Germany in winter, especially in Hamburg, is usually associated with long, dark nights, rainy days, gray skies, and freezing temperatures. But despite the not-so pleasant weather that is common during the cold season, the winter season also means the opening of the German Christmas markets, which can be found in almost any large city or small town throughout the country.
Regardless of your faith, Christmas markets encapsulate the idea of coziness, sweets, and gifts during the cold winter months. Most of the markets are placed in areas with lots of space and mobility. Usually, vendors work in small booths illuminated by Christmas lights and lanterns and decorated with wreaths and other small figurines. Depending on where you go or what city you find yourself in, each market has something special of its own to offer. Nevertheless, you are always bound to find a booth selling Gluehwein (a traditional winter drink consisting of red wine along with other mulling spices almost always served warm), hot chocolate, and other warm beverages that you almost need to drink if you are spending more than thirty minutes outside in the cold.
Besides the typical warm beverages, Christmas markets also serve sweets and other foods like currywurst, crepes, Kaminbrot, roasted and caramelized nuts, fries, flammkuchen, and much more. Bigger markets are also sometimes filled with vendors selling handmade pieces of art, gloves, jackets, pottery, hats, toys, and other small goods. Some even have rides like ferris wheels and carnivals.
No two Christmas markets are truly ever the same, as the ambience, mood, and people differ from city to city and from state to state. This year, I had the opportunity to work in a Christmas market in Luebeck, a Middle Age city just north of Germany. One of the family friends in Germany, who has been participating in this Christmas market the last few years, asked if I wanted to work behind the scenes with her this year. Though food and drink was out of the question due to the pandemic, small vendors coming from across the country met in the Heiligen-Geist-Hospital, one of the oldest elderly-care centers in Europe and now the spot of a booming Christmas market. The booth where we sold candles made out of beeswax was a spot of attraction for many, even with no heater and freezing indoor temperatures. Children and their parents were eager to learn how to make, or roll, the candle for themselves, and travelers from Scandinavian countries like Denmark and Norway were frequent customers.
Despite the brutal cold, working behind the counter was a great way to experience the market from a new perspective. During my four hours of work, I helped not only to process transactions, but also to wrap the gifts and answer questions when needed. When I was not making or packaging candles, I found myself making conversation with the other women at the table, most of whom were all over the age of 65. One of the women had been volunteering at this Christmas market for the last 25 years and the other one told me in great detail about all the places around the world she had visited when she was a flight attendant. Though I barely knew these women, listening to their stories made me feel more connected to them and I am so glad that I had the opportunity to work with them even with the age difference.
By the time my shift was up, a heavy snow began to fall from the gray sky, just like out of a movie. Though the Christmas markets are only here to stay for a few weeks, the memories one has while being there last a lifetime.