A Brief History of The Weihnachtsmärkte

There are many things that indicate that the Christmas season is upon us: it’s now dark when you wake up and when you get home from work, it’s almost obligatory to take a hat and scarf out with you at all times, there is a hint of snow, and shop windows are getting festive. However, the biggest give away that the season to be jolly is just around the corner, is the arrival of the Christmas Markets all over Berlin.

As you walk around this city, you can see market after market, each with its own special Christmas magic. Whether you’re sliding down the toboggan run at Potsdammer Platz, drinking hot chocolate in a jurte in Prenzlauer Berg, listening to the entertainment of Gendarmenmarkt or browsing the stalls in City West, there is an air of magic. So with Glühwein and chocolate covered fruit becoming a staple of the season, how did the German Christmas market come to be, and why is it still so important?

Before the advent of the Christmas market, traditionally all over Europe there were winter markets, where local people would stock up on various items, or trade various goods to help them to prepare for the cold winter months ahead. They lasted only a few days at some point in the month of December, and goods would be laid out on the street, rather than in the cute little huts we see on the streets today.  These markets were much more akin to a traditional Sunday farmers’ market, rather than a modern day Christmas market.

A Christmas market in Am Hof Vienna 1908. 

However, even as early as 1310, we have records of Christmas markets, Nikolausdult, in Munich. Although this early forebear was not a fully formed Christmas market, it was a place for local merchants to sell their wares, a tradition that has carried on throughout Germany, giving each region its own particular flavour.

There are records of the Christmas market, as we would recognise them, from the mid seventeenth century, especially following the reformation within Germany, as there was a more emphasis on the joy of present giving, albeit that they still were still held outside local churches. It was in the following centuries that the Christmas market expanded into the festive occasions they are today.

Berlin, as with everything else this city does, has combined the best from all over Europe in its Christmas markets, or Weihnachtsmärkte. In 2013, the city had more than 60 Christmas markets dotted around, inclusive of all different nationalities and people.

It is not just throughout Germany that the Christmas markets have expanded, they can now be found in every continent. Massive markets in Ontario, Canada and Pennsylvania, USA, attract over 30,000 visitors to celebrate a ‘traditional’ Christmas market.

So there you have it, next time you are supping your Glühwein or hot chocolate with Baileys, and thinking ‘oh maybe I should go home,’ you don’t have to. The Christmas market has been enchanting the people of Berlin for centuries. Why shouldn’t you also get swept up in the magic, during this festive season?

By Charlotte Deacy

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