Stuttgart’s Surprising Christmas Markets

 Stuttgart’s Surprising Christmas Markets
One of the oldest and largest Christmas markets in Germany is also one of its biggest secrets. Discover this Christmas wonderlands of Stuttgart and neighboring Ludwigsburg before the rest of the world hears about them.

In the southwestern corner of Germany, Stuttgart is the capital of Baden-Württemberg, and it’s best known as the home of Mercedes Benz and Porsche, not for its Christmas market. For those, travelers are more likely to head for nearby Heidelberg or the spa town of Baden-Baden. They don’t know what they’re missing.

They’re also missing a pair of outstanding art museums, Stuttgart’s rich music and cultural scene, an historic castle, a magnificent baroque palace and some of Germany’s finest restaurants (Michelin has sprinkled more stars on Stuttgart than any other city).

But we’re here for the Christmas market, where more than 280 vendors gather from November 23 through December 23. Stuttgart’s largest square, a short walk from the main train station (a direct train ride from Frankfurt Airport), is dedicated to children. They can ride through a miniature town on a tiny train, gallop around a carousel or ride in the giant Christmas tree balls on a Ferris wheel. A skating rink is for all ages, with skate rentals and cute plastic figures to help little skaters in their first ventures on ice. Cabins are filled with treats and include places where kids can cut and bake their own cookies, or dip colorful candles.

Beside the castle (where there are free evening concerts in the courtyard), a promenade of wooden cabins leads into Schillerplatz, a lovely small square full of more small wooden huts topped by evergreen boughs and holiday scenes. Each cabin features a craft – beautiful hand-made wooden cutting boards and boxes, miniature traditional houses recreated in pottery, warm knit mittens and sox, hand-felted hats, leather handbags and wallets and Christmas decorations of all kinds, from glass tree ornaments to embroidered tablecloths.

We see carved wooden carousels that turn by the heat of candles, brightly painted nutcrackers, wooden toys and crèche sets made of everything from felted wool to carved wood. Craftspeople come from all over Germany. So do makers of specialty foods; one cabin is stacked with fat loaves of fruit-filled stollen, a specialty of Dresden.

Food is everywhere: spicy cookies, marzipan, chocolates, candied nuts, jelly-filled doughnuts known here as Berliners, roasting chestnuts, sausages sizzling on grills, fat warm pretzels, pancakes and plates of the local dumpling called spaetzli, stir-fried with bacon and sauerkraut. And of course the Christmas market staple of gluhwein, spiced red wine served steaming in souvenir mugs. We buy one at the first stop and carry it along for refills.

A 20-minute train ride away is Ludwigsburg, where they celebrate with a Baroque Christmas Market under thousands of twinkling lights. A beautiful square and the adjoining streets are filled with170 market stalls, most decorated in the baroque style of the magnificent Ludwigsburg Palace, only a block away.

At a corner of the market I savor a heaping plate of sizzling sausage and warm potato salad in a cozy log chalet with rustic wooden benches and tables, red-and-white curtains and a warming fireplace. The whole building has been assembled here just for the market.

All around are cabins displaying fine leatherwork, stylish winter fashions in wool, beautiful ornaments. There are traditional German crafts of intricate papercutting, woodcarving and delicte snowflakes made of straw. One large cabin holds a dazzling display of traditional glass Christmas tree ornaments. We learn from the woman selling them that this style of ornament, like the Christmas tree itself, began in Germany.

Of course there’s food. Along with one of the best-known makers of Germany’s famous lebkuchen spice cookies, we find honey, nougat studded with almonds, frosted sugar cookies, dried woodland mushrooms, farmstead cheeses, fruit-filled stolen, tangy mustards and an entire booth overflowing with Italian pastries – mini cannoli, buttery cookies with bright dots of jam, almond biscotti dipped in dark chocolate.

We don’t leave Baden-Württemberg hungry.

You Should Also Read:
Waldhotel Stuttgart

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