Christmas markets: are they worth it?

Christmas markets sound pretty dire, don’t they? All the Glühwein, gingerbread and wood-centric tree ornaments. The reality, I discover, is very different.

the sound of a choir rehearsal guiding me to my hotel amid a flurry of snowflakes, I find myself wondering if world peace might be easier to achieve if Nato or the UN modelled themselves on a really good Christmas market.

Nuremberg hosts the most famous Christmas market in the world

Getting  around the Nuremberg market is quite difficult. There’s such a lot of it.

The main bit is easy; a series of stalls with red and white awnings just outside the main church. They offer wooden toys, sweets and nuts, gingerbread and other sweetmeats. But Nuremberg also has a bewildering number of festive market subdivisions: a children’s market with rides and wholesome activities such as gingerbread decoration; a food market and stalls that even sell things made of plastic.

To one side of the main square are stalls from the cities with which Nuremberg is twinned, all selling their regional specialities. Marion Dykes (Glasgow) has a faithful following for her shortbread and tartan scarfs. Rob is from Atlanta, Georgia, and sells Betty Crocker cake mixes in sub-zero temperatures — and loves it.

Nuremberg certainly is Christmas central; of all the festive markets in Germany, this is the most famous. This is mostly because Nuremberg has the Christkind. Invented as a Lutheran saint substitute in the mid-16th century, it is a contest where nice girls definitely finish first.

Voted for every three or four years, the holders have to be female, be born in Nuremberg and be of good character. The Christkind’s annual tour of duty starts on November 26 with a recitation from the tower of Frauenkirche and continues with a relentless round of good deeds, including visits to hospitals and reading to children. She also turns up at the market.

In truth, apart from some truly excellent gingerbread from the Neef Confiserie, there’s little I want to buy in Nuremberg but I wish I could package up the sense of goodwill. In the evening I stop off for some Feuerzangenbowle; this is a burnt punch (much nicer than it sounds, it involves red wine with sugar and rum heated in a giant copper cauldron). I start chatting to some American GIs who are thrilled to be in southern Germany, not in Iraq. In turn, we get talking to the locals and much mutual toasting takes place.

As I meander back, the sound of a choir rehearsal guiding me to my hotel amid a flurry of snowflakes, I find myself wondering if world peace might be easier to achieve if Nato or the UN modelled themselves on a really good Christmas market.

Are Christmas markets worth it?

Yes, if only to soak up the winter cheer and try the food and drink, even if you don’t buy anything.