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Saturday, December 15, 2012

'Tis the Season: A bit of Christmas past

We have some family friends who are visiting Germany right now. Their blog posts about the small towns and Christmas markets they've visited around Stuttgart and in the Alsace-Lorraine region of France have brought back wonderful memories of our Christmases in Germany. The excitement and goodwill of the season thrive in the festive markets and even a curmudgeon like me can't help but feel the joy!

With fond memories of Christmas past, here's a repost from a blog of our first Christmas in Germany.

December 2005

Glűhwein, Socks, Knives, Axes and Gerbils – Christmas in Germany
At the Stuttgart Weihnachtsmarkt
Frohe Weihnachten, Feliz Navidad, Merry Christmas, Season’s Greetings, Happy Hannakuh and more from Wendlingen, Germany! 

The most obvious and telling signs of the Christmas season in Germany are the Weihnachtsmarkts–Christmas Markets (sometimes called ChristKindl Markts)–that every town, large and small holds in the weeks before Christmas. Some of these are small, weekend long affairs in the town square, with a few booths selling ornaments, candles, sweaters, toys, and of course, food and beverages. The preferred beverage of the season is Glűhwein: hot, spiced wine, either red or white. It might be the heating that does it, or the addition of cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and orange peel to super-sweet wine that does it, but whatever it is, this is POTENT STUFF! But oh, so wonderfully warm and aromatic on a cold night outdoors wandering through the Christmas villages of booths decorated with everything from Santa and his reindeer to the nativity.

Skating at the Stuttgart Weihnachtsmarkt
The the BIG Weihnachtsmarkts last from November 24 or 25 through Christmas. These spread through all of the squares, parks, and marketplaces in town and include everything from ice skating rinks and “restaurant” booths with sit-down table service, to live music and sleigh rides! 
But the really spectacular, and truly unique markets are the medieval-themed villages.  Esslingen, a medieval, walled town known for its vineyards, is the perfect setting for a medieval Weihnachtsfest–the old town was spared bombing during WWII and portions of its original wall still surround parts of town. Some of the buildings date back to the 13th century. a true medieval town.
The Esslingen Weihnachtsmarkt

The medieval theme brings out all the “Goths” in Baden-Wurttemburg and we were never sure if the people walking around with dyed black hair, black nail polish and lipstick, black flowing robes, and chains were part of the entertainment, or visitors. The vendors knew their crowd and about ½ the booths were selling amulets, celtic-designed jewelry, dragon and gargoyle items, and incense.  Lots and lots of incense. 
Medieval musicians at the Esslingen Christmas Market

Jugglers, musicians, and acrobats roam the crowd and periodically perform on stage, in between church choirs and youth singing groups. There are people dressed up as knights, pages, lords, and ladies, and vendors selling period clothing for all of them.  We could have bought some wonderful robes, poofy-sleeved “pirate shirts,” and leather shoes with pointy toes that curled up at the end (they even offered to specially make a pair for Matt’s size 15s!) 

 Not only were there people in period costume, but the vendors were craftspeople plying their trade, as well as their wares: candlemakers, leather workers making hats, gloves, slippers, and those pointy-elf shoes, women spinning wool into yard and then making sweaters from it, and a blacksmith forging corkscrews, axes, and knives. And socks.  There were lots of booths selling wool socks. Maybe the German’s know something we don’t about the coming winter? I felt this perhaps indicated severe weather to come, like the red stripe on woolly caterpillars, so I bought some. 

If you wanted to test out the wares before buying, the game booth next to the blacksmith–knife and ax tossing--gave you the chance. And nearby, you could test out a freshly-fletched arrow (and NOT the suction cup kind of arrows, either) at a booth where a lemon hung from rafters by a string. Stick the arrow in the lemon and win a prize! Right across from that was a food vendor with a whole pig roasting on a spit... hmmm... makes you wonder, doesn’t  it? Surrounding all of the games involving sharp and pointy objects were booths selling Glűhwein, eggnog, Christmas punch, beer, and wine! We're pretty sure there's no ATF in Germany!

Test your aim at the bow shooting booth!

Maybe someone had good aim with the bow and arrow?
There were rides for the kids, too.  Like the hand-powered ferris wheel. About 5 m high, the wooden wheel had “troughs” for the kids and two young guys worked handles to turn it, sort of like contestants on “The Price is Right” spin the big wheel to get into the showcase. Other games included throwing a lead ball at an egg sitting on top of a log and trying to smash it, trying to land a 1 Euro coin into the center circle drawn at the bottom of a barrel  filled with water (about .5 m deep), and our favorite – Maus Rondell!

Yes, you guessed the correct English translation.  Mouse Roulette.  A misnomer since they used a gerbil. How can you resist a game called Maus Roulette, especially when the playing area had clear indications of a live mouse being involved? The round table, divided into 12 “pie slices” that each had a small cardboard “mouse house” at the end, and evidence that some of these houses had been “inhabited” at least briefly. The gerbil was released into the center of the table and we all waited eagerly to see which house he’d run into. After many “here mousey-mousy-mousy’s,” lots of kissy noises to lure the gerbil in, and three bolts into houses with no coins on them, the gerbil finally ran into Matt’s house and he won...a small stuffed mouse. I was really hoping for the gerbil. Probably for the best since Spooky is gnawing away at the prize as I write this.
Maus Rondell

After all that fun, we needed some much deserved glűhwein and a wurst, then we headed back home to put up our Christmas tree!

Esslingen Christmas Market

Matt setting up the tree at our house in Wendlingen


  1. Lynne, nice reminiscences and photos! I loved that part of Germany and the Christmas holidays.

  2. Thanks! We're hoping to get back one day. All the markets and holiday festivities even make the cold tolerable!

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