Munich Christmas market – tradition in Germany

Stuart Forster heads to Germany to experience the Munich Christmas market known locally as the 

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A heady aroma of cinnamon, blended spices and booze wafts through the crisp winter air at the Christmas markets of Munich in southern Germany.

The nights grow longer as mid-winter approaches. Munich residents meet at the Advent markets to socialise over post-work mugs of Glühwein (mulled wine). The Christmas markets in Munich are by no means held only to attract visitors to the city.

"Roasted almonds, nuts and star, I like them a lot," says a sign in the Bavarian dialect at a Christkindlmarkt in Munich, Germany.
“Roasted almonds, nuts and star, I like them a lot,” says a sign in the Bavarian dialect at a Christkindlmarkt in Munich, Germany.

Munich Christmas market

Some nibble from cone-shaped packs of warm nuts that have been roasted in sugar and a blend of spices. Others share sweets such as Pfeffernuess or Magenbrot, varieties of spiced gingerbread traditionally associated with the season.

The cinnamon-led scent drifts away, replaced by the delicious, hunger-inducing aroma of sausages grilling.

I stamp my feet against the cold and look around at the relaxed, smiling faces of the market’s visitors. Noticing the plumes of condensation spiralling from their mugs of mulled wine, I decide to order one for myself. I order one ‘mit Schuss’, that’s with a dash of rum, before setting off on a tour of the city’s seasonal markets.

The clock tower of the neo-Gothic Neues Rathaus (New Town Hall) in central Munich rises above stalls of the Marienplatz Christkindlmarkt, the Munich Christmas market in the heart of the city.
The clock tower of the Neo-Gothic Neues Rathaus (New Town Hall) in central Munich rises above stalls of the Marienplatz Christkindlmarkt, the Munich Christmas market in the heart of the city.

Christmas markets in Germany

Some people see Germany’s advent markets as the ideal solution to their Christmas shopping needs. They visit seeking opportunities to buy hand-crafted gifts and souvenirs. I view them an opportunity to enjoy seasonal gastronomic treats.

Rather than sitting down to a single hearty meal, I enjoy mooching around the stalls and browsing for snacks. Walking between the stalls means that I’m burning off the calories I take on, right? Maybe not, but wishful thinking is all part of the season.

I pick up a bag of roasted chestnuts from a stall crowned by a sign saying ‘Maroni’, the German name for the delicacy. Then I tuck into Reiberdatschi, a type of potato fritter served with pureed apple. It’s a popular Bavarian delicacy.

Christmas market by the Chinese Tower in Munich's Englischer Garten.
Christmas market by the Chinese Tower in Munich’s Englischer Garten park.

German Christmas market food

I still haven’t moved 50 metres forward since deciding to explore and I could do with a refreshing cup of tea. The stall in front of me serves a special form of Alpine tea, Jägertee. Sipping it, I note it’s a potent cocktail of warm, herb-infused alcoholic spirits. It’s tasty and helps put the merry into a visit to German Christmas markets.

The stalls are a well-established seasonal attraction, drawing people from around the world. Munich’s main Christkindlmarkt has been held annually since 1806. Since 1972, the year the city hosted the Olympic Games, it’s been held on Marienplatz.

People browse stalls selling handicrafts at a Christkindlmarkt, a Munich Christmas market held near the new town hall.
People browse stalls selling handicrafts at a Christkindlmarkt, a Munich Christmas market held near the new town hall.

As I stand munching yet another snack I hear Italian, Spanish and Russian spoken. Since the 1970s, when Christmas market tourism began to boom, the Christkindlmaerkte have been responsible for drawing millions of winter visitors to Munich.

Almost three million people visit Munich’s advent markets. Some, like the Christkindlmarkt on Marienplatz, in front of the Neo-Gothic new town hall, are geared up for tourists. Others, such as the market at Rotkreutzplatz, have a distinctly local feel.

Snow covered street lamp with Christmas decorations.
Snow covered street lamp with Christmas decorations.



Marienplatz Christmas market

The stalls on Marienplatz, Munich’s biggest Advent market, resemble traditional Alpine huts. Over 100 of the wooden stalls pack onto the square.

Wandering between the stalls, looking at the seasonal decorations and hand-crafted goods – from places such as Oberammergau, South Tyrol and Iron Mountains – I try to fight the temptation to pick up presents. But a couple of ornate candles prove too attractive to resist.

Snow on branches during the Advent season.
Snow on branches during the Advent season.

Marienplatz’s Christkindlmarkt is at its most magical as dusk turns to darkness, especially following snowfall. Each evening, choirs sing and musicians perform on the town hall’s balcony. Locals describe the blend of atmosphere and charm as altbairisch, meaning ‘traditional Bavarian’, and I’m suitably impressed.

A 30-metre (98-feet) tall fir tree dominates the centre of the square. Some 2,500 lights twinkle among its branches. This tradition can be traced back to 1830. That’s they year Therese von Sachsen-Hildburghausen, the wife of King Ludwig I, brought the first decorated Christmas tree into the royal palace.

Stalls at the Munich Medieval Christmas Market on Wittelsbacherplatz.
Stalls at the Munich Medieval Christmas Market on Wittelsbacherplatz.



History of Munich’s Christmas markets

Over the years, Munich’s seasonal markets have undergone change.

The city annals of 1642 record that a so-called Nikolaidult, meaning ‘Nicholas Market’, was held on the centrally located Kaufinger Strasse. That is the first written record of any such market. Yet historians believe a version of it existed in the 1300s.

By the mid-16th century stalls were being set up by local traders each 5th and 6th December; the eve and Feast of St Nicholas.

Seasonal decorations at a Christmas market in Munich, Germany.
Seasonal decorations at a Christmas market in Munich, Germany.

Gradually the belief that St Nicholas delivered presents gave way to the idea that the Infant Jesus did. Known as the Christkind in German, that explains how the seasonal market’s name evolved into the present form, the Christkindlmarkt.

Would they have sold Bratwürste – grilled sausages – at those medieval Advent markets? I’m off to find a stall, to try some of its produce and to ask the vendor if she knows the answer.

Santa Claus by a reindeer at a Christmas market in Munich, Germany.
Santa Claus by a reindeer at a Christmas market in Munich, Germany.



Christmas markets in Munich, Germany

Munich hosts more than 20 Christmas markets. Each has its own character. It can prove fun to move from one to the next, to get an overview of the Christmas markets in Munich. They are open from late November until the 23rd or 24th of December.

The markets include the Tollwood Winter Festival at the Theresienwiese, traditionally the site of the Oktoberfest. The market has an environmental focus and sells goods sourced from around the world. Food served at the market is organic.

Tent at the Tollwood Winter Festival at the Theresienwiese in Munich, Germany.
Tent at the Tollwood Winter Festival at the Theresienwiese in Munich, Germany.

A Medieval Christmas Market is held at Wittelsbacherplatz, a square dominated by an equestrian statue of Maximilian I.

Stalls at the Munich Medieval Christmas Market on Wittelsbacherplatz.
Stalls at the Munich Medieval Christmas Market on Wittelsbacherplatz.

The Christkindlmarkt at Marienplatz is the best-known Munich Christmas market.

Munich Airport Christmas Market is a reason to arrive at the transport hub well before a scheduled take-off.

Traditional Dirndl dresses for sale at a Munich Christmas market.
Traditional Dirndl dresses for sale at a Munich Christmas market.

Nymphenburg Palace hosts a Christmas market in its expansive grounds and is a beautiful place to visit.

The Pink Christmas Market takes place at Stephansplatz in Munich’s Glockenbachviertel.

Bratwurst stand at the Christkindlmarkt at Sendlinger Tor in Munich, Germany.
Bratwurst stand at the Christkindlmarkt at Sendlinger Tor in Munich, Germany.

Visiting the Schwabinger Weihnachtsmarkt (Schwabing Christmas Market) at Münchner Freiheit means you’re well placed for a night out in nearby cafés and bars.

Additionally, there are markets at Rotkreuzplatz in the Neuhausen district, Weissenburgerplatz in Haidhausen and elsewhere in the city.

Google Map showing the location of some of Munich’s Christmas markets.
 

See the Munich website for up-to-date information on the Christmas markets and their timings.



Travel to Munich

Air France, British Airways, KLM and Lufthansa count among the airlines that operate flights between UK airports and Munich Airport in the winter.



Enjoy rail travel? The fastest rail connections between London St Pancras International and Munich Hauptbahnhof, the city’s central station, takes just over nine hours. Tickets are available via the Trainline website.

An Interrail tours opens the opportunity of visiting several of Europe’s Christmas markets during a single trip.


Snow covered bicycles on a December day in Munich, Germany.
Snow covered bicycles on a December day in Munich, Germany.

Accommodation in Munich

Search for hotels in Munich on the Booking.com website:


Booking.com

Books about Munich

Planning a trip to the Christmas markets in Munich? You may enjoy the following books:

DK Eyewitness Top 10 Munich guidebook:


Munich, a tale of espionage set during the Munich Conference of 1938, by Robert Harris:

The Shortest History of Germany by James Hawe:

 

Finding Love at the Christmas Market by Jo Thomas:

 

Santa Claus figure at the Tollwood Winter Festival in Munich's alternative Christmas market at the Theresienwiese, the site of the Munich Oktoberfest.
Santa Claus figure at the Tollwood Winter Festival in Munich’s alternative Christmas market at the Theresienwiese, the site of the Munich Oktoberfest.

Further information

The Munich Travel website has information about things to do and see in Bavaria’s state capital.

The Bavaria and Germany websites also have information about Munich and the surrounding area.

Stuart Forster is an award-winning travel writer who speaks fluent German. His work has been published in newspapers including The Telegraph, The Independent and The Guardian.

Thank you for visiting Go Eat Do and reading this post about Munich Christmas market and advent traditions in Bavaria’s state capital. Unsure where you want experience Europe’s Advent markets, please take a look at this post about Hamburg Christmas Market in Germany. If you have decided to visit Munich, you might want to experience the city’s wellness offerings. Take a look at this post about going naked at a sauna in Germany.

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A version of this post was originally posted on Go Eat Do on 20 November 2013.

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