The weather in central Germany might be dismal and grey in the weeks leading up to Christmas, but folks here have long devised a cheery method of warding off the gloom and doom. Starting with the beginning of Advent roughly four weeks before Christmas, locals descend upon even the smallest of town squares, transforming them with fir boughs, festive holiday booths, and sparkly strands of lights. Seemingly overnight, cold and empty streets devoid of shoppers are filled with bustling Christmas markets throbbing with celebration.
Göttingen’s Christmas Market might not be able to compete with the likes of big cities like Berlin, which has 16 separate markets, but it’s still listed as one of the best in Lower Saxony, our region of Germany. Centered around the town’s historic city hall and the famous fountain of the Gänseliesel (Goose Girl), the market radiates outward to neighboring streets, their names lit in banners of decorative lights. Guesthouse Waldhauser, the flat where we’re currently staying, lies so near the end of Johannisstraße that the sights and sounds of the festivities are plainly evident from our upstairs window. Our will power has proven no match for the market’s proximity. We’ve already spent several evenings wandering among the booths, sampling numerous nom noms, and we’ll undoubtedly visit again before it closes down for the season after Christmas.
Sporting a small Ferris wheel and plenty of eats and sweets for sale, it’s not a bad place to bring the young’uns, but the market is clearly aimed at adults.
Every other stand seems to be selling glühwein, hot mulled wine typically made with red wine, cinnamon, cloves, and oranges. First introduced to this tasty holiday beverage in Switzerland last December, we’ve discovered that here in Germany, they don’t mess around when it comes to glühwein. Not only can you order the good old-fashioned stuff, but it’s also available with blueberry or cherry wine. Prefer a stiffer drink? Just add a Schuss, or shot, of rum, brandy, or liqueur to put a bit of hair on your chest. If you prefer something strong but sweet, try a Feuerzangenbowle, my personal favorite. A long cube of sugar is soaked in rum, then set afire above a warm glass of glühwein – as the sugar caramelizes, it drips into your glass. The end result is sinfully delicious!
As an American, it’s also a novelty to enjoy a glass of wine openly at a public festival and to be able to amble on home while sipping said beverage. The glasses at the market are all actually glass (no disposable plastic to end up in a landfill), and after paying a small deposit for the glass (1 to 3 euros), you can either get your deposit back when you return the empty glass to any drink stand or you can choose to take the glass home as a souvenir. Each year, the glasses are marked with the date, a distinctive image, and/or the location of the Christmas market. We’ll definitely be starting a collection.
Whether vegan or carnivorous, a lover of salty or sweet, the Göttingen Christmas Market has something for everyone. During every visit so far, I’ve resorted to my favorite: French crêpes. They’re just so good! And for only a couple of euros each, I would gladly eat them every day until I’d worked my way through every topping on the menu. With nutella, vanilla pudding, Grand Marnier, strawberry, and gobs of other fillings, my sweet tooth is insatiable when it comes to crêpes. We also sampled crispy curly fries (obviously, them bein’ taters and all), some tasty Vietnamese noodles, and a dish like a gyro but served with fries instead of pita bread. With so many tasty options, we have absolutely no motivation to cook dinner for ourselves!
Sprinkled among the glühwein stands and food vendors, artists and crafters offer everything from handmade Christmas ornaments, dinnerware made from beautifully swirled wood, horsehair brushes, crocheted clothing, and luxurious sheepskin rugs. Passing a hand-dipped candle shop, we watched as a little boy in his father’s arms carefully dipped his own candle into a vat of warm wax, beaming with pride as he swirled the colors to his liking.
Though we don’t typically buy knickknacks from holiday markets, we do have a tradition of buying a single, special Christmas ornament each year to add to our tree-decorating collection, even during years when we might not have our own tree. This year we found our annual ornament in a shop at the market, along with a much larger rustic pine-cone light for our window. Hopefully one day when we’re back in the States, it’ll grace the window of our log cabin. In the meantime, our temporary guesthouse feels a bit more festive and a bit more like home.