Delightful Things Which Make Christmas In Germany Special
It's that time of year again when I try and hide from the TV and radio, in fear of losing brain cells to the never-ending tirade of Christmas adverts and songs. I don't mind hearing them ONCE, and preferably at some point not before DECEMBER please.
Anyway, before I start sounding too much like Ebenezer Scrooge from A Christmas Carol, I'm going to put on my happy pants and look at some of the things to look out for which make Christmas great as an expat in Germany.
What makes Christmas in Germany special tend to be the more traditional things which still very much take prominence here. Most of these happen to be food and drink, so what better than to ask 2 of my favourite food bloggers based in Germany to run through their favourites.
So, with the excuse that I'm suffering from jet lag after 2 wonderful weeks of sunshine, great food and escaping the winter in Vietnam, I am handing over my keys to Linds and Christie (let's hope they've not had too much Glühwein), and then rounding off with a couple of favourites from me right at the end.
Definitely a Bavarian slant from Linds, whose blog can be found over at Eat Explore Etc. Which perhaps isn't surprising, considering the food and travel blogger is based just outside of Munich.
There’s just so much festive food available in Germany at Christmas, coming up with a list of five favourites which make Christmas in Germany special is no easy task! Should I include Marzipankartoffeln? Literally marzipan shaped like potatoes! What about Baumkuchen (Tree Cake) or Lebkuchen (Gingerbread)? It’s a tough decision…
I know it’s a cliché but I love Stollen. Delicate bread filled with dried fruit and marzipan then covered with a thick layer of icing sugar, it’s Christmas on a plate. If you think it’s a bit dry, go for the smaller varieties. My favourites are the Stollen Bites from Aldi!
The name literally means “Fire Tongs Punch”. A sugar cube soaked with rum is placed on tongs over a goblet of hot mulled wine, then set on fire. It’s the pimped up, flamboyant cousin of Glühwein – and it’s fabulous.
It’s more traditional to go for gebrannte mandeln (roasted almonds) but I much prefer cashew nuts. At any Christmas market you’ll find stalls selling various types of freshly sugar roasted nuts, served in pretty coloured paper cones. The sweet smell is almost impossible to resist! Especially the cinnamon version!
A visit to a Christmas Market almost demands you consume a bratwurst of some sort. My favourites are the Nürnberger variety – smaller and thinner than every other sausage on offer, they fit perfectly into a crusty bread roll and are excellent with a ketchup or mustard on top.
It’s a thick, soft and fluffy shredded pancake, caramelised at the edges and dusted with icing sugar, served with either an apple or plum sauce. A good one can take about 20 minutes to make… but it’s worth the wait. Look out for Kaiserschmarrn at Bavarian or Austrian Christmas markets too.
Linds is a food and snack explorer from Lancashire in the UK, on a temporary adventure to Bavaria! She really enjoy digging in to new foods, trying out limited edition items and discovering fresh foodie loves. This visit to a new country, with its own unique food customs, cultures and snacks seemed like the perfect push into contributing to a blog world. Catch up with regular snack, recipe and travel reviews from Linds on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter.
Next up is Christie, who runs the regional German food blog A Sausage Has Two. For those of you who haven't seen it, Christie also did a post for Live Work Germany earlier this year on German cuisine.
Duck and dumplings
Nothing says “winter is here” on a restaurant chalkboard quite like crispy-skinned roasted duck, spongy potato dumplings and a helping of deep purple braised red cabbage. You’ll find this classic winter dish on the menu at traditional German restaurants up and down the country, and to me, there are few German meals more festive.
You’ve likely heard of Hygge, the Danish concept that the rest of the world’s caught onto over the last couple of years; a special feeling of warmth, cosiness and contentment brought about by enjoying the little pleasures in life. Less well known is the German version: Gemütlichkeit. Picture a cosy Sunday at home in December, star-shaped lantern glowing in the window, candles lit on an Advent wreath, and many hands making light, floury work of baking spiced Advent cookies in the kitchen. It’s a scene familiar to most, if not all Germans, and one spilling over with nostalgia and a sense of warmth, cosiness and comfort. I see your Danish hygge, and I raise you German Gemütlichkeit.
Nürnburger Elisen Lebkuchen
I’ve got a (real – honest!) gluten sensitivity, so 99% of all German cakes and cookies are out for me, unless I bake them myself. But once a year, the naturally gluten-free Nürnburger Elisen Lebkuchen hit the shelves, and in the run up to Christmas, you’ll find me most days happily nibbling on a large disc of nuts bound with egg and ideally dipped in chocolate. I’m more of a savoury than a sweet person, but one of these with a cup of tea is to me, pure bliss.
The Mainzer Weihnachtsdorf
I’ve lived in Germany for nearly eight years now, but for my first six Advents, I avoided the Christmas markets like the plague. As a rule, I’d much rather be drinking cold alcohol inside somewhere warm than standing outside drinking hot alcohol in the cold, and the Wiesbaden Christmas market on a weekday afternoon, lights off and slush on the ground, is nowhere near as fun or romantic as the pictures you see on Instagram. But after twelve months in the US (we recently came home from Washington, DC), I decided it was time I embraced this much-loved German tradition, and I set about trying to change my mind. Thanks to the Christmas village at the market in Mainz, with its enormous converted wine barrels decorated with fairy lights and decked out with cosy cushions, and the Thermos flasks of very good hot Glühwein you can imbibe with friends within them, I’m slowly coming round to the idea. In fact, this year, I don’t really want it to end.
I live in wine country, and since many stands at the Christmas market offer Glühwein made with good wine and whole spices instead of the cheap plonk and ready-made spice mix you might find elsewhere, I’ve grown really rather fond of it. But having long been a fan of mulled cider, my heart lies with heiße Apfelwein, very tart hot cider from Frankfurt and wider Hesse, lightly spiced with cinnamon and/or cloves. It’s warming and remarkably fortifying – in fact, it’s my drink of choice for preparing to prise a small child off a Christmas carousel.
Christie Dietz is a freelance food & travel writer. Originally from London, she’s been living in Wiesbaden since 2010. Her blog focuses on regional, seasonal German food and drink, culinary traditions and gourmet travel; she’s also written for The Guardian and Fodor’s Travel (Germany Guide 2016), been featured in German news publications including Die Welt, Sterne magazine and Das Bild, and was shortlisted for a YBF award in 2016. You can follow Christie on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
And finally, there are 3 good old favourites from me. Not surprisingly, they include meat and alcohol.
This one needs no introduction. When it comes to Christmas food, Germany easily beats England within 90 minutes and with absolutely no need for a penalty shoot-out. Goose is wonderful, crispy and succulent when cooked to perfection and has so much more flavour than bland turkey. Even better when it's served with a lovely bottle of German red such as a Spätburgunder (Pinot Noir) or a Dornfelder. Duck is great, Christie, I agree, but for me the goose takes the top spot and really makes Christmas in Germany special! The accompaniments to the bird are equally delicious, which are….
Dumplings and Braised Red Cabbage
Goose is typically served with circular dumplings, which are a bit smaller in size than a tennis ball. Together with this comes braised red cabbage, stewed until it is soft in texture and served hot. Gravy is served along with the meat and veg too. Restaurants which serve goose and all the trimmings typically only offer it for the period from Martinstag on 11th November up until Christmas Eve, making it a once-a-year opportunity to taste those little fellas which look so cute in the park or on the riverbank.
Now I have to say that Glühwein, despite its popularity, was something I never really got into. The cheap, nasty, sugary stuff served at most Christmas markets is not something I would recommend. That all changed, however, when I discovered WHITE Glühwein, made from Riesling grapes and produced by local wineries! No more did I have to fork out €3 at the Christmas market for basically something which costs 69 cents a bottle in Aldi. Now I could get Winzerglühwein, from a great winery, for pretty much the same price. So good that I almost did a happy dance.