The Edible Traveler: Wiesbaden Christmas Market

By | December 02, 2016
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Wiesbaden Christmas Market
Photo by Stephan Richter

One Sausage at a Time: Cruising Germany’s Christmas Markets

One of the best things about being on a river cruise in Germany over the holidays is sampling the edible, and potable, offerings at the special Christmas market set up in each city you visit—no driving necessary.

The markets, all decorated with live Christmas trees, garlands and twinkling lights, have seemingly endless wooden stalls. They resemble village cottages right out of a fairy tale. The stalls are brim-full of Christmas ornaments, cakes, cookies, wooden toys, candles and, best of all, many of them sell food and drink. Most notably, there are sausage stalls, hot wine stalls and, of course, plenty of stalls selling beer.

Most of the markets are set up in the heart of the old parts of the cities, making the scene even more picturesque. At Wertheim, half-timbered houses frame a cobbled square where the Christmas market is installed. When our ship, the Viking Var, docked in the morning, the first thing I spotted from my stateroom window was a huge brewery, Spessart Brauerie, right across the river. So, when my friend and I stood in the market later that day deciding what to drink, my decision was made when I saw a stall with the Spessart logo.

I got a pils, which was golden with a light creamy foam and tasted slightly hoppy. Right next to the beer stall was a small sausage stall with a stack of brochen or buns, an assortment of sausages and some squeeze bottles with assorted senfs, or mustards, which, I learned, are a very important element of German sausage eating.

The stall’s sign had a drawing of a wild boar with ferocious tusks. So, in my basic German, I asked the man selling the sausages if by chance the sausages were made from wild boar, gesturing first to the sign and then the sausages. Ja, they were, and the seller was also the hunter who supplied the wild boar to the butcher, who in turn made the sausages. Of course I ordered one, which was grilled on the spot and tucked into a brochen. The hunter indicated that I should add one of the mustards—he suggested Lowensenf, warning me it was spicy-hot.

My friend and I, wrapped in our wool coats, stood at one of the many tall round tables set up near the stalls, blissfully eating our hot sausages and drinking the cold beer, just like locals.

Our bellies warm and satiated, we wandered the town and discovered a wine shop. Walking up the stairs and into the small space, we were offered tastes of various wines and even introduced to a winemaker and his son, who had just delivered a few cases of wine. The son spoke English and we had a chat about how long they’d been in the business—500 years—and what wines they made. We took their recommendations and bought a bottle of Silvaner and Weissburgunder, and then they made us a gift of a bottle of their Spätsburgunder.

Back at the ship, it was shoes off and a little nap. No driving required.

The following day we visited two different cities and their markets, looking forward to sampling more sausages, and maybe some hot wine. When I bought my hot glühwein in Rothenburg ob der Tauber, it was served in a painted ceramic mug, which I could either buy for a few euros and it would be mine to keep, or return it when I was through with my wine and get my deposit back. Naturally I kept it. That particular hot wine was a white one infused with quince, vanilla and maybe a bit of cinnamon and cloves. It was aromatic and just right with the grilled bratwurst I had for a late morning snack, which seemed the thing to do, as the stand-up tables were crowded with locals doing the same.

After visiting the stunning Würzburg Residence—the Prince-Bishop’s palace in Würzburg, a UNESCO world heritage site—it was nearly dark, although not yet 4 o’clock, and time to have another glühwein. This time, we bought it at a wine bar at the end of a centuries-old stone pedestrian bridge. The wine was served in a unique mug, of course, since each city has its own. We took our hot wine out on the bridge, where we joined the wine-drinking crowd already there, then walked on across the bridge to board our bus to take us back to the ship.

It was the next day in the well-preserved medieval city of Bamberg, another UNESCO world heritage site, located near the confluence of the Main and Regnitz Rivers, that I experienced sausage nirvana. The Bamberg Christmas market, though not huge, had a large sausage stand where several men and women were grilling different types of sausage. One, I learned, was a Nuremberg sausage, another was long and thin, and a plump bratwurst was listed as currywurst! I have loved currywurst since I first had it while living in Berlin, where it was invented by a bored sausage seller. In a moment of pure culinary genius she had devised a sauce of ketchup and curry and other secret ingredients which is slathered over the wurst, which may or may not be eaten mit brochen.

Before coming to the market, we had visited one of the few remaining brewers of smoked beer, joining him and the morning regulars in the brewroom for a 10am morning beer.  Sipping a dark, nearly black smoked beer, I felt I was getting quite good at fitting in.

Finally, one last day to visit the famous Nuremberg Christmas market, to eat sausages standing up like the locals, drink hot wine and collect another ceramic mug. The sausage, or rather sausages, I chose were the Nuremberg sausages, each a scant three inches long, well-seasoned with marjoram. According to the sign, I could order six or 12. I took a half dozen then tucked three into each of two brochen and added a little of the spicy Lowensenf. The glühwein was a well-spiced red and hot enough that our sips lasted a good half hour while we stood and people watched from our well-located table not far from the towering 14th-century Gothic Frauenkirche church.

Then it was back to the ship for a farewell dinner accompanied by even more German wines, and all without driving.

Georgeanne Brennan is the author of the newly published book, My Culinary Journey:  Food and Fetes of Provence (2016, Yellow Pear Press) and the upcoming La Vie Rustic Cookbook (February 2017, Weldon-Owen). She lives in Winters, California, where she writes, cooks and runs her new business, La Vie Rustic.

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