Dec 12, 2013

Pros & Cons of Living in Germany: Christmas Edition

I feel I should preface this post by saying that it was REALLY HARD trying to come up with any cons for this post. I was literally 'scraping the bottom of the barrel', as they say. Christmas in Germany is all around delightful. But, for the sake of keeping with the theme of my favorite pros & cons posts, I rustled up a few cons just for the sake of having them. Most are just things I could do without, but aren't necessarily reasons not to enjoy Christmas here. Many of you that have experienced Christmas in Germany might even like a few of the cons...to each, his own. So, without further adieu, here's my list of pros & cons of living in Germany during Christmas time! ENJOY!!

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PRO: Glühwein

You guys had to know this would be the number one pro on my Christmas in Germany list, right? Gühwein is the nectar of the gods, I've decided. I don't quite remember what my life was like before I took that first sip of delicious mulled wine at the Cologne Christmas Market 2 years ago. Guess it really doesn't matter much. My life is so much better having tasted this German treat! Glühwein is basically red wine (or white, if you prefer) that's been heated with mulling spices (cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, star anise, orange peel) and poured into these ADORABLE mini-mugs that are unique to each Christmas market. D and I have acquired quite the glühwein mug collection these last 3 years. I've even started collecting various glühwein mulling spice packets to take back with us when we move. I can't give up this Christmas treat just yet! It's such the perfect beverage to enjoy when the cold December wind is nipping at you while shopping the markets. But be careful...they serve that stuff PIPING HOT! When the crowds are thick in the Christmas Markets and you're trying to dodge strollers with a mug of glühwein in hand, make sure you've got gloves on or you'll probably burn yourself. I've got a special wine-colored pair of glühwein gloves just for that reason (patent pending...ahem). ;)

CON: Magenbrot & Stollen

I am not a fan of either of these German sweets. Magenbrot not only sounds dubious, but looks like blocks of turd. They're far from turd-tasting (hallelujah!), but these soft, glazed cocoa squares do have an off gingerbread flavor to me. Magenbrot is essentially known as "stomach bread" because of its tummy-friendly spices like clove, nutmeg, cinnamon and star anise. It allegedly helps aid in stomach digestion, but the star anise addition is what gives Magenbrot a licorice flavor that I just can't stomach. Ironically enough. Another sweet offender? Stollen...Germany's version of fruit cake. Need I say more?

PRO: Christmas Handicrafts

Ornaments, smokers, and nutcrackers...OH MY! If you want to deck your halls like the Germans do, then save all your holiday decor shopping for the Christmas Markets. Each market across Germany features stalls upon stalls of various local Christmas handicrafts all for the buying. Some 'must have' German Christmas decor? Nutcrackers, incense smoker figurines & Christmas pyramids, straw ornaments, anything from Käthe Wohlfahrt, hand-painted glass ornaments, pewter ornaments, beeswax candles, wooden nativity scenes, and advent calendars. One thing to keep in mind while shopping, make sure to note prices from various stalls. A nutcracker at one stall might be cheaper at another, so grab a mug of glühwein and shop around! And be weary of where your handicraft is made. Avoid anything 'MADE IN CHINA'...go for the real German deal!

CON: The crowds

Like with any major holiday, the crowds in stores, streets, and well...everywhere else can be pretty unnerving. Everyone's trying to get their Christmas shopping done and enjoy all the wonders of this magical time of year in just a few short weeks time. Crowds of people are just unavoidable...especially at German Christmas Markets. If you find yourself in Germany during this special season, try to visit the Christmas markets during the day and avoid weekends, if possible. The crowds are much less troublesome during those times and you can leisurely enjoy the markets and glühwein to your heart's content! Maybe even try smaller, more unknown markets if you really want to avoid the hustle and bustle. And be prepared to park far away and walk a lot. 'Tis the season!

PRO: Spiced & Candied Nuts

The smell of candies nuts wafting through the aisles of Christmas market stalls is almost enough to make you want to pitch a tent and stay right there forever. And if you wanted to try all the flavors and varieties of nuts they have, you'd absolutely have to stay forever because the list goes on and on! My personal favorite? The Nutella covered almonds. Shut up, right? Their traditional Mandeln (candied almonds--pictured above) are pretty stellar as well. I suggest grabbing a bag the second you hit the Christmas market so you can munch as you shop!

CON: Feuerzangenbowle

The name literally translates to 'fire-tongs punch'. Picture this--A giant pot of piping hot glühwein with some kind of contraption hanging over top of it. In this contraption, there's a giant loaf of sugar (a giant sugar cube, if you will) that's soaked in rum. Someone then lights this sugar cube on fire and the cube begins to melt into the giant pot of glühwein below. That, my friends, is a Feuerzangenbowle. German's love this drink during the holidays. If fact, you can buy Feuerzangenbowle sets and have ceremonious Feuerzangenbowle parties in your own home! Quite the spectacle. I know what you're thinking...WHY IN THE WORLD would this be on my cons list?! It's very simple, I hate rum. I blame honeymooning in Jamaica for that, but the addition of rum basically ruins glühwein for me. It's quite a strong drink. The glass I had at the Frankfurt Christmas market last year had me sloshed. Totally 'Gemütlichkeit' worthy. These days, I tend to avoid those stands. Although, if you've never watched the Feuerzangenbowle being made, it's worth a look. Everyone loves watching things lit on fire! Me? I'll stick with my traditional glühwein. (UPDATE: I tried Feuerzangenbowle again this weekend (for research purposes) and really liked the mug I had at the Mannheim Christmas Market. It wasn't too strong and rum-flavored. So, I guess it just depends on the stand!)

PRO: Chocolate Advent Calendars
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Just as November starts, you begin to see chocolate advent calendars pop up in almost every store in Germany. Well, most of Europe for that matter. Germans love their candy advent calendars! And we've grown to love them, too. It's so fun opening up new door each day to find a yummy piece of chocolate waiting for me. If a 27-year-old gets a major kick out of this, I can only imagine the joy they must bring to kids! It's amazing, though, how many different kinds of candy advent calendars there are here. Sometimes it's hard to choose! But I guess that's also half the fun. Just be weary, depending on the type of candy, those suckers can get expensive! Just this morning I saw one that cost a whopping 52 euro!

CON: Heart-shaped Lebkuchen (Gingerbread Cookies)

Ok, so let me start by saying that I do like gingerbread. Very much. But there are a few different kinds of gingerbread (lebkuchen) that aren't super tasty and should be just for decoration (and adorableness). The heart-shaped cookies pictured above, prime example. They're ALL OVER the Christmas markets as well as almost every other big German festival year-round. But they're hard. Like, rock hard. Makes me wonder just how long some of those cookies have been hanging around, ya know? I've bought a heart cookie or two, but merely for souvenir purposes. However, the soft lebkuchen (the ones that are round, not covered in colorful icing and hanging from a string) are worth eating mounds of! They taste like taking a bite right out of Christmas! Find those, eat those.

PRO: Nikolaustag
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Some days I so wish D and I had kids so we could participate in fun holiday traditions like this. Nikolaustag (St. Nicholas Day) is a holiday occurring on December 6th of each year here in Germany (as well as all around Europe). It actually starts the night before, when children leave their shoes outside their doors so that St. Nicholas can come and leave goodies inside them. If the child was good this year, St. Nicholas will leave treats like oranges, candy, cookies and small toys. If the child was bad, they'll get a shoe full of twigs. The twigs are usually given by St. Nicholas' evil sidekick, Krampus...but I'll get to him a bit later. Many small towns throughout Germany also hold St. Nicolas parades the morning of Dec 6th. Although the American Santa Claus is based on St. Nicholas, Santa Claus doesn't visit German children on December 24th. A man name der Weihnachtmann does. I met him in Rothenburg ob der Tauber this week. Nice guy! :)

CON: Jägertee

You guys know I'm more of a wine and beer gal, but hey, I'm up for trying almost any kind of alcoholic beverage. This concoction, however, I will never ever drink again. It's exactly what you think it is...Jägermeister and hot tea. So, my stupid idiot self got a glass of this after skiing one day in Austria our first year living abroad (it's a very popular Après-ski beverage). Thought it would be sweet (for some ridiculous reason...I knew I wasn't in the South!), but it's just straight up tea and gross Jägermeister. If you love Jäger bombs or unsweetened tea, then this combination might be for you! I'll stick to hot chocolate with Baileys, thank you very much.

PRO: Weihnachtspyramide (Christmas Pyramids)

The Weihnachtspyramide (Christmas Pyramids) are Christmas staples around Germany. You can find them in small versions for sale as home decoration or in larger than life versions atop glühwein stands at the Christmas Markets. The Christmas pyramid concept is said to have originated somewhere in the Ore Mountains in Germany and is a predecessor to the Christmas Tree (which was also thanks to the Germans!). Most Christmas pyramids are decked with candles, garland, and religious figurines such as angels and nativity scenes. Other more secular pyramids feature mountain folk, forests, and reindeer. Either way, they're a festive addition to the holiday season here in Germany!

CON: Krampus: The Christmas Demon
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A demon, at Christmas? Honestly Bavaria (and Austria), what in the world? Krampus is a beast-like creature of Alpine folklore. He's said to accompany St. Nicholas to children's homes on St. Nicholas Day (Dec 6th) to place twigs in the shoes of bad children. Thankfully, I've never actually witnessed Krampus wandering the streets of Germany, but according to friends who've visited Christmas markets in Austria and Bavaria, you can find many versions of him lurking around market stalls and featured in devil parades on St. Nicholas Day. I don't know about you guys, but if I had kids, I'd sure as heck not want them to see one of these guys out and about during Christmas time. Scarred for life, for sure! Although, most kids are scared of Santa Claus, too...so, whatevs.

PRO: Kartofflepuffers

I know these bad boys already made an appearance in one of my previous pros & cons lists, but heck, they're so yummy, the deserve to be added to the Christmas pros list as well! They're basically fried potato pancakes, but in Germany, they're served with either applesauce or homemade knoblauch (garlic) sauce. I much prefer the garlic sauce to the applesauce, but you can't lose either way. Fried potatoes....sign me up!

CON: Eierpunsch (Hot Eggnog Punch)
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D LOVES eggnog. I, on the other hand, basically gag at the sight of it. D only drinks eggnog cold, so imagine our surprise when we started seeing Germans walking around the Christmas markets with what looked like mugs of HOT eggnog. The thought of cold eggnog gives me the shivers. The thought of hot eggnog makes me dry heave. GA-ROSS. Then we found out that Eierpunsch (literally translated means eggnog punch) isn't exactly like traditional eggnog. It's a combination of eggnog, rum, white wine and orange or lemon juice. I can't even describe what the thought of what that tastes likes makes me want to do. Die, maybe? I know, dramatic. But even D, the eggnog LOVER, doesn't like it. He tried it for the first time this past weekend (mostly because I begged him to, for blog research purposes, of course) and while it's reminiscent of traditional eggnog...D couldn't get over it being warm. Traditional cold eggnog lovers beware! 

PRO: Chocolate Covered EVERYTHING!

Need I say more? I don't know what it is about Christmas time in Germany, but Christmas market vendors LOVE covering just about anything in chocolate! Believe me, I'm not complaining! The Christmas markets are notorious for having numerous stalls with chocolate covered fruit. Those chocolate mice above...they're chocolate covered pears! You can also find chocolate covered chili peppers, fruit kabobs, potato chips (I wonder where they go that idea from...haha), pretzels, marshmallows (pictured above), and popcorn. Truly a chocolate lover's paradise!

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*Please keep in mind that all of these pros & cons are formed simply from my experiences and perspective as an American living abroad. You can find the other installments of my Pros & Cons of living in Germany hereherehere, herehere, here, & here.*

35 comments:

  1. Since my grandparents are German I always had chocolate Advent calendars as a kid and now Fredrik and I always get one for each other as they are big in Sweden too!

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  2. I miss the Christmas markets in Germany! I hate jager so I will have to stay away from that jagertea at all costs

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    1. Yes, definitely do! Jager is gross all on its own...but in tea? Blech!

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  3. AGH! This post is perfect! We are traveling to Dusseldorf and Berlin right after Christmas, are the markets usually open until after New Years? We have a loose itinerary for both of these cities, but do you have suggestions for must-sees?

    Also (haha a lot of questions), I know that Berlin is supposed to be AMAZING for New Years... have you ever been? Do you have any advice?!

    Thank you so much for this list!!!!
    Happy Thursday!

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  4. oh man. i love the christmas markets! it would be REALLY hard for me to find cons....except maybe the cold, but, ya know.

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    1. Ooo the cold is a good one!!! I didn't even think of that!

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  5. Great list! I have always wondered what the heck Feuerzangenbowle actually was. Mystery solved. And Jagertee seems to be a thing here in Czech Republic too, and a terrible terrible thing it is. But so much goodness! Central Europe is a fabulous place to be for Christmas :)

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    1. Thanks, Cynthia! Yeah that Jagertee is nothing to mess with. GA-ROSS!

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  6. In the part of Germany where I am from (Baden-Württemberg) the evil partner of St. Nikolaus is called Knecht Ruprecht (Servant Ruprecht) and he is dressed in dark cloth with a big beard and carries a switch/ rod that he uses to scare the children. Pretty scary dude! Funny thing: I never knew that Kartoffelpuffer were sold on christmas markets... we usually eat them year round at home (makes me want some right now ;))

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  7. Mmmmm potato pancakes- my favorite. So yummy. And I must say I'm glad to have never heard of or come across this krampus character. Creepy!

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  8. I really like everything about German Christmas, even the Jägermeister, magenbrod,crowds etc. Here in Belgium, Krampus has been replaced with a black man. Lots of people think it's a form of racism, so we might have Krampus again someday soon :)

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  9. Visiting Germany's Christmas markets is high on my bucket list and these pictures just made me want to visit even more! Even with the cons on the list :) I love Christmas time, the food, decorations, and festivities and it looks like Germany is doing it right! I am now starving for some delicious food! Thanks for sharing.

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    1. Oh yes, the pros always far outweigh the cons when it comes to Germany!

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  10. I have seriously loved living vicariously through all your German christmas posts and instagrams, I love it all and really can't wait to go some day.

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  11. YES YES YES to every one of these!

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  12. Oh my gosh, you are speaking straight to my German-Christmas-loving heart in this post! I was born in Germany and my parents lived there for almost 10 years total, and many of our family Christmas traditions come from German heritage - things they picked up when they were first married and living in Germany! As a child, we always celebrated St. Nikolaus Day (and most of my friends thought we were crazy), I had several lebkuchen hearts hanging on the walls of my bedroom (they were never for eating!), and, to this day, we set up our Christmas Pyramid with candles and all every year. The one my parents have is almost 30 years old! Also, we always had the advent calendars with chocolate in them! Luckily, you can buy them at most commissaries in the US :) I treasure those traditions, because they are something rather unique to our family (in America, anyway) - I hope you will keep some precious memories and traditions to pass on to your children someday! :)

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  13. I am so jealous!! German Christmas markets look absolutely amazing, the little teensy one in Copenhagen isn't even in the same category. I have to say my favorite thing on this list is the Krampus, I've never seen such a thing. So festive!

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  14. Yum, just had kartofelpuffers mit apfelmus a couple of weeks ago in Heidelberg. And I haven't seen Krampus yet either but I really want to. I think it's so interesting how scary he actually looks. American kids would be terrified.

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  15. The food!! This is why I need to come to Germany!! The fried potatoes and chocolate everything... yes please. And as a child we used to celebrate Dec 6th when St Nick would come and put treats in our shoes! Never really knew where that tradition came from but now I know!

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  16. I have been curious about all the cute mugs I have seen you holding in your pics. Such as, do you get to keep them? Good to know you do! So many mugs! haha.

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  17. When I got down to Krampus, I was reminded of the episode of The Office where Dwight got to have his own Christmas, and dressed up as "Belsnickel" - who, I learned, is kind of an anti-St. Nick and visits children a few weeks before Christmas to scare them into being good for Santa. Haha! Did you see that episode? And, have you ever came by a Belsnickel in Germany? :)

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  18. I want to be there!

    ~Ashley @ A Cute Angle
    http://acutelifestyle.blogsot.com

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  19. We ran into a Krampus parade downtown last weekend. He was freaking terrifying!

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  20. I love lebkuchen. Love it! I need to make a commissary run to get some this year. They've had it everywhere else we've lived and I pray this one has it too. I bought a bunch of gorgeous ornaments in Heidleberg years ago. The glass ones made it until last year and somehow they all managed to break. I guess they weren't packed well enough. All the others ones are still good though! My kids love the chocolate advent calendars. Their grandma (who is German) started giving them the calendars when my son was two. The only thing that has rivaled them was the Lego calendars I bought them last year!

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  21. All of your European expats are seriously killing me this week with your wonderful Christmas posts! I just want to jump aboard a plane right now and experience the amazingness of a Christmas market! I'm with you on the soft gingerbread btw. My grandma has a WONDERFUL soft gingerbread cookie recipe that I make every year and end up eating 90% of the cookies myself all in one setting. bahaha.

    Yay Christmas!

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  22. I am German and I can agree with all of your Cons!

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  23. Oh my gosh yes to all of this! It's the exact same for me in Frankfurt... I will also say some of the chocolate covered stuff is just plain gross though. Just because it's covered in chocolate doesn't automatically make it good. At least not in Germany ;)

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  24. We got three chocolate Advent calendars this year! LOL One is mine, the other two are for the kids. They also got Lego advents so they are fine.

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  25. I love these lists. Oh to be in Germany for Christmas!

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  26. I'm spending a year studying in Germany, and am loving our Weihnachtsmarkt here too, if you see somewhere making fresh Flammkuchen in stone ovens you have to try it! The ones with Zweibeln, Speck and Käse are the best… accompanied with Glühwein of course, mhmm! Ailish Goes

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  27. I visited a Christmas Market in Berlin last winter and I fell in love with Glühwein. I don't drink at all, but I could have 2 cups of this lovely German mulled wine in a raw! I would love to try some of these delicacies once again! :)

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  28. I LOVE Feuerzangenbowle - had one at lunch just because today, but actually, I can never really taste the rum unless it's a homemade one, then people go all out. Stollen is terrible though.

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  29. I had some puffers at the Stuttgart market last week. Yum! But they only had apple sauce - and I wanted the garlic sauce.

    We area heading to Nurnberg this weekend!

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    1. Aren't they delish?! One of my favorite market treats!

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