There is nothing that puts you more in the festive spirits than indulging in Christmas market foods. No German Christmas would not be complete without a Christmas market. Let me tell you all about these traditional fairs, and guide you through the delicacies you can try. When possible, I have added links to Christmas market recipes, so you can organize a German Christmas market wherever you are.
German Christmas Market History
The first Christmas markets began to appear in the 14th century. One of the first German Christmas markets was the Bautzener Wenzelmarkt in 1384. The Striezelmarket in Dresden was first mentioned in 1434.
In the middle ages, the markets had a more practical use. People bought food and clothes to prepare themselves for the long winter months. Only in the 17th and 18 centuries, did the Christmas market start to be seen as entertainment. This coincided with Christmas being seen as a purely religious festival, as well as family festival. More and more, different foods were offered at the markets and you could also buy toys.
After the second world war hardly any Christmas markets took place. This reflected the economic hardship after the war. Only with the economic recovery in the 1960s, did the German Christmas market experience a revival.
Today, the modern Christmas market is a mixture of commerce and artists. In Germany alone, over 2.500 Christmas markets take place. Larger towns might have several ones. [source: Ndr.de 600 Jahre Weihnachtsmarkt: Von der Versorgung zum Vergnügen]
Top 10 Christmas Markets in Germany
- Strietzelmarkt in Dresden
- Christkindlemarkt in Nurenberg
- Weihnachtsmarkt Römerberg in Frankfurt
- Munich Christkindlmarkt
- Historical Christmas Market in Leipzig
- Weihnachtsmarkt am Dom in Cologne
- Christmas Market in Stuttgart
- Weihnachtsmarkt an der Gedächtniskirche in Berlin
- Weihnachtsmarkets Hansplatz Dortmund
How to prepare yourself for a German Christmas Market
If you visit a German Christmas market for this first time, there are a few things to consider
- Don't rely on the Glühwein to keep you warm - wear warm clothes. Winters in Germany can get freezing cold. Especially wear winter boots, wearing trainers will be too cold.
- Bring cash. In Germany cash is still a popular method of payments. Do not expect Christmas market stalls to accept credit cards. You are better off coming with coins and notes.
- Bring an empty belly - arriving hungry at the Christmas market is essential if you want to try all the traditional Christmas markets foods on offer.
Traditional Christmas Market Food - 35 dishes to try
Let's move on to the fun part of this article and find out which food is served at Christmas markets. To make things easier, I have divided this into 3 main categories: savoury options, sweet options and drinks.
Savory German Christmas Market Dishes
1. German Sausages
Sausages can be found in any Weihnachtsmarkt in several varieties. From the Tühringer Bratwurst to the Frankfurter Rindswurst, or the Viennese Käsekrainer (sausage with cheese inside) to the Nürenberger Rostbratwürstchen. You can find them all and the variety will depend Greatly according to region.
There are several ways you can enjoy them, for example in a bread roll or with some fries (Pommes Frites). It may be served with mustard or curry ketchup.
2. Pretzels (Brezeln)
A stand selling pretzels will always be found at a German winter market. They are normally offered in different varieties. The classical pretzel with salt, or variations with baked cheese, salami, ham or different seeds. Some market stalls bake them then and there, so the pretzels are super fresh and often still warm.
3. Potato Pancakes (Kartoffelpuffer)
Kartoffelpuffer, Reibekuchen, Erdäpfelpuffer or Cologne Rievekooche. These potato pancakes are at home in many parts of Germany and have just as many names. At the Christmas market you can smell them from afar.
These traditional German potato pancakes are a traditional fair food. Choose to have it with apple sauce, cinnamon and sugar or a herb quark dip.
The famous German fried potatoes (Bratkartoffeln) are a hearty snack that should not be missed at any Christmas market. Crispy fried potatoes with bacon and onions. You can have them as a side to your Bratwurst or eat them on their own.
Schmalzbrot is a typical German winter snack. It consists of rye bread that is spread with lard, apple and onion cubes.
6. Fischbrötchen (German Fish Sandwiches)
Especially in the coastal towns and in the north of Germany you will find different German fish sandwiches. They are typically served in a crusty roll and have several fillings.
Some of the options include
- German Fishcakes (Fishfrikadellen)
7. Dresder Handbrot
Dresdener Handbrot is a speciality from the Dresden Christmas Market. It is the ideal Christmas market food, as it is warming and filling at the same time. It fills your tummy to help you cope with the next glühwein. It consists of mushrooms, sour cream, cooked ham and cheese. These are baked in the oven so that the cheese melts and you get a nice warming treat.
Flammkuchen is a typical German-French flatbread dish from the Alsace area. A crispy baked bread, topped with sour cream, bacon and onions. Today it is one of the most popular street foods in Germany, and you will find a stand at most Christmas markets.
They are baked in a big stone oven.
German's love Raclette. Germany is the largest importer of Swiss Raclette cheese, it is one of the most popular dishes to eat at Christmas and New Year, and now you can also get it at Christmas markets.
For those of you who never had it before, the dish consists of little pans which are filled with bread or vegetables and topped with cheese that is melted in an oven or under a grill. At the Christmas Market, you will be served the cheese on a slice of french bread. You can choose from different toppings.
10. Breaded Cheeses
You will find stands with deep-fried breaded cheeses at most Christmas markets, like Mozzarella sticks or Camemberts served with cranberry sauce and horseradish.
Do you like mac and cheese? Then this dish is perfect for you. Meet the German version of mac and cheese called Käsespätzel. Spätzle are small German dumplings that are served with cheese and topped with fried onion. At the Bremen Christmas market, they sprinkled roasted sesame seeds on top, instead of the onions which was delicious as well.
12. Schupfnudeln with Bacon and Sauerkraut
Schupfnudeln are German type potato dumplings. They are perfect for a hearty snack with Sauerkraut and bacon, and a classic dish at German Christmas markets.
13. Christmas Market Mushrooms
Mushrooms at Christmas markets are grilled or fried as a whole and marinated in herbs and oil.
14. Grünkohl und Pinkel
You will find this dish is particularly common in the north such as Bremen and Hamburg Christmas markets. Grünkohl and Mettwurst or Pinkel is a typical northern winter dish that consists of braised kale that is cooked with lard, and bacon. Pinkel is a typical sausage that originates from Bremen.
15. Pork Steak Sandwiches (Schweinesteak Brötchen)
Pork steak sandwiches are a great alternative to the classic German sausage. Here typically pork collar steaks are marinated for at least 24 hours in a special marinade. This dish is called "Schwenkbraten" and originates from the Saarland. Here the pork steaks are grilled over a traditional swinging grill. The Pork Steak Sandwiches consists of crusty rolls, a grilled pork steak, onions and some German mustard .
This is an import from Hungary but you will find it is also a very popular German Christmas market food. The yummy yeast dough is deep-fried in fat. You can choose from sweet to savoury toppings. The traditional topping is garlic butter, cheese and some sour cream.
Christmas Market Sweats and Desserts
17. Lebkuchen Herzen
These are typical German fair treats. These gingerbread hearts were traditionally sold for Octoberfest but now are sold at virtually every German Christmas fair. If you have a friend who could not join you at the Christmas market, it is a nice gesture to bring them back this souvenir.
The inscriptions on the hearts are either sentimental or funny.
Read all about these Gingerbread Hearts and get the Lebkuchenherzen recipe here.
18. Roasted Almonds (Gebrannte Mandeln)
The smell of caramelised almonds is almost as enticing as the sweet almonds themselves. Caramelised almonds belong as much to a German Christmas market as a Christmas tree. Warm German roasted almonds with a blend of cinnamon and sugar always bring me in a Christmas market mood.
If you don't like almonds, then do not worry. You can get sugar-coated cashew nuts, brazil nuts or hazelnut instead.
19. Chocolate Kisses / Schokoküsse or Schaumküsse
These delicacies are German marshmallow treats that are covered in white, milk or dark chocolate usually. However, at the Christmas markets, you will find all unusual flavours such as After Eight, Glühwein or Baileys. They used to be called Mohrenköpfe or Negerküsse, but the name changed to make them more politically correct.
20. Chocolate Covered Fruit (Schokofrüchte)
These fruit skewers are covered in a chocolate glaze. You can choose from a variety of fruits, such as banana, apple, pear, grapes. In German this treat are called "Schoko-Früchte" (which means Chocolate Fruit) or "Obstspieße mit Schokolade". (Fruit Skewers with Chocolate)
21. Candied Apples (Liebesäpfel)
These candied apples are covered in a caramel sugar glaze that is colored red. They are eaten from wooden skewers and taste simply divine. Another word for them is "Liebesäpfel". (Love Apples).
Actually, the term "Liebesapfel" was used to describe a tomato in the 19th century. The name originates from the red color, but also as the apple is a symbol of love magic. The apple is a symbol of feminity, sexuality, and fertility.
22. German Christmas Sweets
You can find a variety of sweets at the Christmas market. From boiled sweets to chewy bears to liquorice. The delicacies are often regional, such as Hamburger Speck, (from Hamburg) or Bremer Klaben (from Bremen). They are also a great souvenir to bring back home.
23. Christmas Stollen
No Christmas market is complete without some German Christmas cakes. The most famous cake is the "Christmas stollen". This is a speciality of the Dresden Christmas market but nowadays you will find them all around Germany.
Enjoy a slice of stollen with a Glühwein, or buy one to bring back home. Alternatively, try my stollen recipe.
In Germany, we love our heart-shaped waffles and at every Christmas market, you will find a stand that sells them. It is common to simply eat it with icing sugar, or chocolate or a variety of toppings. They are a lovely treat when it is cold outside.
You can get my German Waffle Recipe here.
25. Dampfnudeln & Germknödel
Although Dampfnudeln and Germknödel look similar, they are actually two different dishes. Both are made from yeast dough but are prepared differently. Dampfnudeln is cooked in a pan with a lid firmly shut, whereas Germknödel is often filled with plums or cherries and is prepared in a steamer or oven.
Served with vanilla sauce, this makes a delicious sweet and hearty meal.
These doughnut-like cakes are called Schmalzkuchen. Literally translated they mean lard cakes. They are deep-fried, and traditionally served with icing sugar.
However, you fill the vendors sell them with all kinds of toppings. I tried them before with melted Kinderschokolade. However, I think with icing sugar they taste best.
27. Berliner Donuts / Krapfel /Kreppel
Berliner donuts are not just reserved for Karneval (Fasching). Like many German dishes, what you call them depends on where you are from. They are also known as Krapfen, Kreppel or Puffel. Their fillings and toppings vary from across regions - however, they should not be missed at a Christmas market.
Learn how to make Berliner Donuts.
Christmas Market Drinks
28. Glühwein (German Mulled Wine)
This drink cannot be missed when visiting a German Christmas market. Glühwein is a hot drink made from red or white wine. It is spiced with cloves, cinnamon, orange and some other spices. Enjoy your Glühwein, while taking in the Christmas atmosphere.
Learn how to make Glühwein.
Another market classic is the punch drink "Feuerzangenbowle". Here a rum-soaked sugarloaf is set on fire and dripped into mulled wine. It is best to wait until it is dark to enjoy the spectacle of the sugar hat burning and dripping into the drink.
Kinderpunsch is the little brother of Glühwein. If you do not drink alcohol or have children with you then this is a great alternative. There is no strict recipe on how to make Kinderpunsch but they all have a few things in common. They are made without alcohol, contain fruit juice and Christmas spices. Sometimes they are sweetened even more with sugar. Kids love it!
Learn how to make Kinderpunsch
31. Apfelglühwein (Mulled Cider)
Hot spiced cider is especially common in the Hessian area, where "Ebbelwei" (as it is called in Hessia) is drunk as an alternative to Glühwein. Spiced with cinnamon, cloves and lemon - this Christmas market drink should be tried if you come across it.