros for your mug, which you can either retrieve or forfeit in exchange for a souvenir from your christmas market experience.
Once your eyes are satiated gazing at the lights, the oversized christmas tree and the amount of huts and stalls you’re about to manouvre, your sense of smell will be hit with an assault. It’s a wonderful melange of spices, roasted and candied nuts with the smell of BBQ a hint of deep frying fat.
The common tipple
Glühwein, spiced apple cider and feuerzangenbowle are traditional drinks that you’ll find at the grand majority of all stalls.
Germany’s famed glühwein (or mulled wine) consists of a red wine base infused with spices like cloves & cinnamon and added sugar for sweetness. Delicious.
The state of Hessen’s national drank is apple wine (“Äppelwoi” in the Frankfurt dialect), a tart and unsweetened version of the common cider. In this case it’s heated with spices, lemon peel and sugar, making it more appealing to the general consumer.
Feuerzangenbowle injects an extra level of oomph by letting a flame dissolve a rum soaked sugar cube into a glass of glühwein. It’s not for the faint hearted or the cheap drunks among us.
Once you’ve sampled one or more of the above you might like to try exploring the christmas market. Wooden huts serve as stalls and lend the whole square a cosy ski village feel. Light signs and fairy lights cover most surfaces and further add to the enchanted village atmosphere. For many Germans this is just an annual event they attend, but for me personally it’s like taking a trip to Never-Never land. Every year is like re-discovering my inner child that is in absolute awe of such a magical setting. Granted, the Glühwein may have something to do with it, but I’m certain the double storey vintage carousel also contributes. Presumably it’s intended for the younger generations in attendance, but who can resist such a magnificent ride.
After ingesting one or more of the aforementioned spirit enhancing beverages, the logical progression is to sample some of the German treats on offer. The easiest and most common fare on offer will include a combination of these favourites:
Currywurst: A veal, pork or beef sausage grilled and chopped into pieces is doused with a curry flavoured ketchup and sprinkled with curry powder. Served with a bread roll. Irresistible after any drinks and something I cannot do without on my visits to Germany. At any time of year.
Kartoffelpuffer/Reibekuchen: Grated potato cakes deep fried and served with a side of apple compete to dip in. Yes, apple compote. (pictured)
Würstchen: A variety of sausages, generally of pork and beef, grilled to perfection on a suspended round grill. (pictured) Served in a white roll with all the condiments you could ever dream of.
Fisch brötchen: A selection of seafood sandwiches, including pickled Herring with raw onion and pickles.
Lebkuchen Herzen: Gingerbread hearts often associated with Oktoberfest. you will find these at any german festival or fair.
Roasted almonds and other nuts
But the menu on offer doesn’t end there. Vendors that specialise in breads, cheeses and cured meats are in the mix as well. All this feasting and drinking is interspersed with vendors selling handmade candles, wooden toys, jewellery and various other arts and crafts making the whole experiences fully inclusive for all the senses.
A day at the christmas markets is a great escape into a world filled with all my favourite things. Yes you will have to battle with the crowds. However for an afternoon’s worth of wrangling the crowds you get to step into a world filled with all the festive cheer santa could only hope for in a truly magical setting. I for one will certainly be back again next year.
08 Sep 2016 - Travel