You'd expect Germany's wealthiest and most sophisticated city to eschew old-fashioned and provincial traditions such as Christmas markets, but come Advent, the entire Marienplatz, Munich's central square, is transformed into a holiday theme park. Every year, a 30-meter-tall Christmas tree is erected above the hundreds of cheerfully decorated market stalls set up for the holidays. Marienplatz, where Munich's gothic medieval town hall and its world-famous glockenspiel stands, is considered one of the most impressive in Europe, but, during the Christmas season, when the lights of the Christkindlmarkt illuminate the square, the scene is even more magical.
Despite the folksy decorations of the market, Munich still manages to maintain its sophisticated air by discouraging the sale of grilled sausages and alcoholic beverages on site—although you'll find most of Munich's best beer halls and roast pork specialty restaurants in the vicinity. Instead, the market organizers emphasize traditional Bavarian crafts such as fine glassware and woodcarvings. The level of quality of the pieces sold in Munich's market is a notch higher than other parts of Germany and one particular specialty of the city is hard to find anywhere else.
Close to the square in Neuhauser Strasse is the traditional Kripperlmarkt, literally, the "crib market," where the most extensive selection of nativity scene cribs, figures, and accessories can be found in Germany, if not the world. Building life-sized cribs and miniature nativity scenes at home is a Bavarian custom and Munich's Kripperlmarkt has been a popular source since the middle of the eighteenth century.
Munich hosts one of Germany's oldest Christmas markets; the first one can be traced all the way back to the fourteenth century. The markets were originally named after St. Nikolaus who was said to bring gifts to children on his feast day, December 6. The Lutherans later replaced St. Nik as the source of presents and assigned the task to the infant Jesus who would from then on distribute gifts on the day of his birth—and thus the change of date to December 25. Despite the change in date and tradition, children's toys remain the focus of Munich's annual market and the department stores around Marienplatz have responded with elaborate window displays that never fail to mesmerize young and old alike.
Photographs by David Celdran
This story first appeared in Vault Magazine Issue 18 2014.