Xmas in Nordrhein-Westf.

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Home Page > Features > Germany > Nordrhein-Westfalen > Christmas Markets

Christmas Markets in Nordrhein-Westfalen

In 2002 and 2003, we made trips to Christmas markets in the heavily urbanized province of Nordrhein-Westfalen (specifically the Nordrhein part) to see how the markets contrasted against their Bavarian counterparts.  In 2002, Tom based out of Cologne, making swings up and down the Rhein and out to Aachen.  In 2003, we together hit the Cologne and Düsseldorf markets -- these being the best two of the four.

Bavarian and Northern Rhine cities have different approaches to their markets.  First, the Bavarian one had a greater religious flavor, symbolized by the very naming of the markets as Christkindlmarkts ("Christ Child").  Those parading around in Saint Nicholas costumes were dressed like religious figures, bishops to be specific, with gilded costumes (see the St. Nick in the Landshuter Christkindlmarkt).  On the other hand, the Northern Rhine St. Nicholas resembled our own Santa Claus, with plain red suits.   Second, because places like Cologne, Düsseldorf, and Aachen are cosmopolitan and international, there was an international variety of goods and eats sold, while the smaller Bavarian towns I visited focused much more on traditional Bavarian festival fare.  Third, Bavarian markets emphasized music -- from classical to traditional alpine horns.  The Northern Rhine markets had more amusement rides and such, but not so much music.

Aachen -- The auld city of Aachen was a great place to celebrate the yuletide season.  With its large marketsquares and fabulous Holy Roman architecture, the Weihnachtsmarkt attracted thousands of people from the entire region -- I went by train from Cologne, and it was packed with people going to Aachen!  The City was well decorated for the occasion, too.  (The Aachen travelogue is available here)

Munchies:  Herzwaffel (Heart-Shaped Waffle) with powdered sugar, Eierpunch (Spiked Egg Nog with Heavy Whipped Cream)

The Weihnachtsmarkt wrapped around the Rathaus, shown here.  This shows the front square, the statue of Charlesmagne being visible just right of the front door.  It was amazing -- people by the hundreds were streaming in from all directions, and the market hadn't even opened yet!  

This is the backside of the Rathaus, pointed towards the Cathedral roughly an hour later.  As you can see, the aisles were crammed, but it still wasn't too bad, the people were moving.  There were dozens of tour groups, many English-speaking, who were there to visit the Cathedral, but the Cathedral was closed due to a wedding service until mid-afternoon.

Düsseldorf -- Düsseldorf hosted two distinct Christmas Markets that together sprawled throughout the entire city!  It was the largest of the markets that I had seen thus far.  The Altstadt hosted the Nikolausmarkt, the market of St. Nicholas, while the Schadowplatz (a large park and market square to the east) hosted the "Weihnachtsmarkt am Schadowplatz".  Both markets followed along nearly every downtown street with a sidewalk and included a number of other activities. (The Düsseldorf travelogue is available here)

Munchies:  Grilled mushrooms with creamy garlic sauce, reibekuchen (hashed potato pancakes) with applesauce

This is the Rathaus Square in the Altstadt, one end of the Nicholasmarkt.  It wasn't quite as busy as Aachen's, at least not until about mid-afternoon.  However, the regular department stores and factory outlets (of which there were many) operated extended hours and were quite full until early evening.  When they started closing, people by the thousands poured into the streets to get a bratwurst.

The Nikolausmarkt extended along Flingerstrasse and into this somewhat hidden market square on Grabenstrasse.   I loved the display of the Christmas trees with the red ribbons and the strings of flexible lights around the trees the covered the sanitary modern urbanized setting.  This picture was taken around 4, when the sun was beginning to set and some of the stores were closing.

Roughly mid-afternoon, this troupe of performers in traditional costume appeared and sang German holiday melodies.  The female members of the troupe was mostly youngsters, roughly six to eighteen, the men played the instruments.  They attracted quite a crowd of folks early on.

Towards the Schadowplatz, along the Konigsallee, was this outdoor skating rink, surrounded by brightly-lit Christmas trees.  Outdoor skating rinks are always fun to watch because so few of the participants get much practice during the rest of the year.  Of course, I should talk... I don't participate because at my age I appreciate having my coccyx still in one piece!

Cologne -- Cologne also sported two Christmas Markets, but these were very distinct in character and greatly separated geographically.  The Domplatz hosted the more flamboyant of the two, using a huge Christmas tree and the magnificent Cologne Dom as backdrops.  About a mile away was a more "old-fashioned" style Weihnachtsmarkt in the Neumarkt.  (The Cologne travelogue is available here)

Munchies:  Backfisch (deep-fried battered whitefish) with remoulade (creamy dill sauce) on a bun.

Here's a shot in the Domplatz with the Dom in the background.  What you don't see here is the huge Christmas tree that stood above the square with lights streaming down to the huts.  There was also a huge sound stage where some excellent musicians sang popular Christmas tunes all the way until closing time. 

This was the other Christmas, in the Neumarkt to the west of downtown.  It was simpler and more traditional that the one in the Domplatz, so I spent more time there.

One interesting thing about Cologne's fest is that they commission local artists to do yearly edition artistic gluhwein mugs.  Most cities simply use the same mug design each year and just change the year.  Not Cologne, where you can actually buy "vintage year" mugs back to 1997.

Bonn -- The final stop on my Northern Rhein visit was to the former capital of West Germany, which will get its own travelogue soon.  I really loved the layout of this market, which wrapped around the Munster and several other of Bonn's famous imposing structures.  It gave the market a very humble appeal.  But despite the less-than-ideal weather, Bonners were all too happy to visit it on this Sunday afternoon.  (The Bonn travelogue is available here)

Munchies:  Szegerbinde Gulasch (Hungarian goulash made with sauerkraut, pepper, and chunks of pork) served in a brown-bread bowl topped with sour cream.

The Bonner Weihnachtsmarkt snaked around four different market squares, starting at the Munsterplatz, passing around the Sterntor (Old City Gate, shown here at left), and ending at the Kirchen Pavillion, where another artificial ice rink was erected just like in Dusseldorf.  The very decorative Bonn Rathaus was converted into an Advent Calendar for the occasion, with 25 numbers located among its many windows, a new one being turned on each day.

This is a shot of the Munsterplatz, with the Weihnachtsmarkt stage in center.  Originally when I arrived, a puppeteer was entertaining the children.  When I returned to take this picture, a pan-flute band had taken his place.  This was about 2:30PM and the crowds were getting much thicker.  

So, don't think that the only place to enjoy a German Christmas is in Bavaria.  Its markets are available everywhere, and each is just as much fun as any other!

Christmas Markets on this page were visited 8 and 14-15 December 2002, 13-14 December 2003 -- Page last updated 01 September 2006 -- (C) 2002, 2004 Tom Galvin



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