Saturday, December 24, 2011

The Best of Christmas Markets

I have seen a lot of “Best Christmas Market” lists going around the web. Surprisingly only half of them include the true best of the best. To be fair, most of them seem to be constructed by reputation. I certainly doubt any of the writers have really been to all of the truly great markets. For one thing there are truly a lot, and you only have about 4 weeks in a year to see them. I have not been to many, even in six Christmases, but I can share some of the best that I have experienced—and maybe more helpfully—share some of the characteristics that make up a good market to help people evaluate markets throughout Europe.

Location: The first factor in Christmas Market satisfaction is the atmosphere created by surroundings. For many an American, the European atmosphere is special all over. Emerging from a subway after a transatlantic flight to a street in London, Paris or Berlin is amazing. That European magic is in fact quite similar all over, but there are extra special places. Thus markets located at places like the Cologne Cathedral or the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church stand out. However, those locations are always special so a Market located there may not be that great. The Prague Old Town Square is amazing, but the Christmas Market in that square is pretty lame as Christmas Markets go.

Product: The second thing to look for in a Christmas Market is what they are selling. You have to have special, Christmassy fare. Some markets sell the same stuff that is sold in the street the year round; cheap, chincy junk mixed with local produce. A Christmas market should specialize in beautiful, handcrafted things that are associated with the season. Things that people would actually like to receive as a gift.

Food: It is no secret that Germany invented and sets the standard for the Christmas Market. Therefore food served must include the highest quality sausages and pastries. Not every market provides this.

All that considered here are a few that fit the bill:

Meissen: This small town in Saxony is beautiful all year round, but their Christmas Market is a great example of how to do it small.

Schneeberg: Another small market at ground zero of the production of those wonderful wood handcrafted toys that are a famous symbol of Christmas the world over.

Regensburg: Just about the best medium-sized market. In the shadow of the beautiful Dom it has great product and both Thüringer and Nuremberger sausages.

Nuremberg: Reputedly the largest Christmas Market in the world. It is not. However it is still good.

Dresden: Bar none the best Christmas Market town in the world and the only one that is a must see. If you visit Dresden every other Christmas Market in the world will pale; if you don’t you will not have experienced the truest example. It is the oldest and largest in the world. The product is amazing. The food is the best. The location is breathtaking. Actually, three markets now combine into a mega market with the traditional, a modern version and a medieval connected across the heart of downtown in the sight of the Frauenkirche.

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