As daylight fades and the glow of the gloaming settles in, the twinkling magic of the German Christkindlmarkt begins. The spirit of Christmas quickly becomes contagious during the winter months as towns open their traditional holiday markets. These quaint and historic shopping districts, barely touched by time, offer edibles, crafts, collectibles, and trinkets made with the care and skill of another era. Enter a time gone by, while strolling in the shadows of magnificent cathedrals and town halls, as the first winter snow gently falls.
Step back in history to a time when Christmas treats were made with care at home and the toys under the tree were crafted by hand. Friends gather in the warm light pooled around each stall, bundled tightly against the winter chill. They share good cheer and mugs of glühwein, a deliciously warm spiced wine that, although found in every market, differs slightly in each town. The main market of Hamburg was inspired by the Circus Roncalli. Here, festive red-and-white awnings top rough-hewn timber cottages clustered in front of the towering town hall, evoking a sweet sense of childlike wonder.
The striped stalls are chockablock with delicate handcrafted woodwork and treats of sugar-dusted stollen and crisp paper cones of warm candied nuts. Filled with quaint carousels and carefully crafted collectibles, it is no wonder the market’s theme is “Art Instead of Commerce.”
Deep in the center of this bustling, ever-popular market sits an art nouveau–style café filled, as is the market, with personal treasures from the collection of Bernhard Paul, founder and owner of Circus Roncalli. The patterns of nostalgia on the vintage toys and tins provide row upon row of visual delights. Silversmiths and potters stand inside the cozy cottages, peddling their wares. Carefully stacked into gleaming, cheery pyramids, oranges and tiny piles of perfect walnuts are reminders of old-fashioned stocking stuffers: simple and complete.
The aisles of the nearly hidden Käthe Wolfhart store weave through displays of tempting nutcrackers in a variety of traditional costumes—a mountain climber in kneesocks and woolen shorts stands at attention next to a fly fisherman, complete with a wooden rod and reel and a catch of trout at his side. Wander away from the main market to find dozens of other small squares filled with markets of their own, each charming and familiar in its sense and celebration of the season.