Hamburg Christmas Markets
After the success of our trip to Amsterdam, Ami and I decided it was time we had another mini break. Since Christmas was coming up, we couldn't think of a much better idea than heading to Germany for the markets. There was no particular reason why we chose Hamburg- it looked pretty and flights were cheap, which is good enough for me! While we were in Hamburg, we visited two Christmas markets- the main one at the Rathaus and Santa Pauli erotic market.
The main Christmas market in Hamburg is held in the shadow of the Rathaus (town hall), a beautifully ornate building in the centre of the city. The stalls are positioned in green huts decked with Christmas decorations and organised into little defined 'streets'. There's one for food, one for handcrafted gifts, one for decorations and so on. There's even a fully operative model train circling the centre street above your head.
I'd anticipated large crowds but, thankfully, it wasn't busy at all. Of course it wasn't empty either but we had no problems walking around or reaching the stalls. Admittedly this may be because we visited at the end of November during the week, but it was still a pleasant surprise. It was also drizzling a little (hence the makeshift scarf hood below!) but not enough to dampen our spirits.
All through the planning stages, I'd been excited about all the food and drink. Bratwurst and pretzels and stollen and hot drinks all day long... then I got there and never really had too much of an appetite. Instead I just had one pretzel (but I saved half for later and forgot all about it until I found it in the bottom of my bag the next day) and bought a box of stollen to go home (it was very, very good!). I did, however, make full use of the hot drinks.
Now, I'm not much of a hot drinks person. I didn't drink any until two years ago when I finally decided I liked hot chocolate and I don't drink alcohol. Of course, when you tell people you're going to Germany for Christmas, they all say "Ooh have lots of Glühwein!" and I usually just go "yeah, will do" because it feels too awkward to pipe up with my whole spiel about hating hot drinks and alcohol. I'd heard that at German Christmas markets, you pay a deposit on the cute, decorated mugs so you can keep them if you like and I was totally down with that. My plan was to buy some form of alcoholic drink, pour it down a drain or something, and save the mug as a souvenir. However, when I got to the bar area, I saw there was a children's menu which included apple punch (although the German word Apfelpunsch is more fun to say!) and figured I'd give it a go. It took a little while to get used to the sensation of hot apple juice but, I have to admit, it was delicious and I drank a fair amount while I was there.
Everybody working on the stalls was really friendly. In fact, the fellow shoppers were friendly too- a group of old men had a little chat while I was drinking my Apfelpunsch (first in German, but then in English when I explained where we were from). Although the market was quite a bit smaller than I'd anticipated, there were some really lovely items on display and it's well worth a visit if you're in Hamburg at Christmas.
I only found out about Santa Pauli just before we left and the promise of an erotic Christmas market was too good to resist. This video (warning: that's a Daily Mail link) showed tacky flashing Santas, drag queens and all-out debauchery and seemed like a right laugh. Unfortunately, that wasn't really what it was like at all.
Santa Pauli is based in the Hamburg red light district (as you may have guessed) but it doesn't feel at all unsafe or seedy. This is probably mainly down to the fact that it was pretty busy and there was a lot of security around. Unfortunately there were no shows on the huge stage while we were there, although there were some strip shows going on in the room at the back (we didn't pop in to check it out for ourselves though). Even more disappointing was that the stalls were just like those you'd find at any Christmas market, selling hats, jewellery and the like. There were one or two with some sexy underwear and handcuffs but, other than that, it seemed like a perfectly tame affair.
The redeeming features were the Fotoautomat (it was in a terrible state which was part of what made it so brilliant- the camera took forever so I'm mid-"Is it working?"-sentence in the first photo, and the whole thing was falling apart so you had to bash it several times to release the photos) and the hilariously ugly mug featuring a particularly phallic candle.
If you find yourself in the Reeperbahn area (you cheeky scamp!), it's probably worth popping along, but I wouldn't recommend making the trip especially.
Christmas markets really are a huge part of the German festivities, so they're sprinkled all over the city. Winterwald takes up the main shopping district, with loads of food stalls (including churros, crepes and other decidedly non-German things), and there's a more art-based focus on the Jungfernsteig promenade. It seems that everywhere you turn there are more stalls dotted around the city, so you're pretty much guaranteed to find something you love.
Of course one of the huge bonuses of visiting the Christmas markets is that they give you something to do for free, making it ideal for travellers on a budget. We had a great time exploring the markets and I can't wait to see what Munich has to offer later in the month.
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