German Christmas Markets (Weihnachtsmärkte) are magical. Crowds of gloved, jolly people "prost!" over steaming mugs of glühwein and tasty bratwurst. Everything is for sale from nußknacker (nutcracker) to wooden nativity scenes to the very mug you're drinking from. A visit to a Weihnachtsmarkt is a chance to experience Christmas every day from late November to Silvester (New Years Eve).
But, it can all get a little repetitive and lose its romance. No matter how beautiful the market, they can start to blend together. To combat this, I tracked down Germany's most unusual Christmas markets that will amaze both newbies and market profis (professionals).
Christmas never really leaves Rothenburg Ob Der Tauber. This unspoiled medieval village looks the same as it did when it was ruled by kings. Today, it is regularly flooded by tourists eager to discover its 500-year-old traditions and attractions like the intact ramparts to the torture museum to the Nightwatchman tour. The enormous Käthe Wohlfahrt store is open year-round and features intricate ornaments and German Christmas decor.
In season, the Reiterlesmarkt provides one of the most charming Christmas market atmospheres in the country. Along with the usual sweets, be sure to buy one of the irresistible schneeball (snowball). This giant pastry is the size of a fist, or a very good-sized snowball, and can be adorned with everything from simple powdered sugar to chocolate, marzipan, nuts, or candies.
The market in Annaberg-Buchholz is one of the largest and features all of the favorite German customs, as well as unique local flavor. Their massive pyramid features the history of Christmas as well as the city's mining industry. Along with Santa Claus' Workshop, there is a Grand Miners’ Parade. This mountain procession of 1,200 hearty Saxon miners' appears wearing traditional garb and following the parade, everyone gathers to sing in front of St.-Annen-Kirche.
Unlike the mass produced gifts sold at many markets, goods here tend to be handmade. Look for Erzgebirge wood figurines and lace from Plauen.
And don't forget to fill your belly with Ore Mountain specialties. Try comfort food like Buttermilchgetzen, Taagplinsen and Kreitersupp. And while there will be plenty of sweets to choose from, you can't leave without trying the Ore Mountain version of Christmas classic Stollen and buying a loaf to take home.
If the whole idea of Christmas Markets is just too wholesome, Hamburg's infamous Reeperbahn has a cheeky take on Weihnachtsmärkte that might be for you.
Like its more traditional counterparts in the city, Santa Pauli has hot wurst but it also has themed strip shows, fortune teller, drag entertainment, adult-themed Christmas decor (think a snowwoman with boobs) and a historical prostitution tour.
And that drink in your mug? You can choose between the usual options of glühwein and eierlikör, or the Santa Pauli specialty of gluhfick which translates...to something not nice in German. This isn't your Oma's Christmas market. But you might still take the kids. On Sundays, there is a children's program for those ready for the PG-13 environment.
This Christmas, be naughty and nice.
This is one of the few markets where you can even take off your coat and stay a while. Located in the caverns carved into the hills for wine storage, each cellar has a cozy atmosphere. Local crafts, food and - of course - wine are all for sale.
What is behind the doors of your advent calendar? Chocolate? A toy?
That pales in comparison to the Christmas Market in Gengenbach where windows of the Rathaus (town hall) are opened each day as part of the largest advent calendar house in the world (or Das weltgrößte Adventskalenderhaus auf Deutsch). The 24 windows (two rows of 11 plus 2 in the roof) are each decorated with a festive Christmas scene and the nightly reveals are met with a cheering crowd.
For more of Germany's most impressive Christmas sites, refer to our guide to "The Biggest" at German Christmas Markets.
Instead of exploring lovely lit squares and cobblestone streets, the floating market in Emden takes advantage of its waterfront location.
The Weihnachtsmarkt extends from the small square and Rathaus (city hall) onto beautifully decorated Christmas boats. The smell of roasted almonds mingles with that of the sea, creating a truly unique German Christmas Market experience.