5 Unforgettable Flavors at Frankfurt’s Christmas Market

Frankfurt Christmas Market in Römer Square ©Laurel Kallenbach

Thousands flock to Frankfurt’s annual Christmas Market, centered in historic Römer Square   ©Laurel Kallenbach

Germany’s Christmas Markets overflow with treasures and gifts of every size and price, and Frankfurt’s massive Christmas market has acres of goods for sale in booths and huts (called stube) located in its historic old town.

In fact, the market spreads over three locations: Römer Square, Paulsplatz, and the Main Quay. The Christmas market was first mentioned in writing in 1393, and was a place to buy foods and other necessities to stock residents through the winter.

Shopping Frankfurt’s festive market requires stamina, and that’s one of the reasons why the foods sold here are so enticing. Cookies, candies, roasted almonds, sausages and currywurst, and spiced wine served hot (called glühwein; pronounced “glue-vine”) beckon browsers to sample along the way—or to take home Christmas delicacies.

Yes, Virginia, there is a German version of fruitcake. ©Laurel Kallenbach

Yes, Virginia, there is a German version of fruitcake. ©Laurel Kallenbach

There’s so much to see at the Frankfurt Christmas Market that the organizers offer one-and-a-half-hour bilingual tours in German/English focusing on “Stories, Sweets, and Savouries” (6€–14€, weekends only. You can buy tickets at the Tourist Information Römer).

I had a delightful time on the tour, which focused on Römer Square, the heart of the market—and the prettiest area (it was reconstructed to its medieval glory after it was almost completely leveled by bombs during WWII). I learned a great deal about Frankfurt’s delectables (details below) and rode on the vintage merry-go-round (somewhat less appealing to me because it played country-western songs).

An antique carousel was a favorite of the kids. ©Laurel Kallenbach

An antique carousel was a favorite of the kids. ©Laurel Kallenbach

The highlight of the tour included climbing to the roof of St. Nicholas Church for a panoramic view of the entire market and the Frankfurt skyline.

Looking down from this bird’s-eye view gave me new perspective. The throngs of people were dwarfed by the half-timbered buildings and City Hall, the wide expanse of cobblestones on Römer Square, and the statue of the goddess Justice. (It was also a chance to take a break from the mad crush of shoppers!)

And to cap off the tour, my mostly German-speaking group warmed up with a hot cup of mulled wine and admired the 100-foot-tall spruce Christmas tree decorated with 5,000 lights and 500 red ribbons.

1. Glühwein

Steamy mugs of glühwein ©Laurel Kallenbach

Steamy mugs of glühwein ©Laurel Kallenbach

A mug of this hot, mulled wine, either white or red, really takes the chill off the evening, and the wooden huts (called stuben) that serve this holiday beverage are the hub of the Christmas market. Around glühwein stands, people stand ten deep around tables, especially after dark when the temperatures get colder.

I loved how the steamy cup of glühwein fogged up my glasses and warmed my hands. In Frankfurt, the glühwein mugs are in the Bembel style, the blue-floral pattern that dates back centuries.

There’s glühwein made of either red or white wine. In Frankfurt, I had a slight preference to the white, but naturally I tried them both. They packed plenty of alcoholic punch, so I never ventured to have one with a shot of liquor in it.

Visitors share a steamy mug of glühwein at the Frankfurt Christmas Market. The toast concludes the “Stories, Sweets, and Savories” guided tour. ©Laurel Kallenbach

Visitors share a steamy mug of glühwein at the Frankfurt Christmas Market. The toast concludes the “Stories, Sweets, and Savories” guided tour. ©Laurel Kallenbach

2. Lebkuchen (German “gingerbread”)

Decorated lebkuchen cookies ©Laurel Kallenbach

Decorated lebkuchen cookies ©Laurel Kallenbach

The saucer- or plate-sized decorated cookies you see dangling from booths are usually made of lebkuchen, although you can also buy small cookies as well. The fact that people liken lebkuchen to gingerbread sets up an expectation that left me disappointed—because there’s no ginger flavor.

However, the Nuremburg-style lebkuchen I sampled—made from a centuries-old recipe—was chewy, dense, and far less sweet than gingerbread. It’s a blend of nutty, spicy, citrusy flavors, and it’s glazed with sugar and has a communion-wafer bottom.

I confess that I sampled my lebkuchen at my hotel and washed it down with some Kessler German sparkling wine. I was more than satisfied.

Honey mead ©Laurel Kallenbach

Honey mead ©Laurel Kallenbach

3. Mead (honey wine)

The double-decker Wagner Honey House at the Frankfurt Christmas Market specializes in bee products—from beeswax candles that smell so sweet you almost want to eat them to honey wines and propolis and bitters (a digestif) sweetened with honey.

Upstairs is a tasting room where you can sample the many varieties of mead, made by fermenting honey and various fruits or spices. (Mead is possibly the world’s most ancient alcoholic beverage.)

Because I’d had my fill of glühwein, I opted for the bitters, which have a palate-cleansing effect and a refreshing taste—especially if you’ve had a few too many sugary sweets.

4. Frankfurt Bethmännchen

Tiny cookies, called Bethmännchen, are a Frankfurt specialty. Made of marzipan rolled like a little ball and decorated with three half-almonds, the treats have a poignant story. In 1838, a banker’s family, whose surname was Bethmann, served a new sweet, decorated with four almonds for each of the four sons. When one of the sons died seven years later, the cookies used only three almonds.

Brenten cookies, Kethmännchen, and Bethmännchen marzipan cookies, Frankfurt ©Laurel Kallenbach

Bethmännchen, kethmännchen, and Brenten cookies, Frankfurt.  Photo©Laurel Kallenbach

Since then, Bethmännchen have become a Frankfurt tradition and are widely sold throughout the Christmas Market—along with many other shapes and sizes and flavors of baked goods, including stollen, schaumküsse (chocolate-covered marshmallow concoctions that looked like giant Mallomars), and more.

With its backdrop of half-timbered houses, historic Römer Square is in the Old World heart of the Christmas Market in Frankfurt, Germany. This hut sells Bethmännchen marzipan cookies, a local specialty. ©Laurel Kallenbach

With its backdrop of half-timbered houses, historic Römer Square is in the Old World heart of the Christmas Market in Frankfurt, Germany. This hut sells Bethmännchen marzipan cookies, a local specialty. ©Laurel Kallenbach

 

5. Roasted Almonds (Mandeln)

Many stuben in the Frankfurt Christmas Market sell fresh-roasted almonds, but the one that reeled me in with its sweet-savory smells was Eiserloh’s, which sells candied almonds in dozens of flavors.

The flavors of almonds are as colorful as the Eiserloh booth ©Laurel Kallenbach

The flavors of almonds are as colorful as the Eiserloh booth.  Photo ©Laurel Kallenbach

Choices range from white-chocolate hazelnut, orange ginger, chili pepper, Bailey’s Irish cream, Nutella, pineapple, Red Bull, white-chocolate coconut, Bacardi Gold, eggnog, raspberry balsamico, and more.

The people behind the counter let me taste half a dozen flavors until I settled on my two favorites: chocolate mint and white-chocolate hazelnut. I left with a colorful cone of each, perfect gifts to take back home to the States.

I came away from the Frankfurt Christmas Market footsore—but happy with all the fabulous flavors I enjoyed there.

For more information: Germany, The Travel Destination

Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and editor

Originally posted December 2014

Read more about Germany’s Christmas markets:

A hut selling local sausages Photo ©Laurel Kallenbach

A hut sells local sausages. Photo ©Laurel Kallenbach

 

Christmas Market Dazzles in Wiesbaden, Germany

I grew up with a lot of German Christmas traditions, and for years I’ve thought going to a Christmas market in Germany, would be fun way to kick off the season. My hunch was right: Germany knows how to celebrate Christmas in an Old World way.

Wiesbaden’s Old Town Square fills with people enjoying the annual Christmas Market. ©Laurel Kallenbach

Wiesbaden, just a half-hour train ride from Frankfurt, hosts the lovely Sternschnuppen Market (sternschnuppe translates as “shooting star”). I was enthralled at its beauty, which combines traditional seasonal décor with contemporary lily-shaped light sculptures above the marketplace. (The lily, or fleur-de-lis, is on the town’s motif.) The whole affair—wooden huts where vendors sell foods and handcrafts—is held in the old town’s historic square, in the shadow of the church, or Marktkirche.

Tree ornaments are just some of the goods for sale at the Christmas Market. ©Laurel Kallenbach

At the annual market, locals and tourists alike gather to hear live music—one night I caught a quartet of alphorns (you just don’t hear that every day in the States!)—to shop, to mingle, and to toast the season with glühwein (hot, mulled wine sold in specially designed mugs that you either keep as a souvenir or return for your deposit).

Tempting Christmas cookies sold at the Sternschnuppen Market, Wiesbaden. ©Laurel Kallenbach

Flavors of Christmas

I quickly discovered that German Christmas Markets and glühwein go hand in hand. When the temperatures drop, nothing warms you more than a mug of steaming red or white glühwein held between your mittens while you sip and chat with friends while admiring the Christmas lights.

And who can resist the aromas of cooking? There are plenty of traditional market foods as well, including bratwurst and other sausages of various kinds and sizes, and potato pancakes (kartoffelpuffer) served with applesauce.

The Germans are passionate about sausages. Giant grills cooked all types of bratwurst, including the long, half-meter brats (cut in half to fit them on a bun. ©Laurel Kallenbach

I tasted these yummy, crisp-fried treats with Wiesbaden’s mayor, who happened to be at the Puffer Christ’l stand at the same time as I was. Owner Christl Glöckner joined us and brought some white glühwein for us to share.

Through my handy translator and guide Yvonne Skala, of Wiesbaden Marketing, the newly elected mayor told me one of the things that makes the city’s Christmas Market so special is that the organizers select vendors who sell handmade or German-made crafts.” No “Made in China” stickers here.

Mayor (Oberbürgermeister) Sven Gerich and Christl Glöckner, owner of Puffer Christ’l potato pancake food truck, toast to the Wiesbaden Christmas Market with some glühwein. ©Laurel Kallenbach

Indeed, as I browsed the huts, I found traditional ornaments, carvings, candles, nutcrackers, knitted gloves and hats, handmade lace, wooden toys, local cheeses and game, and more. For amusement, there’s a colorful, Baroque-style carousel for kids of all ages to ride.

Presiding over all the festivities is the high-spired, Marktkirche church, built in the mid-1800s.

As a special treat, Yvonne took me to the daily weekday 5:45 organ music inside this Protestant church. We sat in one of the pews and gazed at the star-painted ceilings and neo-Gothic arches while the organist pulled out all the stops on the pipe organ. Compared to the revelries outside, it’s a welcome, contemplative timeout for some reflection on the quieter side of Christmas. Visitors are welcome to stay for the following Advent church service, but we continued out into the marketplace.

Wooden incense smokers ©Laurel Kallenbach

Shelter and Relaxation

I stayed in posh digs in Wiesbaden: the Hotel Nassauer Hof, a historic hotel that has hosted the likes of Kaiser Wilhelm II, Tsar Nicholas II, John F. Kennedy, Richard Nixon, the Dalai Lama, and Vladimir Putin. Among the hotel’s many attributes was a location just a five-minute walk from the Christmas Market.

Another plus was that the Nassauer Hof has its own thermal spring, which feeds into the hotel pool. The result is naturally warmed mineral water, slightly salty, which buoys you up. Floating in heated water was the perfect antidote to several hours at the chilly outdoor market.

Another way to warm up during the Wiesbaden winter is in the saunas, steam rooms, and mineral baths at the Kaiser-Friedrich-Therme. This spa is built on the ruins of the ancient Roman baths, and the current baths were built in 1913, and restored for the centenary. I’ll blog more about this later, but it’s a truly unique place to visit and “take the waters.”

Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and editor

(Originally posted on December 21, 2103)

Read more about Germany’s Christmas markets:

The stage at the center of the market often has live performances, such as the four alphorn players I listened to. ©Laurel Kallenbach