A big Christmas tree in the middle of the square, the smell of grilled sausages, gingerbread and roasted marroni. A cup of mulled wine or punch. This is the time of markets which we do not visit because of doing shopping but because of their atmosphere.
The tradition of Christmas markets comes from the Middle Age. At that time they were more like a celebration of Christ birth, like a fair where you could buy clothing and food for winter.
Generally, first markets were organized in the regions of present Austria and Germany. The “December market” in Vienna was a kind of forerunner of the Christmas market and dates back to 1294. In Germany, the market in Dresden held in 1434 belongs to the oldest ones.
Christmas markets in the Catholic town Augsburg began 500 years ago by a decision of the town hall from December 22nd, 1498. According to that decree, stalls selling Christmas bakery should be opened. It means that the market was not only to celebrate Christmas but also to satisfy any gourmet as well.
The Reformation brought some changes to the form of markets. While some gifts were given to children on St. Martin‘s or St. Nicholas Day, Martin Luther postponed this habit on the day when Jesus was born.
That is why many markets in Germany are called Christkindelmarkt which means Christ Child’s Market. In some towns, there are stands in the whole town or on every second square while in other towns they are standing on the main square only. The market in front of the city hall in Augsburg seems to connect two eras together. The Roman emperor Augustus, the founder of the city, seems to take the town under his wings – thanks to his gesture. According to the tradition, the Christmas crib stands on the place where he ordered to take a census.
Hot drinks, especially with alcohol, cannot be missed at any Christmas market. Here you can choose not only between mulled white or red wine in which you can add sugar but you can also take fruit wines or different types of Christmas punch. Of course, there are also nonalcoholic versions for children and abstainers.
If it is not enough to drink the hot drink at the market only, then you can buy a whole bottle of parboiled wine, while you pay about 3 € for a mug, for a bottle in a supermarket it is 0,90 € only.
If you pay 2 – 4 € in addition, you can keep the mug in which the hot drinks are served as a souvenir.
If you are not interested in food or your stomach is already full, then you can visit stalls with Christmas decorations, books or sacral objects like candles with the pope’s portrait or pictures of different saints.
Cribs are a special part of the market. You can buy a finished one or different accessories, among them figures and animals. Surprisingly you will find also elephants among them!
And what else has this Christmas market to offer?
The Angels Play (Engelsspiel) from the balcony of the city hall is also very popular. It was held in 1977 for the first time – thanks to Fritz Kleiber, the city director of tourism at that time, who was inspired by the painting Santa Maria Maggiore from the Renaissance painter Hans Holbein who was born in Augsburg. During Advent, every Friday, Saturday and Sunday 24 angels – as a live Christmas calendar – appear in the windows of this magnificent building and play the organ, harp, trumpet and flute. It begins at 18 o‘clock and lasts about 10 minutes.
Next to the Christmas tree, there is a Heaven Post Office (Das Himmlische Postamt). Letters sent from here are delivered with a stamp from the village of Christkindl in Austria. If you would like to have the best view of the Christmas market you have to climb up 260 stairs to get on the 70 m high tower Perlach next to the city hall.
Its foundations are from the 10th century, the present form comes from 1612-1618. The name comes from the Latin word perlego (to read) because public announcements were often proclaimed from here. The tower is open on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from 13 till 19 in the season of Advent.
24 windows of the administrative building of the city hall are changing into a special Christmas calendar arranged by students of graphic arts of the University of Augsburg.
The charming scenery of the Renaissance city hall with the tower Perlach, gables of decorated city houses, the big Christmas tree and 8 m high angles pyramid – all this creates a special atmosphere of one of the prettiest Christmas markets in Germany. Local people say it is the nicest market in the country. If that is true, you should come and see for yourself.
Text: © Copyright Róbert, Travelpotpourri
Fotos: © Copyright Róbert, Travelpotpourri