Visiting a Christmas market can be exciting, but once you’ve absorbed the fairy-tale surroundings and sampled the glühwein, it is easy to get lost among stalls full of novelty items and souvenirs.
However, you can find locally-made products and traditional gifts worth spending your money on. Here are some of the best:
Stollen is a luxurious fruit bread made with candied fruit, raisins, and spices and rolled in icing sugar. It is thought that the first Stollen was made in Dresden as a Christmas offering to the Saxony rulers of the time. Known as Christstollen, the medieval version was less appetizing, containing only flour, oats, and water.
To this day, Dresden Stollen must be made by a registered baker. On 3rd December every year, an enormous Stollen is pulled through the streets of the city by horse and cart.
You can find versions made with rum, champagne, marzipan, and almonds. Buy it early, as traditionally, it should be stored before being eaten.
£2 – £50
The Herrnhut Star is an iconic Christmas decoration used all over the world. Historians believe the 26-point stars were first made in a school in Herrnhut as part of geometry or math lessons in the late 1800s.
Herrnhut was the birthplace of the Moravian Church and so the stars appeared in local churches before being commercially produced a few years later.
They are still made by hand at the original factory in Herrnhut. In the markets, plastic and paper versions are common. Buy a bulb and light yours up inside.
£8 – £175
One food you will find at every Christmas market is Lebkuchen, a gingerbread made with honey, spices and candied citrus peel. Records exist of Lebkuchen being made in Nuremberg as early as 1395. Honey was in abundance because local forests were full of bees, which were kept by the Zeidler, or Bee-keeping Guild.
In the 1600s a guild of Lebkuchen bakers emerged, creating their own recipes and intricate designs.
Today, you will find Lebkuchen inscribed with messages in icing, packaged in decorative tins, or baked into heart-shaped cookies.
Different kinds of Lebkuchen are distinguished by the proportion of nuts they contain – Elisenlebkuchen, named after the daughter of one of the original bakers – must contain at least 25 percent nuts.
£2 – £110
When tin mining declined in the Ore Mountains in Saxony, local miners took to carving wooden kitchen implements and toys to make a living. The miners also made decorative candle holders, known as Schwibbogen, which were placed in windows around Christmas-time to guide the miners home, and Christmas pyramids, which they made to hang in their houses.
Today, you will find these German folk art pieces at all Christmas markets. The authentic versions are made by hand. Look for the label saying, ‘from the Erzgebirge.’
£2 – £4,500
In Lauscha in the late 1500s, poor glass blowers who could not afford the traditional fruit and sweets to hang on their Christmas trees created versions out of glass, and the Christmas bauble was born.
Early baubles were shaped like apples, pears, and pine cones, but the glass blowers got creative, and between 1870 and 1940 a huge variety of different ornaments were made and exported around the world.
Today, there are still around 20 small glass blowing businesses in Lauscha. You will find all kinds of baubles at Christmas markets – just make sure to pack them carefully!
£8 – £50
Prune figures or Zwetschgenmännle
According to folklore, when a Nuremberg resident could not afford gifts for his children, he made them figures out of prunes from the tree in his garden. Now, the ‘prune man’ is given at weddings, Christmas, and New Year, and brings good luck and wealth to those who keep him in the house.
Hundreds of different versions are available, but all have arms and legs made with prunes, heads made from walnuts and bodies made from figs. Despite their components, they are not supposed to be eaten!
£2 – £20