A Real Christmas Cracker: the Hidden Heart of Germany

Over the last few years, the European idea of the Christmas Market seems to have captured the imagination of the British public.  And yet some of their most beautiful markets, those in the Thüringen region of Germany, are often overlooked.  This wonderful hidden heart of Germany really does have much to offer the visitor, and particularly at Christmas time.
I was lucky enough to recently stay in Erfurt, which is an excellent base for exploring this region.  The Medieval old town centre is easily discovered on foot, but there’s also a great network of trams, busses and trains to other nearby towns if needed too.  In the run up to Christmas, Erfurt boasts a beautiful traditional Christmas market which is one of the largest in Germany, receiving approximately two million visitors a year.  Situated in Domplatz at the heart of the old town, the market is overlooked by the majestic St. Mary’s Cathedral and is stunningly illuminated of a night time, with a traditional big wheel affording great views over the lit-up market.  Traditional crafts and decorations are on offer, as are Bratwurst sausages, Langos fried bread and Heiße Maroni – or as we know them, roasted chestnuts!  What better way than to while away a sociable evening with a Glühwein or two around a blazing fire pit?!
The Erfurt Christmas Market awaits us!
The Cathedral looks down over the market
A spectacular view from the big wheel
Nearby Eisenach, which can claim Bach and Martin Luther among its famous past inhabitants, also has a lovely Christmas market.  Although smaller than that of Erfurt, the market has a wonderfully cosy atmosphere, and after a day spent exploring the cultural delights of the newly-extended Bach House, Martin Luther’s House or the Richard Wagner collection at the Reuter-Wagner Museum, it’s an excellent place to meet and relax with friends.  From Eisenach, it’s also just a ten-minute drive up to the stunning Wartburg Castle.  Perched high above the town, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is a beautifully preserved Castle dating back to 1068, and was once the home of St. Elisabeth of Hungary!  As well as being a wonderfully interesting place to visit, during the advent weeks it’s also home to a gorgeous little Medieval Christmas market.  Here you’ll be able to buy traditional fruit wines, sample some great German baking and listen to medieval musicians!
The Eisenach Christmas Market
Wartburg Castle
Traditional market stall holders at Wartburg Castle
Apart from the wonderful Christmas markets in Thüringen, this region of Germany is also famous for glass blowing and blown-glass Christmas ornaments.  We were lucky enough to visit two glass producing concerns in Lauscha, a small town within the Thüringen forest: one was a large glass blowing factory, manufacturing everything from vases through to wine glasses, and the other was a small family run shop which specialised solely in beautiful Christmas ornaments and had been in the family for six generations of glass blowers.  We even got the chance to have a go at making our own baubles, and proudly toted our (slightly-wonky!) decorations home with us!
Proudly showing off my Christmas bauble!
Thüringen really is such an interesting, beautiful part of Germany and is slightly off the beaten track, too.  Having said that, it’s easily reached with Lufthansa flights directly from London Heathrow, Manchester and Dublin to Frankfurt, and is then just a train journey away.  Whether visiting during the run up to Christmas, or at any other time of the year, there really is something to please everyone, from Bratwursts to Bauhaus!  Put Thüringen, the hidden heart of Germany, at the top of your Christmas list next year!
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