Sunday, December 6, 2015

Around Town: Christmas in Hamburg

I am crazy about Christmas. It truly is the most wonderful time of the year. (As a Christmas Eve baby I feel can say corny things like that without being judged too harshly.)

Christmastime is also one of my favorite memories of living in Germany as a kid, because it was so magical. There were—and still are, judging by displays at some local convenience stores—people who decorate their trees with real candles (something that is on my list to try with a second, smaller tree. Don’t tell Larry!).

Weihnachtsmarkt at the Rathaus
A lot of our Christmas customs in the U.S. come from Germany, so of course I was super excited to be at the source when the holiday season hit. And yes, there is an official holiday season here. 

Although stores had Christmas stuff out on display starting in late October, Weihnachtsmärkte (Christmas markets) aren’t allowed to operate before the week preceding Advent.

I had to give up the dream of traveling to other cities all over Germany for their famed markets--too costly on our current budget. Thankfully I found a website for Hamburg’s many local Christmas markets. I counted 18 markets on the list and made a plan to visit them all.

Larger-than-life Weihnachtspyramid
at a downtown market
The markets officially opened on Monday, November 23. I hit six markets that first day; five of them before my German class in the afternoon. I hit an equal number of markets over the next couple of days but noticed two things: 1) as I visited markets I’d sometimes stumble across smaller markets not on the list and 2) with the exception of a few larger sites, most of the markets on the list were clearly social spots for their particular neighborhoods, concentrating solely on food, drink, and a carousel for the kids.

Stalls at the larger markets included fresh food,
jewelry, clothing, Christmas decorations...
I finally hit the wall on a dreary Sunday morning after traveling 35 minutes by bus to get to a market on the fringes of town. I spent only 30 seconds walking through the market itself, then crossed the street to hop on an approaching train back into town.

The remaining targets on my list were equally far out if not further. I had visited 19 markets at this point and, since I already had the gifts I wanted and did not look forward to more long trips for disappointing cold and rainy tours of still more wurstschmalzkuchen (similar to beignets) or glühwein (warm mulled wine) stalls, I decided to call it a done deal.
...and novelty items, like tools
made out of chocolate

 But I did check out the parade downtown (see video and photos below). And my goal for next year will be to hit the out-of-town markets on my wish list to see how folks in the east and south do the holidays.

The parade started with a xylophone band playing Wham's "Last Christmas." 
(They played more traditional fare as the parade went on.


  1. Gluhwein is the best! Love the markets that have their own special mugs. We collected a few via the 1 euro deposit in Strasbourg & Karlsruhe (poo to the markets that use boring plastic cups). On Saturday we went to the German International School of Silicon Valley's Weihnachtsmärkte in Saturday, such fun!

    Next year - does this mean you're extending your stay? I'm behind on reading the blog/your tweets.

  2. Happy Holidays! Well, we're hoping to be in Germany (or nearby) beyond next fall...