A Short Guide to the Sternschnuppenmarkt
Although the name doesn´t have much, if anything, to do with Christmas (and the English rendering – "Twinkling Star Christmas Market” – even less so), the Wiesbaden version of the German Christmas Market was voted Nr. 1 nationally in recent years. And that for good reason: tastefully decorated and well-organized, it features a colorful stage and a good mix of friendly vendors – who also do their best to speak English, when necessary, and – last but not least – a one-of-a-kind backdrop (Town Hall, State Capitol and the Market Square Church.
The mulled wine goes part and parcel with the Christmas Market. In fact, one is never more than a few steps away from a Glühwein stand. Mulled or hot-spiced wine sounds somewhat tame in English – the German "Glühwein", literally "glowing wine" – is, indeed, much more descriptive. With the proximity of the Christmas Market to the wine-growing region along the Rhine, the quality of the Glühwein is generally exceptional. Ask the friendly staff at the Market Church for suggestions as where to find the best hot drinks and brats, roasted chestnuts and crêpes.
If you´re from Malibu or Melbourne, it´s going to be cold(!) at the Christmas Market. Dress warmly. And, if someone asks, remember to say: "Mir ist kalt!”, not the literal English equivalent, "Ich bin kalt!”. Locals may think you´ve just frozen to death.
This holiday specialty, which celebrates its 180th birthday this year, hails from nearby Frankfurt and consists of marzipan decorated with almond slices. The four almond halves originally placed on the "Bethmännchen" were thought to symbolize the four sons of the prominent banking family. After one of the sons died, one of the four almond slices was symbolically removed. Another theory has it that the sweets were originally called "Bet-männer" – praying men, because the halved almonds resembled praying hands. Whatever their origins, they´re quite "lecker”!
It´s the same word in English and refers to the Turmglockenspiel in the tower of the Market Church. Enjoy listening to German Christmas Carols played by the carillon several times each day – including "Silent Night”, which celebrates its 200th anniversary this year. The carillon was constructed in 1986 and is one of a kind in Wiesbaden! If you need to burn off some calories from the gingerbread (see "Lebkuchen”), you can join the carillonneur on his way up to the bell tower – 285 steps (one way)! The church provides a place for quiet reflection and prayer, as well as offering many worship services, reflective walking tours and concerts.
The German version of gingerbread, "Lebkuchen", was once prepared in the cloisters in Advent and given primarily to the poor and needy. It wasn´t so much a sweet gingerbread as it was – implied by the German name – a "life-giving cake", helping the weak, elderly and poor stay alive during the harsh winters. "Lebkuchen" contains spices such as ginger, cinnamon, aniseed and coriander, which are good for the heart, lungs and strengthening the immune system.
The German equivalent of Santa Claus arrives early, December 6th, and is something of a harbinger of Christmas joy. The wonderful part of this tradition is that the Christ Child doesn´t need to compete with St. Nick and his reindeer come Christmas Eve. For Americans being asked to defend the American "export” of the jolly Coca-Cola Santa Claus to Europe: simply remind your German Gesprächspartner(in) of the fact that the first Santa illustration was created by the German artist Thomas Nast, who was born in Landau.
If you think the Christmas lights are lovely from ”below", you should see them from "above”, namely from the visitor´s platform of the Market Church overlooking the Christmas Market! On a clear day (which, unfortunately, isn´t often in this part of God´s world), one can almost see the skyline of the Big Apple (Manhattan)... or at least the skyline of the Little Apple ("Mainhattan”/ Frankfurt)...
One of the lovely aspects of the Twinkling Star Christmas Market is the great variety of handicrafts offered. During the Middle Ages, the big "hits” at the Christmas Fairs were the "Baldin" (a wool scarf more than a meter long, to be wrapped around the neck) and the "Stäuchelscher" (the forerunner of our winter mittens). Warm gloves, colorful scarves and a host of other fashionable items and crafts abound at the Christmas Market in Wiesbaden.
Germans think that the so-called "Christmas Pickle” is from the New World, and Americans think it originates from Old Germany. Probably the truth lies somewhere in between. Whatever its origins, this Christmas ornament has grown in popularity over the past several years.
It is said that parents once hid the pickle-shaped ornament among the branches of the Christmas tree. The children had to look for the pickle without touching the tree. The first one to discover the pickle became the first to open his or her Christmas presents. Incidentally, it was Frank Winfield Woolworth who imported the first Christmas ornaments from Germany to the U.S. around 1880. Last but not least, the so-called "Christmas Pickle Capital of the World” is Berrien Springs, Michigan, which celebrates a Christmas Pickle Festival each year at the beginning of December.
"Merry Christmas!”, "Frohe Weihnachten!” – or, as folks at the Christmas Market might say in local dialect, "Frohe Weihnachde und e guude Rudsch!"