There are a lot of interesting things you can do in Nuremberg (Nürnberg auf Deutsch). You can go see the courthouse where the Nuremberg trials were held and listen to recordings of the Nazi testimonies. You can go to the Germanisches Nationalmuseum, which is a massive complex of museums about German history and culture, akin to the Smithsonian in the USA. You can even go outside of town and visit Hitler’s massive rallying grounds, now deserted, except for the ghosts.
Last weekend, I did not do any of those things. I guess I will save Nuremberg’s cultural and historical importance for another trip, because at this time of year, Nuremberg is all about Christmas.
As I, too, am all about Christmas, we got along very well. My train was delayed, so I got to Nuremberg around 8 PM on Friday night. Luckily the 5 Reasons Hostel is very conveniently located along the old city wall, about 10 minutes walk from the train station. I zipped over there, checked in, stuck my bag in a locker, and practically ran to the Christmas market. It closed at nine, so I had less than an hour to soak up some nighttime atmosphere, but it was absolutely worth it.
The first reference to a Christmas Market in Nuremberg comes from 1628, and since then, it has developed a distinct character with strong traditions. You can eat the delicious little Nürnberger wursts, the size of a grown man’s finger (three to a roll, with lots of spicy mustard). You can drink the hot blueberry wine, native to the region. And you can see the strange and charming little prune people that have been sold at the Nürnberg Christmas market for centuries.
They have a section of the market that features Nuremberg’s sister cities, including (drumroll please) Atlanta! I was so excited to see the booth full of Kool-aid, Poptarts, Jack Daniels, and Coca-cola memorabilia. It was a little slice of Americana.
Now, the reason that Nuremberg’s market is the Christkindlesmarkt (the Christ child’s market–notice the genitive) is Martin Luther’s thoroughness in developing Protestantism. Really. He knew that if he was going to offer an alternative to Catholicism, he would need to compete with all aspects of the old Church–including St. Nikolaus. Rather than having a Catholic saint bringing gifts, Luther envisioned the baby Jesus delivering presents at Christmas time; however, his congregation was not so imaginative. How could baby deliver presents? (I promise I’m not making this up.)
Therefore the “Christkind” began to be imagined as a kind of angel/fairy/princess with golden curls and a long white robe. It may be semi-pagan imagery, but at least it’s not a saint! Today, Nuremberg (and many other Protestant cities and towns in Germany) appoint a Christkind to open “its” market, whom the children visit and ask for a Christmas present. She (it?) was not making appearances when I was in Nuremberg, but I can easily imagine how exciting it would be for children to meet this fairy-tale creature. Way less scary than Santa.
So, that’s the history. But mostly, my trip was about eating delicious things and checking out this beautiful little city, all dolled up for Christmas time.
Frohe Weihnachten, y’all!