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The Christmas markets are open for business

There’s nothing quite like a pretty little Christmas market in a half-timbered town square.

So the Christmas Market season is finally upon us. All over Germany, almost every town will have some kind of market at its centre, with Glühwein, Bratwurst, and even Germknödel, dinner-plate-sized steamed dumplings made on the spot.  There’ll be all kinds of fruit-based cakes in the Weihnachtsbäckerei, and of course the ubiquitous Lebkuchenherzen (giant gingerbread hearts that taste like cardboard) dangling on ribbons all over.

Amongst the multitude of crafts stalls there’ll be acres of handmade woolly hats, handmade tree decorations, and useful handmade wooden things (bet you didn’t know how many useful handmade wooden things you needed). Look out for brightly-painted bird houses, the little men made of prunes and apricots, and the irresistibly dangly mobiles (and I don’t mean phones).

There’s an informal schedule for the markets. The early part of the evening is the time when families, particularly those with younger children, meet up, to be followed later by groups of friends and work colleagues, on seasonal outings. It’s usually all done and dusted by around 8pm on weeknights, and 10pm on weekends.

In the big cities, of course, the flavour, and the merchandise, is altered a bit by international visitors, because Christmas has become a big player in swelling Germany’s annual visitor figures. This nation has always had a big emphasis on its city breaks, and the presence of a market adds an extra reason for jumping on a plane, particularly in a drab time of year, when airline tickets are relatively cheap.

So which to choose? We recommend you avoid the obvious, ie the likes of Cologne or Berlin. The most atmospheric markets are in the more out of the way spots which might take a bit more effort to reach, but they’re worth the time. Somewhere like pretty half-timbered Bernkastel-Kues, for example, on the Moselle (access from Frankfurt-Hahn served by Ryanair). Or Nuremberg (Air Berlin from Gatwick) with its special Christkindlesmarkt. Or particularly holy Regensburg (Lufthansa to Munich then train), with its Cathedral Sparrows and four markets down narrow, cosy lanes. Or Düsseldorf (easyjet from Gatwick) which instead of one large market has seven separate Christmas themes and attractions in the Altstadt. Or Dresden (new flight with OLT-Express from Southend), the home town of Stollen, which has Germany’s oldest Christmas market, dating back to 1434.

Above all this is the time of year to put the onrush of consumerism, modernisation, technological innovation to one side, and get snuggled down and cosy. It’s a time of year when the oldest traditions are still the best.

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