While Americans everywhere spent Black Friday fighting long lines and pepper spray in search of the cheapest holiday gift deals, European city centers were being adorned with lights, ferris wheels and German-style bratwurst stands. Instead of strip malls with actors in Santa suits and glitter-saturated plastic evergreen trees, European cities elect to German Christmas markets as the main attraction of their city centers for the holiday season.
Every city put its own twist on it. Brussels had Manneken-Pis-themed decorations. Prague had fried dough with garlic, cheese and ketchup on it (I swear it tastes great, well at least after you’ve had a few of Prague’s delicious and cheaper-than-water beers). But of course, every city’s had a few elements that remained true to the markets’ German roots.
If you attend a Christmas market that doesn’t have Glühwein (mulled or hot wine, a little like hot sangria), you aren’t at a Christmas market, you got lost on your way there. It’s the perfect pick-me-up for any Californian who isn’t ready for winter that gets colder than Berkeley’s mild temperatures. Sweet, a little spicy, and warming to your body, mind and soul (cheesy, but I love this stuff about as much as I love a good peppermint hot chocolate), Glühwein is the one Christmas treat America has yet to discover. Too busy shopping for last minute gifts to enjoy some? Glühwein is served in souvenir mugs that you can either return for a 1 or 2 euro deposit or bring home with you. Only in Europe does drinking become multi-tasking.
Being such an efficient people, Germans have naturally come up with a solution should you need a snack to go with your Glûhwein. I’m a vegetarian and have only missed eating meat for about 20 minutes of the 6 years I have gone without it. Those twenty minutes were my walk through the Christmas market at Alexanderplatz, Berlin, as I smelled the most heavenly bratwurst I imagine exists on earth. If you are a sad vegetarian like I am, however, there are two solutions. Number 1: Give it up. I didn’t, but I definitely wouldn’t judge you if you did. Number 2: waffles, french fries, candy and the many other snacks available at any of these markets. Though vegetarians have alternatives, I have only one solution for those of you on diets: New Year’s resolutions.
All these delicious foods and beverages are enjoyed in a setting reminiscent of Hansel and Gretel, with booths selling knick-knacks like German wood carvings, Lebkuchen, ornaments and more. I told you going wouldn’t mean shirking your gift-shopping responsibilities (relatives love the line: “I picked this up just for you at a German Christmas market!”).
Still suffering from memories of Black Friday lines and fights at Denny’s when your Christmas roast burnt? Next year, hop across the pond. German (no matter where you are in Europe) Christmas markets are truly winter wonderlands.
Image source: Alex Matthews/Staff