Certainly nowhere offers a greater selection of unique markets so close together. Each town seems to have a different way of celebrating with a Christkindelsmarkt. And they are close enough that clients can easily explore them all in a week or even a few days’ add-on to a business trip.
Suggest they begin in Stuttgart (www.stuttgart-tourist.com), the region’s largest city and easy to reach by air or Germany’s fast, efficient trains (www.bahn.com). Several outstanding markets are only a short train ride away and one of Europe’s biggest and oldest Christmas markets begins only a block from Stuttgart’s Hauptbahnhof (main train station).
Booths in Stuttgart’s main square sell colorful toys, baked goods and candies in an area specially dedicated to children. A small Ferris wheel has bright colored Christmas tree balls for gondolas, and a miniature steam engine pulls cars full of laughing tots through a village of tiny houses and into a “mountain” tunnel. There are cabins where kids can cut and bake Christmas cookies, or dip their own colorful candles.
A fir-bowered gateway leads into a promenade lined by wooden cabins that extends through a beautiful small square and on into the even larger Marktplatz. These huts topped by evergreens and holiday scenes offer an astounding array of unusual gifts, local crafts and traditional foods. More than 280 stalls sell practical woolen gloves and hand-knit socks, hand-carved wooden carousels that turn by candle power, traditional German glass tree ornaments, colorful nutcrackers and créche sets. There’s a skating rink (with rentals), live concerts and an entire section of antiques.
A 20-minute train ride takes clients to Ludwigsburg (www.ludwigsburg.de), where 170 stalls are decorated in baroque style to match Ludwigsburg Palace, one of Europe’s largest original baroque palaces. Thousands of twinkling lights, illuminated arches and angels decorate the festive market. Suggest clients lunch on sizzling local sausage inside a cabin at one corner of the market. With its rustic log benches, cheery red-and-white curtains and plank tables, it’s hard to believe that this sturdy cabin is assembled here just for this month.
Clients can step back a few centuries into one of the most remarkable markets, a short train ride from Stuttgart in Esslingen (www.esslingen-marketing.de). As early as the 8th century, Esslingen was a thriving market town and trading hub, a heritage that left it with one of Germany’s richest collections of medieval buildings. These provide the setting for the Mittelaltermarkt, an authentic Medieval street market. The half-timbered buildings around the square where it’s held are originals, and merchants and craftsmen are dressed as they would have in medieval times.
Canvas tents cover displays of handcrafted goods: leather cases and clothing, berry wines, wooden bowls, handwoven baskets, silverwork, calligraphy, hand-bound books, handspun yarns and custom-blended incense. A blacksmith forges knives and ornamental hooks on his anvil while stilt walkers, minstrels, troubadours, fire walkers and jugglers entertain. The scene is lit at night by burning torches and even the hot breads, venison goulash and roasted meats are authentic to Medieval times. It’s like stepping straight into the Middle Ages.
In the well-preserved Black Forest town of Gengenbach (www.stadt-gen
genbach.de), the backdrop for the Christmas Market is the 200-year-old facade of the town hall, transformed into a giant Advent Calendar. Each evening at 6pm locals gather to see another window open, revealing a scene or art work on themes inspired by great artists (in 2005 all the windows were based on paintings of Marc Chagall) or perhaps illustrations from children’s literature.
Germany’s largest chocolate festival, Chocol’ART lines the narrow stone streets of Medieval Tübingen (www.tuebingen.de/en) the first week of December. More than 100 top chocolatiers from around the world display and sell their most delectable - and beautiful - chocolate confections. Your clients can sip cups of thick, rich hot chocolate as they browse and sample their way past displays of everything from truffles and chocolate-dipped exotic fruits to eye-catching gifts like chocolate high-style shoes. An entire booth is filled with faux foods in chocolate: links of sausage, pizza, Swiss cheese, cannoli, even fried eggs fashioned from colored chocolate. Inside the town hall, confectionary artists compete with elaborate chocolate sculptures, and demonstrations in the chocolateROOM teach the secrets of making pralines, marshmallows and other candies. All this takes place beneath the half-timbered facades of Tübingen’s atmospheric old town center.
Not far away, the fairy-tale castle of Burg Hohenzollern (www.burg-hohenzollern.com), ancestral home of the Prussian Royal family and one of Europe’s best-preserved castles, is the setting for the Royal Christmas Market. Shuttle buses climb the steep hill to the castle gates, where your clients enter the picture-perfect castle forecourt, lined with little cabins selling ornaments and gifts. Inside is a riot of color with more craftspeople displaying exquisite one-of-a-kind handwork. Crafts are juried, so only the finest of local work is shown: beautifully designed wool and silk clothing and accessories, fine leatherwork, perfectly molded springerle cookies, delicate painted glass ornaments, fine wood carving. Suggest that clients warm up with a steaming souvenir mug of Glühwein (mulled wine) and cinnamon waffles in the courtyard, and take time to visit the castle’s treasury, churches and cellar. The market is held only two weekends, this year November 25 - 27 and December 2 - 4.
A deep ravine in the heart of the Black Forest (www.visitblackforest.info) is spanned by the tall stone viaduct of 190-foot-high Devil’s Valley Railway bridge. In the forest beneath its stone arches, with the occasional train passing overhead, the Ravenna Gorge Christmas Market is held on the four weekends before Christmas. The 40 stalls spread along the hillside, reached by a path from the Hofgut Sternen, an historic inn whose former guests included Marie Antoinette. The atmospheric market is the most fun at night, lit by twinkling lights and lanterns. Along with Black Forest wood carvings and other local crafts are tiny kitchens grilling bratwurst and serving plates of hearty spaetzle. Or reserve dinner and a room for clients at Hofgut Sternen (www.hofgut-sternen.de/en), where there is also a cuckoo clock workshop and glass blowing studio.
These are only a few of the Christmas markets your clients can sample in Baden-Württemberg. Heidelberg Castle makes a dramatic backdrop for more than 100 brightly decorated cabins along the old streets of Heidelberg (www.tourism-heidelberg.com) and an entire fair of pointed tents is set up at the castle itself. In Baden Baden (www.baden-baden.de/en) the market fills a park near its famous spas, forming a long promenade of crafts, holiday decorations and local foods. The Freiburg Christmas Market (www.weihnachtsmarkt-freiburg.de) is in the heart of the old quarter, where some stalls are designed especially for children to create their own gifts and treats. For more information on Baden-Württemberg visit www.tourism-bw.com.