The week ahead: December 23-29
A look at what’s coming up on the East Coast and around the world. This week, that includes the release of steel consumption numbers, a fuel strike in India and Christmas shopping in Germany.
By Rick Steves
Cradling a cup of hot-spiced wine as a hand warmer, I stroll through Nurnberg’s main square. All around me are bundled-up shoppers and kids sampling fresh gingerbread, riding the carousel, listening to roving brass quintets, and marveling at the newest toys.
I’m standing in Germany’s largest Christmas market — 200 wooden stalls crammed with local artisans dealing in all things Christmas. With all these goodies, it’s no wonder that Nurnberg’s Christkindlesmarkt attracts more than 2 million people annually.
A traditional center for toy-making in Germany, Nurnberg has long prided itself on the quality of its market. With no canned music, fake greenery, plastic kitsch, or war toys, it feels classier than your average crafts fair. As far back as 1610, a proclamation warned that “indecent joke articles would be confiscated.” The merchants’ stalls are old-style wood huts with traditional ambience, and each year the most beautiful stall is awarded the prestigious “Prune Man” trophy, a homemade figurine made of fruit.
Germany’s holiday markets are a Christmasy fantasy of tiny figurines — and this market offers some of the best. Nutcrackers, strong-jawed to crack even the toughest nuts, are usually authority figures like soldiers, policemen, and constables. “Smokers,” which are small carvings of woodworkers, loggers, postmen, and other common folk, send out fragrant incense from their tiny smoke-ring-blowing mouths.
Many of these classic wooden figurines originated in the highly forested region of Saxony in eastern Germany. When the iron ore and silver mines went out of business back in the 15th century, Saxon miners became woodworkers.
A popular Nurnberg decoration is the candle chime. A multi-tiered wooden stand holds candles, which heat a pinwheel on top, causing it to spin. Each level of the stand features a different carved scene — a Nativity, forest critters, nutcrackers, or miners at work. It’s said these chimes were especially popular in mining communities because of the miners’ hunger for, and appreciation of, light.
The golden Rausch Angel hovering above the market is an icon of Christmas in Nurnberg. The name is a bit of German onomatopoeia — “rausch” is the sound of wind blowing through the angel’s gold foil wings. For locals, there’s no better way to cap their home’s Christmas tree than with a miniature version of this angel.
After the sun sets, Nurnberg’s Christkindlesmarkt delights as shoppers enjoy some old-time fast food. Spicy smoke billows from stalls selling the famous Nurnberg bratwurst, skinny as your little finger. Stick three of them on a crunchy fresh roll and then add a generous squirt of spicy mustard.
At the next stall, wrap your mittens around a mug of hot-spiced wine. A disposable paper or plastic cup would ruin the experience, so you must pay a deposit for a nicely decorated ceramic one. Either return the mug or keep it as a collectible, since each year there’s a different model.