CONTRIBUTED BY BREA DARNELL
Note: This article was originally published in 2013, but has been updated for the 2015 season. Enjoy!
I visited the Esslingen Medieval Christmas Market last year, and couldn’t wait to go this year to my favorite Christmas market in Germany. While I haven’t been to every market in Germany, I don’t know of many that are filled with as much character as this one. This market has a medieval theme (mittelaltermarkt) and it almost feels like the Christmas market meets a Renaissance festival.
The medieval feel is immediately felt with all those working dressed up in medieval costumes and outfits, the shows and bands playing, games such as bow and arrow shooting, and the authentic items for sale. In addition, the location and setting is very picturesque. The market is held in the Old Town, or Altstadt, in Esslingen which is a town about twenty minutes from Stuttgart. I say town, but really there are almost 100,000 residents here making it a fairly large neighbor to Stuttgart.
A high-wire artist performs breathtaking feats at dizzy heights. Acrobats roll through the Hafenmarkt in a flaming gym wheel. You’ll meet fairy-tale figures on stilts, entertainers, jugglers, fire-eaters and minstrels.
In Esslingen’s old town centre there’s an unusual atmosphere: merchants, craftsmen and artists entreat visitors in antiquated language to watch their entertaining street performances. For children an outing to Esslingen’s Medieval and Christmas Market is an unforgettable adventure: attractions in the “Land of Dwarfs” include a historical roundabout, medieval handicrafts and a daily children’s programme. Bow-and-arrow shooting, skittles and “Mouse Roulette” encourage young and old alike to join in the fun.
A unique feature of the four-week event is the torchlight procession to Esslingen Castle, when hundreds of torches transform the road leading up to the castle into a sea of lights. Up on the castle courtyard the old custom of celebrating the winter solstice is rung in with medieval music up to the castle into a sea of lights. Up on the castle courtyard the old custom of celebrating the winter solstice is rung in with medieval music.
I saw a lady twirling fire and dancing with a large crowd around her, listened to the bands playing and some marching through the market, and took part in the most popular custom at a Christmas market; gluhwein. If you have never heard of this, Gluhwein is the most popular holiday drink in Germany. No, I cannot verify this, but ask anyone around what they like to drink at Christmas Markets and the answer will unanimously be gluhwein.
So what is it you ask? Well, gluhwein (pronounced gloo-vine) is like a hot sweet wine, similar to the taste of sangria. When it’s cold out it is so delicious! I have heard that you should never drink it cold so be sure to drink up when you get your cup! Like all the other festivals in Germany, you pay a deposit for the cup and get your money back upon returning the cup. The nice thing about this is, if you like the cup then just keep it! Most deposits range from 1-3 Euro so if it’s a nice cup, it’s worth holding onto. I think the Gluhwein was absolutely necessary this past weekend with the drop in temperatures and snow falling, resulting in lots and lots of layers to try to keep warm.
I haven’t even gotten to my favorite part about last weekend. So, as we were walking around and looking at the shops and stands, we noticed these huge steaming tubs with people in them. Cool! They had medieval hot tubs. They looked like huge beer barrels that were cut in half. Each one could’ve easily sat six people comfortably. Well, right when we were looking at it, one of the guys decides to get out of the tub and what do you know, he is butt naked! Yep, and he didn’t even care.
So of course me and my American friend start giggling and standing there in shock that these guys are just hanging out. Naked. Together. In a hot tub at a medieval Christmas Market. The Germans didn’t think anything of it though. While I know that Americans are prudes when it comes to nudity and things like this, I am still American and it is always shocking to see people in the nude!
Below are two photos I took as we did the short hike up the steps to the castle to get a better view of everything. This was overlooking the old town where the festival was ( the red Christmas-y building) and part of Esslingen.
Tips For Your Trip:
Opening Days and Times:
November 24 – December 21, 2015
Daily: 1100 – 2030
Esslingen am Neckar
73728 Esslingen am Neckar
Note: Brea originally posted this article on her site, but has graciously shared it with us here as well.