Imagine going to a market that dates back over seven centuries, where freshly fallen snow crunches underfoot, and where, as dusk falls, thousands of lights switch on. The tantalising smells of mulled wine and roasted chestnuts fill the air, and the wooden stalls sell gifts, souvenirs and Christmas decorations.
The Vienna Christmas Markets Date From the 12th Century
This is the Christkindlmarkt –Christmas Markets, – in Vienna, Austria, which date back to the 12th century and which are held from the middle of November to the 24th of December. Held outside the Rathaus (town hall), this is a maelstrom of music and life – a must see for anyone in Vienna at this time. The 140 odd stalls attract around 3 million visitors a year. It’s a truly international gathering, the spirit of Christmas drawing people from afar.
There’s an information stand in front of the town hall’s main door. Here one can pick up a handy map of the markets, purchase some postcards, Advent calendars, and a souvenir cloth bag.
The Market Map is Coloured Coded According to Items On Sale
Use the map to find the stalls of most interest – they are colour coded into categories: “toys”, “Christmas products”, “textiles”, “art and crafts”, and so on. The stalls aren’t grouped together, so one can see the entire markets strolling around looking for specific choices. Also clearly marked on the map are the locations of the toilets, and the food stalls. There are plenty of garbage bins, and police presence is enough to be reassuring but not over whelming.
Good Quality Items are Expensive
Good quality items are very, very good, and correspondingly highly priced: beautiful glass balls of various sizes hand painted with Christmas or winter scenes, lovely hand crafted wooden nativity figures, delightfully detailed pottery cottages, and finely finished painted lead work. There aren’t many automatic tellers near the town hall, but many stalls take various credit cards.
The Markets Tend to be Crowded
The markets tend to get crowded, especially at weekends, and progress around the stalls can slow to a shuffle. But crowds or bad weather don’t seem to dampen the spirits of the people. Or maybe it’s the roaring trade at the Glühwein (warm spiced wine) stands that help the festive atmosphere. For those who don’t want wine, there’s a choice of various hot berry teas. The mugs have become collector’s items.
Choice of Food
When hunger strikes, there’s plenty of choice. Pommes frites – piping hot and delightfully crisp, Kartoffelpuffer (potato pancakes), baked potatoes with a choice of toppings, bratwurst, as well as other favourites.
Under the shelter of the verandah there are various nativity scenes. Each year these are made by crafts people from a different region of Austria, and sometimes the craftsmen work all year to create something special. Inside the hall, rooms are devoted to children’s craft activities – baking biscuits, decorating candles, making tree decorations, etc. There’s a small charge and a choice of activities.
From the hall one can get a good view of the huge Christmas tree – again each year donated by a different region – and the life sized nativity scene under it.
The adjoining park is also a must for those with children. The huge trees are decorated with various motifs – hearts, snowmen, teddy bears, etc., which light up as dusk falls. There’s a post office where letters to Santa will be forwarded, and a place where toddlers can have rides on plump and shaggy ponies.