Ever visit the German Christmas markets on a river cruise? Maybe you rented a car, checked into a centrally located hotel and took day trips to different markets. We did the latter. A lot. Like every year for almost 30 years. Then along came 2020.
What Makes German Christmas Markets Special?
Most European countries have Christmas markets. Consider it a reminder of ancient times when festivals lasted weeks. Unlike a state fair in the U.S., Christmas markets in Germany often run throughout the season of Advent, which is the four weeks leading up to Christmas. In many towns it’s a seven-day-a- week event. An entire village of huts is setup in the town square. Booths serve bratwurst and other sausages on buns. Grilled pork sandwiches. Potato pancakes. Crepes. French fries. Glühwein, a low- or almost no-alcohol heated beverage is the default drink. Everything is paid with pocket change.
It’s a social event. It seems the entire town turns out every night. On weekends, people come from far and wide. They are often packed. Obviously nor in 2020.
The perfection of the German Christmas Market is its imperfection. The sausage might be 10 inches long, but the bun is four inches across! It sticks out both sides. There’s nowhere near enough table space. High top tables (no chairs) are common. You see an empty spot and ask if you can share the table. You can’t carry food any distance because you will a jostled as you push through crowds.
7 Ways to Re-create German Christmas Market Food at Home
You can see why we miss it. My wife and I decided to simulate as much as we could at home. Here’s how we did it.
- Glühwein – Ikea sells a good nonalcoholic alternative. Mix it 1:1 with everyday red wine, then heat it to near boiling. Pour into mugs. The alcohol basically cooks off.
- Buy some made fresh. Get big ones. Try them with mustard.
- Sausages on buns. You need to re-create the imperfection. Food stores like Aldi and Lidl sell these sausages, about 8-10 inches long. Lidl sells pretzel buns. If not, dinner rolls should work. The sausage must extend far beyond the bun. German mustard is good, but any grainy mustard should work.
- Pork sandwiches. These don’t extend beyond the bun. Grill up one boneless pork chops. Put on a Kaiser roll with grilled onions.
- You can make them yourself, but you can also buy readymade crepes. They look like tortillas. Heat your crepe, slather with Nutella, fold into thirds and fold again from the other direction.
- Potato pancakes with apple sauce. You can make them. We bought them from Costco.
- It’s a sweet, German pastry type cake. The stores mentioned above carry this during the season.
5 Ways to Re-create the Atmosphere
It’s challenging to re-create the atmosphere because you want to be practical. Who wants to stand outside in 40-degree weather? We came across the perfect way to create background.
- Start outside, move inside. We dressed in the same warm clothing we wear when touring Germany in December. We sat outside, socially distanced, enjoying pretzels and glühwein.
- Mainz Christmas Market 2018 – You can find almost anything on YouTube. Mainz is our favorite market. Someone actually filmed a 30-minute video, walking through the Mainz market! There’s one drawback. They narrate in the background. They swear. We decided to mute the audio. Later we found several other good German Christmas market videos.
- Christmas carols. It’s the music you would expect at a Christmas market! Get the video on your large screen Smart TV. Mute it. Put on traditional Christmas carols on your sound system.
- Christmas hats. If you’ve been to the Christmas Markets, you’ve bought the Santa hats, ideally with the blinking lights. Wear it now. If not now, when?
- Gingerbread medallions. You see them in travel videos. Booths at the market sell gingerbread hearts with a message written in icing. They are suspended by a ribbon like an Olympic medal. My wife baked them so we could wear them.
Yes, we were tempted to dig out our Euro pounds and notes. We skipped that level of detail. If you are missing the German Christmas Markets, this should tide you over.
Editor’s Note: See cruises that visit Christmas Markets here.
Cover photo: Vienna Christmas Market