For those of us who truly, truly love Christmas and all the colourful winter festivities that come with it, the wait is almost over. After a long, and to say the least, eventful 2016, the season of goodwill is finally set to usher us into the new year once more.
Undoubtedly, one of happiest, most warming experiences that come with the festive season is the return of the beautiful Christmas Markets which pop-up over the December month in every country that takes this happy time of year seriously. And if you had to choose a location which might be considered the spiritual home of the Christmas Market, you need look no further than the German city of Cologne.
Cologne is a city that doesn’t take half-measures, hosting not one but seven Christmas Markets in total. Amongst them are four renowned markets located at the Cologne Cathedral, Alter Markt, Neumarkt, and on the Rudolfplatz. In itself, the city of Cologne is a place of outstanding charm, but at Christmas time the city becomes something more, acquiring what can only be described as a fairy tale beauty – it is easy to see how, each year, these wonderful Christmas Markets can attract upward of 2 million visitors.
The Christmas Market at the Cologne Cathedral is widely considered to be the most impressive of the seven markets, thanks to its striking and yet imposing Gothic Cathedral. Beneath the Cathedral and the largest Christmas tree in the Rhineland, there are well over 160 festive wooden pavilions and log cabins where visitors can watch artisans at work while they sip traditional mulled wine, or ‘Gluhwein’ as the Germans call it, and walk amongst stalls selling of sweets, treats and local delicacies in such number one can scarcely imagine them all.
The Christmas Market on the Alter Markt takes place in the heart of quaint Altstadt – meaning Old Town – and in front of the Old Cologne Town Hall, situated only 200 metres away from the Cathedral. For many years, this market in particular has acted as a magnet for young and likeminded people to Cologne from all over the world. Shadowed by beautiful narrow-gabled houses and half-timbered stalls, the Christmas Market on the Alter Markt conveys a very romantic and idyllic feel. Children especially find it to be a magical place, and there is plenty to see and do here for even the most restless and excitable children, be it a nostalgic Merry-Go-Round, a puppet theatre, Santa Claus’ grotto, or the many, many toy stands. According to an old Cologne legend, Alter Markt is where the famous ‘Heinzelmännchen’ gnomes, the guardians of Christmas splendour, carefully keep watch as they secretly work to protect the of traditional festivities on the site.
Curiously located on the ‘New Market’, amidst the backdrop of St. Aposteln’s Church and Cologne’s main shopping area, the Neumarkt Christmas Market is ironically Cologne’s oldest. As in previous years, the Angels Market glows in pre-Christmas splendour with charmingly designed chalets and a unique “stars at night” theme.
Set against the historic backdrop of Hahnentorburg, one of Cologne’s three mediaeval gate houses, the Christmas Market on the Rudolfplatz takes you to a world of brothers Grimm fairy tales. Large fairy tale figures and festive illuminations provide a special eye-catcher, especially for children.
Besides the four big Christmas markets there is also a Cologne Harbour Christmas Market, located at the Chocolate Museum; the Stadtgarten Christmas Market, a fairly large Christmas Market located on the edge of Cologne’s oldest park, and, last but not least, the seventh Christmas Market – the ‘Christmas Avenue’.
As one of Germany’s most prominent cities, set in the beating heart of Europe, getting to Cologne is for the most part a none-too challenging trip, and for sure, it is a Christmas experience which will stay warm in the minds of enchanted visitors for a lifetime.