Christmas markets are a major part of the festive season in Germany and Munich is no exception. The smells of mulled wine, spicy gingerbread and hot snacks - who can resist? Come and see for yourself
Originally thought to date back to the 14th century, today’s Christkindlmarkt was first mentioned in the records in 1642 as a "Nicholas Market", later renamed Christkindlmarkt. The market found its permanent home on Marienplatz in 1972 after the square was pedestrianised for the summer Olympics of that year. The market begins on the last Friday in November and carries on through until Christmas Eve.
Munich is my favourite city and this is a fantastic time of year to visit. I have recommended the Hotel Torbrau, which is close to the city centre; the staff are friendly and the rooms of a high standard.
Located in the heart of the city, the main market in Marienplatz has more than 140 stalls offering a wonderful selection of toys, crafts, candles and food treats. The wooden stalls stand close to each other, are colourful and bright and have pine branches on their roof and the smell of the pine smells of Christmas. There are many stalls offering hot food such as bratwurst or rieberdatschi (potato pancakes served with either apple sauce or garlic mayonnaise). You can also buy warming cups of mulled wine (glühwein), alcohol free punch (Kinderpunsch) or hot chocolate. The smells drift through the air making it hard to resist! You will pay a deposit (Pfand) for the cup and it is only refundable at the stall from which you purchased it. There is a buzz of excitement in the market as people crowd round the stalls looking for that perfect gift. At 5pm on the first day, the Mayor of Munich switches on the lights on the 30-metre high tree, to declare the markets officially open; it is very busy at this time.
There are several other smaller markets in Munich, each with a different focus. Near to Marienplatz in Rindermarkt is the manger market, which has everything you need to create your own personal manger, from cherubs to cribs or lanterns to ox and donkey. In the Englischer Garten there is a small market set around the Chinese Tower, underneath that are tables where you can enjoy freshly cooked crepes. From here you can take horse and carriage rides around Europe's largest inner city park. On Wittlesbacher Platz, just 5 minutes walk from Marienplatz; there is a medieval themed market. At weekends you can sometimes see birds of prey with their handlers and enjoy the music and gospel singing. An ethnic themed market is located on Theresienweise, Tollwood. This market is mainly set out in tents and in the evenings there is a varied musical programme. This is just a sample of the markets there are many more dotted around the city, for details of opening times see www.muenchen-tourist.de
Top Tip: Instead of returning your mulled wine cup to get your deposit back, why not keep the cup as a reminder of your time in the market. They make a great souvenir.
What can you buy at the markets?
The stalls are filled with many Bavarian and traditional gifts and decorations. The most popular gifts are made from wood or ceramics, decorations or foods. In wood you can see toys such as jigsaws, trains or dolls house furniture. Wooden nutcrackers stand tall as soldiers. Wooden smokers are very popular and come in various designs. You place a small scented incense cone inside and the smoke will drift out of the mouth or hat or similar space, and these give your house a wonderful, welcoming festive smell. Many stalls sell ceramic houses in which you can place tea light candles and these look good sat on your fireplace or shelf.
As you would expect there are a huge number of Christmas decorations on offer. Glass baubles come in different sizes, style and colours. Everyone needs an angel for the top of the tree! Here you will find them made of wood, glass and straw as well as those with cloth dresses. The gold wings are to symbolize a guardian angel.
Food is a central part of everyone's Christmas season and here you can buy a selection of food gifts. Popular gingerbread biscuits are Lebkuchen; you will see many packets of these biscuits some with icing upon them. The crisp outside reveals a soft, spicy gingerbread interior. Stollen, a type of light fruit Christmas cake is dusted with icing sugar it can be plain or filled with marzipan. Naturally there is a good selection of sweets and chocolates on sale. These do not always come in packets but can be loose for you to buy as much or little as you want.
What else can you do?
Every evening at 5.30pm you will hear the sounds of Christmas carols in the air from the balcony of the Town Hall in Marienplatz. The music offers a lovely backdrop to the market.
Located in the Porters Lodge near the courtyard of the Town Hall you will find a small post office that can stamp your letters with a special “Christkindl” postmark. The post office is usually only available until around December 10th.
Children enjoy the Christkindltram that is brightly decorated with garlands and festive scenes and takes you on a tour around the streets of Munich while enjoying a Glühwein or Kinderpunsch. The trams leave every half hour.
Ice-skating is a favourite with young and old alike, the experienced or the novice and anyone can have a try at Stachus from the end of November to mid January. For the novice you can keep your balance with the help of the skating snowmen that are on the rink. It is possible to hire the skates. If you prefer to watch, there is a large wooden hut where you can have glühwein and something to eat. www.muenchnereiszauber.de
Recommended places to eat
These are some of our favourite places to eat and are centrally located on the city. Here you will be served hearty Bavarian food that is home cooked and delicious. English menus will be available and families welcome. For a lunchtime snack try the hot and spicy goulash soup from five euros. In the evenings main courses such as steaks, crispy roast pork, goulash or spit roasted chickens priced between 13 and 20 euros.
Augustiner Grossgastätte (Neuhauserstrasse 27; www.augustiner-restaurant.com) - a traditional beer hall with dark panelled walls, wooden tables and tiled floors and a lively atmosphere.
Ratskeller (Marienplatz 8; www.ratskeller.com) - a cavernous restaurant beneath the town hall with smaller tables set out in numerous rooms and highly recommended.
Der Pschorr (Viktualienmarkt 15; www.derpschorr.de) - a modern building that retains the traditional feel, look out for the barman tapping the wooden barrels of beer and ringing the bell to signal a new barrel.
During the day you can get delicious home made cakes or a light lunch in Woerners café - that has been in the same family for five generations - on Marienplatz and sit and watch the world go by.
Top Tip: If you are in the market in the evening and are going to eat at a restaurant in the centre, it is advisable to leave the market maybe 15 minutes before the end as restaurants get full very quickly at the time of the markets closing.
For more information on Munich see www.insidersmunich.com